Why Visual Arts Education Needs Artists to Flock

By Paula Briggs

I need to buy a present to say thank you to our postman. Each day during August he has brought to our door a beguiling selection of parcels, packages and envelops. I don’t think he has any clue as to what is inside, and the profound affect they will have on visual arts education at a grass roots level…

“I hope your project is a huge success – I wish you all the very best with this, it does sound important and interesting.”
Bob and Roberta Smith

#ShareaBird by AccessArt

In the summer of 2015, UK charity AccessArt launched the #ShareaBird Project. The premise of #ShareaBird is simple: we bring together a diverse flock of birds, created by artists and makers across the UK and donated to the project. In September the flock will migrate to schools across the UK, carrying a message of inspiration from the artists, together with visual arts resources to help the recipient schools make their own artwork. The #ShareaBird flock aims to demonstrate through visual means the important of the visual arts to education, and to illustrate the richness and diversity of artists and makers practising in the UK today – an important part of our creative economy.

“Your ShareaBird project is totally brilliant.” Sue Grayson Ford

The idea behind #ShareaBird came about as a result of a book I wrote (Drawing Projects for Children, Black Dog Publishing, 2015). The pages of the book are really beautiful – Black Dog Publishing made an excellent job of the layout and design. Inspired, one day I decided to tear the book apart and make birds from the pages. An AccessArt colleague, Andrea Butler, also made some birds, and sent them back to me in the post. It was when I opened the box ocontaining her artwork that I realised the power of receiving such a gift in the post. I had inspired her, and now she was inspiring me. I had the idea that we open up the project and openly invite artists to create birds which we then send as gifts to schools, to inspire new generations of artist/makers.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the project has some echoes of a project set up in 1945 called The School Prints, set up by Brenda Rawnsley. Artists were commissioned to produce a series of artworks which schools could buy at a modest price. Her aspiration ” …was to bring quality art to pupils who might not have had access to a local art gallery or, if one was available, lacked the courage to enter it.”  The project distributed artwork to over 4000 schools before ending due to logistical problems. (http://www.artbiogs.co.uk/2/organizations/school-prints)

When we launched the project I had little idea if it would fly. But it has flown – the idea seems to have resonated with so many people. Over 500 schools registered to receive a bird, and over 500 artist registered to pledge an artwork. And opening the parcels every morning has been a privilege. It has been so touching to handle the artwork and read the very personal messages of inspiration which the artists have attached.

Thank you to the artists…

#ShareaBird is unfunded and the artists have donated their birds for free to the cause. First of all, we need to say a huge thank you to each and everyone of the artists and makers who have sent in their work. We never expected to receive so many, and we hope we can work hard for you now to ensure your artwork changes pupils lives in schools, showing them the power of the visual arts as both audience and creator. Contributors have ranged from artists who are clearly established and selling their work, to newly skilled makers who have enjoyed being part of a larger project, but the messages of inspiration the artists have attached show commonality: a belief in the value of making art, and a sincere generosity in sharing their skills to inspire new generations.

Artists as professionals…

But we also need to stress that we at AccessArt believe strongly that we need to work together to highlight the fact that visual artists are often highly trained, and highly skilled, and they deserve to be treated as professionals, and we wholly support campaigns to promote fair pay for artists. All artists donated their work voluntarily to #ShareaBird and by doing so have shown their support for the ethos of the project. However we hope the project does create paid opportunities for the artists involved. Each donated artwork will be matched to a school in the same region as the artist, so that a link can be made between artist and school, and teachers will be encouraged to pay the artist directly for any workshops or talks which result from the project. In addition each artist benefits from exposure via the AccessArt website and via our social media so we can acknowledge their support of the project and direct new audiences their way.

AccessArt’s role…

AccessArt is a charity which aims to inspire high quality visual arts education, and our website (www.accessart.org.uk) consists of over 600 unique resource created by artist educators. Our role in the project, as well as acting as a conduit between artists and schools, is to package the artwork up together with handpicked learning resources from the website which will enable pupils and teachers who receive the artwork to be inspired to make their own prints, paintings, drawings, sculptures, sketchbooks, textiles and more. We’ll be monitoring the project carefully, so we can see just what kinds of experiences #ShareaBird has triggered for teachers and pupils in schools, and if artists have enjoyed further professional opportunities as a direct result of taking part.

So for now we are busy wrapping the artwork and allocating schools, ready to send out the happy flock of migrating birds – we hope one lands in a school near you! And from the #ShareaBird team, a huge thank you to all those who have shown their support of the project.

Paula Briggs
Sheila Ceccarelli
Andrea Butler

Find out more:

ShareaBird Gallery
AccessArt ShareaBird
ShareaBird Supporters
What is the Real Value of Visual Arts Education
What Did My Child Make With Their Hands This Week (and why it is important to ask)

Paula Briggs 01223 262134

paula@accessart.org.uk

The flock will fly mid September 2015 – watch the sky!

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