Who: Art Blast
What: A project to take art out to community groups, run by the University of Northampton's Centre for Community Volunteering.
Why: To encourage and support students to get involved in projects that benefit the local community – specifically, arts and humanities students, who are traditionally difficult to engage with.
Where: University of Northampton and community partners
When: Feb-June 2010, to be repeated next year
ArtBlast is a student-led project, partly funded by the NCCPE, dedicated to taking art out to local community groups in Northampton. The project encompasses almost every aspect of artistic activity - photography, art, creative writing, drama, dance, music, journalism, fashion, and many other disciplines.
The volunteers on the project in 2010 worked with local community groups to produce a series of arts-focussed workshops, devised by the students themselves. The overall theme was ‘Me and My Town’, which was chosen to encourage the workshop attendees to explore their personal spaces, their role within the local community and their feelings about where they live.
The achievements of the project will be celebrated with an exhibition, and a social networking site will host a permanent record of the work produced and the experiences of all involved.
The aims of the project from the university’s side were twofold:
- To introduce people to the arts and to help them express themselves in creative ways while gaining a sense of achievement, pride and confidence, both in themselves and the work they produce.
- To find a good way of engaging this particular student sector with volunteering. As arts students are expected to be on campus from 9 till 5, five days a week, it is much more difficult for them to find time for extra-curricular activities. The delivery of these workshops would also help develop extra, soft skills that students would need in their lives after university.
Running the workshops
The students canvassed the organisations involved before they met, so that each side had a good idea about what they needed to get clear before the workshops started. Examples of workshops run:
- Creative writing: two students (with no prior experience of working with children) worked with pupils in a primary school, the results of which were turned into a book.
- Drama: this workshop was run for a young women's group, many of who were young teenage mothers, some with experience of homelessness. Because many of them had children, the volunteers ended up redesigning the workshop, and brought it onto campus so that both the women and their children could take part.
- Photography: A photography student and her colleague went to a retirement village, where they spoke with 12 residents about digital photography, photographic techniques, critiquing and working on the attendees’ efforts.
What worked well
The students found ArtBlast to be a great opportunity to expand their horizons through activities that did not normally present themselves through their academic studies. They were able to take the disciplines they were studying and turn them into workshops, which they could work around their own schedules.
The projects encompassed a very wide range of ages across the community, and most volunteers met with their relevant organisations prior to delivering the workshops, so that the organisations could also be involved in the workshop planning. This helped both sides of the project, those delivering the workshop and the users.
A couple of recently graduated students have stayed in touch with the CCV, one of whom is now working closely as an external partner with ArtBlast.
What didn't work well
Because the project was late in starting, the workshops ended up being less than perfectly timed – the student volunteers had greater trouble keeping up with their projects as their end-of-year exams approached (the plan was to complete all workshops in the Spring term, so that they would be out of the way before the start of the main exams).
There were some incredibly talented students who were keen to deliver their skills in the community, but lacked the confidence, knowledge and support to do it – this is why ArtBast has a real future over the next few years to develop these students (and more).
The project was student-led, and the project leader was extremely enthusiastic, but as there was no dedicated member of staff for the project, a certain degree of expectation management needed to be put in place.
The funding was extremely useful, as it enabled the CCV to build something that had initially been just a concept in the mind of the student lead. As the funding for future years will be of a different order, the workshops’ format may change, but they will still run. It will be down to the individual students or groups of students as and when they want to get involved.
Other resources were:
- Transport: Less independent travel was necessary, as car share was encouraged. Minibus costs were used to bring the community group onto campus to use the drama facilities.
- Training was delivered on campus so there was no need to pay for conference space.
- Make the process between recruitment and workshop delivery quicker – have session plans already made for students who wish to deliver but not write a workshop.
- Focus on less workshops for a speedier result
- Start training as soon as a student shows interest in delivering a workshop so that there is minimal delay (or before the student loses interest)
- Consider working with fewer partners, or deliver a series of workshops to fewer people
- When you are reliant on someone feeding back to you, it’s not always done when you need it: build this into your planning.
- Keep an open mind about the community you end up engaging with. The project was written for enagement with young people, and for two organisations in particular. One of these fell into financial difficulties and shut overnight, whilst the other underwent a loss of funding (hence staff) – so we had to be much more creative and flexible in choosing our community groups.
- Work for your audience: the creative writing students put together quite an ambitious workshop, but through working with children, they realised they needed to scale down their expectations.
Name: Linda Davis
Linda is a Public Engagement Ambassador, find out more about her here.
Name of Organisation: Centre for Community Volunteering
Telephone: 01604 892280