Following the launch of the TwLetteratura Caerffili Creative Collaborations project on Betwyll, here’s an interview with Kate Strudwick from our Welsh partner Head4Arts on the value of creative thinking and practice.
Creative Collaborations: Head4Arts
Head4Arts is a Welsh organization committed to community engagement through the arts. What are the benefits of such an approach for community development?
We find that a creative approach can be much more effective in engaging people’s interest. Traditional methods such as public meetings, consultations and presentations have their place, but tend only to attract the same type of people – the ones who enjoy a more formal approach. This can mean that the people who are seen to speak for a community are not always properly reflecting the views of everyone and it can result in making barriers to participation. We prefer to get people doing something creative together and this provides the context where we can prompt a wider conversation that goes beyond involvement of the usual representatives and gives a much more realistic picture of that community. Also, doing something creative stimulates imagination and ideas that provoke responses, as well as enabling the inclusion of a more diverse range of participants. It’s always good to get people working together with us rather than in a more formal lesson or presentation, where people engage much more passively. And, yes, we have fun! We always learn best when we are enjoying the process.
The Five Creative Habits of Mind
The Welsh government has developed a new curriculum for education based on the so-called “Five Creative Habits of Mind” to be adopted by 2022. Could you explain something more about it and how your work with schools has been adopting and somehow anticipating this paradigm shift?
It seems to have taken a long while, but finally it has been recognised that engagement with creative practice helps nurture essential life skills that children will need if they are to succeed in the future as happy, energised and employable citizens. This is not just about teaching them to be artists but looks at what creativity is – and how taking a creative approach to every situation can be nurtured for the overall benefit of that individual.
The Five Creative Habits of Mind (Imagination, Persistence, Curiosity, Discipline and Collaboration) are broken down to specific strands and this helps young people to understand what it means when they are being creative and to recognise progress. For example, they learn that imagination is about playing with possibilities, making connections and using their intuition – and that these skills can be usefully applied in lots of contexts, not just when they are “doing something arty”. Likewise, that being persistent includes an ability to stick at doing something even when it is difficult, daring to be different when everyone else is doing the usual thing and learning to cope with uncertainty.
People working in the arts sector have always valued creative thinking, but the new relationship between Welsh Government and the Arts Council of Wales has added weight to the discussion and has given us an opportunity to work in a much more strategic way in schools, rather than just “doing an arts project”. Our work is now easier to relate to the new curriculum being introduced and we are getting much better at explaining the connections and demonstrating how enhanced creative skills will help pupils in their learning and enhance the practice of teachers.
Bilingualism in Wales
Wales is a bilingual nation. Could you tell us how is this reflected in the Welsh education system and what are the main challenges to be addressed in this regard?
In Wales, the Welsh language has equal legal status with English. It is part of the core curriculum studied by all school children, but you also can opt to have your child educated entirely through the medium of Welsh from nursery age through to A levels and beyond. Welsh medium schools are becoming increasingly popular with parents who don’t speak the language themselves. They can see the benefits of a bilingual education – not just in terms of intellectual stimulation, but also in enhancing future employment prospects. Demand is outstripping supply and whilst many new schools are being opened, children attending them often travel considerable distances to have this opportunity.
The Welsh Government has targets for increasing the number of people using the Welsh language, doubling the numbers to reach a million people by 2050 and there are many initiatives to support this aim, particularly to encourage people to use their Welsh outside of the classroom in their daily life, socially and online. This is particularly difficult for children to achieve if their parents can’t understand Welsh and it is sometimes easier for them to just use it at school. We want to help them have fun using and improving their Welsh language skills.
Head4Arts has also found it difficult to operate bilingually when resources are not equally available. For example, children’s books written by contemporary writers in Wales are rarely available in both Welsh and English versions. This means that their readers are either attending English or Welsh schools with their own selection of books, with little chance of accessing, or sharing discussions about a book published in the other language. The exceptions are the big blockbusters – but the cost of publishing a book in two languages puts constraints on the ability of our excellent Welsh writers to reach a similarly wide audience. Head4Arts wants to get everyone reading books by Welsh authors and having conversations about them.
The TwLetteratura Caerffili Creative Collaborations project
Together with Head4Arts, Gomer Press, Literature Wales, Torfaen and Caerphilly Fusion Network and Menter Iaith Caerffili we have just kicked-off a quite groundbreaking project under the Creative Collaborations scheme. What are its key innovation components, starting from the partnership developed?
The complexities of the challenge require a joined up approach from all “stakeholders” in an exploration of a different approach (provided by the experience of our Italian friends). This partnership brings together the children as the target reading market, their teachers who are keen to encourage their pupils to read books in Welsh as well as in English, the author (Dan Anthony) who can only write in English and his publisher (Gomer Press/Gwasg Gomer) who are not always able to fund the publication of books in both languages. We have added into the mix Menter Iaith Caerffili – as the main local agency concerned with developing the use of the Welsh language in normal daily life and Literature Wales as a national organisation that can help spread learning and good practice across the nation. The Fusion Network provides another mechanism for promoting collaborations between cultural and educational organisations and for sharing the learning.
The Arts Council of Wales’ Creative Collaborations funding scheme is about encouraging creative thinking and exploring challenges as a team. It seemed like the perfect context for bringing people together to work creatively. The scheme also allows the possibility of thinking even more imaginatively, looking at how learning tools like Betwyll are developed, what they can do – and what they might be able to do when used in an entirely different (non-text-based) context.
As TwLetteratura, we aim to break the barrier between the book and the reader. How is this goal reflected into the Creative Collaboration project?
In this project, the children – the readers – get to take control, responding directly to the text on Betwyll and with each other. We are then looking at how books get written, illustrated, translated, published and shared, so they will be totally immersed in the world of books. There are also interventions with the author, a rap poet – and a zombie – all helping to increase their engagement with books , both in hard copy and online. The participants will take the lead in mentoring other reading groups, showing them how to use the app and in launching their own new Welsh version of a popular book. The experiences gained over the course of the project will help them to the final stage, where they devise new ways of using the Betwyll app to break down other learning barriers.
Kate Strudwick is Creative Project Manager for Head4Arts, a creative commissioning and production company in the South Wales Valleys specialising in community arts. It operates in partnership with four local authorities (Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Merthyr Tydfil and Torfaen), using engagement with the arts as the mechanism for promoting social innovation through participation in inspirational arts experiences, led by professional arts practitioners. It covers all art forms and age groups and in 2018 celebrates its tenth anniversary. Kate has previously worked for Arts Council of Wales and Caerphilly CBC and is part of Welsh folk music band Allan yn y Fan.