June 30, 2014

Role Models. Role models and primary school pupils. Role models, primary school pupils and kindness. This is the brief. People United are hosting a spring away day in Canterbury with Lunsford Primary School Head & Deputy Head Teachers, fellow artists and collaborators to discuss­ their commissions for 2014. Daniel Bye, lead artist on the Manchester Museum commission is here with his team (his brief is ‘Wonder’), and I’m here with one of my collaborators, Shula, looking at ‘Role Models’.

Role Models. The term conjures footballers, rappers, actors, but we all feel that we’d like to take a wider look at the concept so, perhaps counterintuitively, one of the first decisions we make is to do away with the term ‘Role Models’. Instead we’ll call the project ‘Treasure’, and explore the idea tangentially, thinking about people you treasure in your life, and why.

The proposal I’ve submitted is a series of interactions between pupils of Lunsford school and residents of two local care homes, Abbeyfield St Martin’s & Lavenders, guided by me in the role of Steampunk Bob, engineering artist in residence, and assisted by various visiting collaborators.

In September, Steampunk Bob will arrive at the school out of the blue and settle in the library, then get right down to business: setting up equipment, measuring the school inside & out, recording sounds and images, and ignoring the pupils. I was once Pancake Bob, wandering blues hobo in residence in a school in Manchester (in a project run by the wonderful children’s theatre company Oily Cart), and used a similar tactic: arriving unannounced and simply ignoring any curious children as I set up my shack in their courtyard. They were fabulously intrigued, and it will be interesting to see how pupils at Lunsford react, too.

Eventually I’ll ask for help with a project. As Steampunk Bob, I’ll have come to Kent to learn about the older people living near the school, to find out their stories, their histories, their valued treasures, their treasured values and the people who have meant to them in their lives. How were they helped in life? Who do they treasure? Who do they love? I’ll ask the pupils to be life-detectives with me, and we’ll get to know the residents together, looking at these ideas in a variety of ways, with the help of other visiting artists in the roles of my companions.

John Hegley will lead poetry workshops for each class in the school, creating poems around the idea of people who matter. Those poems will be shared with residents on their visits to the homes. Gitika Partington will lead a whole school choir, teaching pupils the favourite songs of some of the residents, which will then be sung to them at the homes at the next visit.

Throughout these visits the pupils will be gathering as many details as they can about residents and in November Shula Hawes who works for the organisation Ladder to the Moon (Care Innovator of the Year 2014) will help set up a ‘This is Your Life’ performance at the homes, casting pupils and residents together in the roles, and acting out real events about people were important to them in life. Everything will be filmed & photographed, and during the final weeks in November the pupils will help Steampunk Bob create a collage which will be projected onto the side of the school for all in the community to see.

It’s an ambitious project, and I’m fascinated to see what the pupil will make of it. How will they react to a strange person in their school who has a strange job, collecting strange stories, with a propeller on his head? How will their thinking around role models develop? (Although we won’t ever say ‘role model’, it was decided at the away day that we’ll ask what the term means to pupils both before and after the project, and note any change.) I am quite sure the residents will enjoy their visits, but I wonder what the effects of these interactions will have on the young people. A lovely outcome would be a deepening of the relationships between the care homes and the school, with the children realising that they can enhance someone else’s life, increase another’s wellbeing, that they themselves have value to others, and perhaps realise that they themselves could very well become role models.

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