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Shaping young lives and minds: Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop's Schools Programme

Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop's Schools Programme

Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop’s Schools Programme is now in its fifth year, and the initiative is stronger than ever. The focus is on engaging young people, and getting them interested in visual art from an early age. We caught up with ESW's Irene Kernan and Debi Banarjee to hear about the impact of the project on the young people involved.

Tell us about the Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop

Irene Kernan: The workshop has been going for 30 years now and provides support for artists, enabling them to make work, get training and education, as well as playing an important role in our local community, Our main links to the community are through our education programme.

About two years before the opening of our building was completed, Debi and I started talking about the Schools Programme: what shape it could take, and how to make it as valuable as possible for the kids and the local community. It was a two-year planning process.

Where did the Schools Programme come from?

Debi Banerjee: The ESW schools programme has been running for five years now. We work with the P5 classes from two local schools over the period of a year, and they come for an hour a week. At the beginning, I get them to think about what art is, what art means to them, but also the building itself. But it’s a practical workshop as well, so it's hands on, and they’re making things and talking all the time.

Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop's Schools Programme

After the first term, I invite lots of artists to come and work with school groups for maybe two to five weeks on a project, culminating in an exhibition of all the projects they’ve working on.

[This year's exhibition was called Stop Making Sense. It ran from 13-17 June 2017. The gallery images show some of the works on display].

The idea is to select artists who have got really interesting practices, who are working now and are quite current, but also to introduce lots of different sculpture and techniques to young people as well, that they maybe wouldn’t be able to access in school. It’s kind of a learning experience for the teachers and volunteers from the schools who come along as well.

What has the feedback been like from young people?

DB: I think the general feedback is that it’s a really enjoyable thing that they get to do. But what’s been really incredible as the years have gone on, and particularly this year, is watching the young people really free up and use their imaginations, and really cultivating that as much as possible.

ESW Schools

What’s been amazing this year, is that they’ve started to see connections between what we’re talking about and what we’re learning about. Whether that’s looking at Memphis Design and then seeing the connection between doing geometry in classes, or doing a workshop where they’re given 18 bags of clay and told to make a land about space in an hour and then going back to school and saying things like ‘I want to learn maths with clay'. I think it’s quite a special learning experience.

What’s been really incredible is watching young people really free up and use their imaginations- Debi Banarjee

What is it like for young people, being able to see their work on display?

DB: Their faces when they came in, to see their work presented in that way was really exciting for them. We had over 400 people visit the exhibition - even though it was only on for five days. They were all coming back, bringing their families. The most important part is the process that they go through, but it’s a really nice thing to have at the end to celebrate what they’ve been doing.

IK: You just don’t see that level of engagement in the gallery. They really are so interested in all the work and in talking about it. The quality of the work is so high that it's the sort of work that they’ll see in galleries. So when they go into a contemporary art show, they recognise processes and installation methods and things like that. It gives them confidence.

Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop's Schools Programme

What does the future hold for the Schools Programme?

DB: Every year the project changes, so I’m sure that next year will be a completely different programme. I’m particularly interested in how we learn in art schools, and I suppose that part of what I’m exploring is how you do that with young people. At a really young age, to encourage an openness about how we think about and how we make art.

IK: The Edinburgh Art Festival led a workshop with a group of P7s from a school we work with, so that meant that they’d been through our programme two years before. The coordinator of the arts festival education programme said she had never met a more informed group of children! They knew exactly what sculpture could be, they had no limits or restrictions to their imagination, because they’ve been through our programme. They do retain it, but it would be great to be able to continue that learning with them once they’ve started.

Find out more information about the Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop's Schools Programme. ESW is one of Creative Scotland's portfolio of Regularly Funded Organisations 2015-18.

This article was published on 24 Jul 2017