Temporary spaces, edible places

Atlas Arts invited Australian artist Keg de Souza for a residency during which she collaborated with the students at Kilmuir Primary, Isle of Skye in May and June of 2014. For this project, Keg organised workshops and picnics in an inflatable structure to engage with the pupils and learn about local food production and crofting.

Atlas Arts picnic 

Tell us about the project

The residency was split into two, the first half being a research visit during which the artist had time for personal investigation as well as running workshops. She spent two days at a time with the three classes (years 1-4 & 5-7 Gaelic medium and years 1-7 English class) at Kilmuir Primary School. During the first visit the pupils were encouraged to ‘teach’ Keg about local food and crofting through drawing workshops.

In the interim each child was given a disposable camera to take photographs of anything they wanted to document in relation to crofting.

During the second visit – the photographs and drawings were placed on a large piece of paper in relation to where pupils lived, creating a giant collaborative mapping of the local community.

The project culminated in a picnic for each class inside the artist’s inflatable igloo structure. The pupils had collected recipes of local food for a school cookery book and the artist cooked a selection of this food for the picnic.  As the pupils ate and talked the artist wrote down words and phrases on the floor of the inflatable, mapping the conversation.

As a legacy for the pupils and the school the artist created a handmade book about crofting. This was a means of archiving the project and sharing the knowledge and documenting the workshops.  She also created an embroidered picnic blanket with an illustration of the crofting discussion mind map.

How did you link with the curriculum?

Vital to the project was an emphasis on interdisciplinary and creative learning an important element of the Curriculum for Excellence. The project not only contributed to the educational and social development of pupils, but also promoted a greater understanding of the history, culture, economy, environment and the community in which the pupils lived.

For example, the project opened up opportunities through:

  • Conversations around crofting past, present and future, sustainability, food production, land use and the nature of the commons.
  • Painting, drawing and photography of their local environment and the details of living and working on a croft.
  • Practical skills – pupil were encouraged to learn the practical skills associated with foraging and food production; for example making butter, dulse soup, pancakes and preserves.

What did the artist/s bring to the school?

Keg de Souza brought new perspectives and an ‘outsiders eye’ to the work the school had already been developing. She is very experienced artist/educator working in socially engaged practice her projects develop through dialogue and observation of a community to produce work that reflects them back to themselves and a wider audience. ‘It’s a reciprocal learning process’ she says using various media, such as video, inflatable architecture, installations, printmaking, text and illustration. Keg de Souza’s work investigates the politics of space; exploring urban environments, the communities that live within them and how they perceive themselves.

What did you have to work on in planning and delivery?

It was important to prepare the school for what to expect, this was achieved by providing background information on the artist, examples of their work and evidence of their experience working with schools. A firm commitment and understanding from the Headteacher was established early on and helped in enabling this project to progress. Following conversations with the Headteacher and the artist, a brief was created outlining roles and responsibilities and shared aims. The Headteacher encouraged all the staff to work with the artist to create a timetable for her work.

Planning time for the artist was built into the residency and all additional materials were sourced and delivered to the school prior to the workshops taking place. Preparation time outside of the school and classroom was vital for the artist to develop and plan her work, she also used this time to prepare all the food off-site and the school cook made soup for the picnic.

What worked well?

This project took place in May and June, which allowed the school to be more flexible with their timetable. Keg was able to work with classes for whole days at a time rather than in short blocks, which can often be the case.

In an area where access to contemporary art and artists is very limited the project helped to;

  • Increased access to contemporary art, and remove barriers to participation in the arts, for the young people and the teaching staff
  • To stimulate participants to explore their own creative potential, to make art themselves

Teachers also noticed that the project helped to;

  • To build confidence and encourage an understanding of professional artists and how they work
  • Create a ‘buzz’ in the school about he project and encouraged pupils work in new and unfamiliar ways
  • Developing key skills such as self-esteem, teamwork and decision-making were core to the artists approach

What changed as a result of the project?

As an arts organisation without a venue it is difficult to provide educational activities in a gallery space we need to work hard to develop relationships with teachers and schools so they build a trust in our work. Since this project we have gone on to develop further projects with some of the staff involved. 

What would you do differently next time?

It’s always good to have more time!

Or any top tips for others?

Don’t go into the school with too tight an agenda! It is important to let the artist respond to the context, work with the staff and develop their approach – if possible over an extended period of time. i.e. offer a research trip prior to the actual workshops/project and build in preparation time between sessions.

We carefully matched the artist to the community and the school. Through discussion prior to the residency we were able to establish that they would be receptive to an artist's input. It was also important for us that the artist would be hosted well by the community and gain opportunity to experience something of the range of crofting life and activity that was happening within the local community. Check in with the artist and the school regularly to ensure that everyone is happy with how things are progressing or if any additional support is required.

View more case studies available as part of this ArtWorks Scotland artists and teachers resource.