Understanding each other through collaborative art: Create artist Sheridan Quigley talks about bringing together disabled and non-disabled young people
Students from Livity and Dunraven schools work together to create a mural
Our visual artist Sheridan Quigley recently led two of our creative:connection projects, funded through our new partnership with Prudential plc. These brought together disabled and non-disabled students from Livity and Dunraven schools in Lambeth, and from Haymerle and John Donne schools in Southwark. Here she tells us about the work they created.
“Within creative projects, people bring a wide array of skills and interests that they have gained from all sorts of experiences in their lives to date, regardless of their particular circumstances. It’s not about having to produce work that can be graded or formalised but about expressing themselves, their imaginations and their emotional responses. Everyone has something to say, everyone has a unique perspective, all of which deserve to be heard and deserve respect. Consequently, collaborative arts are very democratic. What they require of the participant is a willingness to contribute as whole-heartedly as possible, without fear. A fully supportive environment, like creative:connection, makes this possible.
“creative:connection uses collaborative art to bring together pupils from an SEN and a mainstream school. Working on the projects, you can see how beneficial it is to spend time with people who have different skills and life experiences. The pupils become accepting, respectful and patient, learning to work at each other’s pace and appreciate the different ways of doing things. It’s important to learn at a young age to be adaptable in the way you communicate depending on who you are with.
“In Lambeth we created a 30 metre mural for the playground wall of the Livity School. The idea was to produce a piece which, as well as being fun to look at, could act as a learning reinforcement for the pupils. Children at Livity School have severe learning difficulties, PMLD, ASD and complex medical needs, so the mural was based around the shapes which can most readily be identified, drawn and named by the pupils, namely circles, squares and triangles. Similarly, the colour palette of the mural focused mainly on primary colours: red and yellow being a particularly important colour combination for children with vision impairment. The intention is for the Livity pupils to further their enjoyment of the mural by drawing into it with chalk, engaging with the existing shapes and adding their own embellishments.
“Throughout the project the Dunraven students, who were older than the Livity pupils, took care to focus in on the individual personalities and needs of the young people they were working with, winning their trust and affection. Because the mural was in the playground, its development was visible to the whole school community. On the last day, we had members of staff across the school coming over and telling us how much their own pupils were enjoying the gradual emergence of the mural and looking forward to adding their own contributions.
“Haymerle School, a school supporting children with a diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorders and social communication difficulties, has a meadow area for pupils to play in. Working collaboratively with pupils from Haymerle and John Donne schools, we built a series of willow structures in the meadow that could act as a focus point of calm and contemplation. We built two enclosed domes, which the pupils really enjoy sitting in, as well as a large owl and pussycat, inspired by the Edward Lear poem (which will provide material for future learning at the school). We also built a crawl tunnel, which is useful for helping to develop physical coordination.
“Working with willow involves a repetitive process of bending, twisting and securing. This is ideal for the age-group of the participants because they rapidly develop a skill that they can take personal responsibility for and then use it to contribute immediately to a collaborative building exercise. Throughout the project, the participants helped each other with all aspects of the build. Two groups of Haymerle pupils worked on the entire project, while the pupils from John Donne changed with every session. Consequently the Haymerle participants built up their understanding of the construction process and explained and demonstrated the techniques to the new groups of John Donne pupils. They found this exciting and empowering.
“We staged a full-blown ceremony to celebrate the completion of the willow structures, with a musical parade by many of the participants round and round the new sculptures, culminating in an ice-cream picnic inside the domes.
“On both projects there was a great sense of achievement and completion – in particular, amazement at the scale of what we made together. For me it reinforced the knowledge that every school is unique, every class in every school is unique, and every individual is unique. Although I have an overarching objective in mind at the planning stage of a project, the plan has to have plenty of space for the multiple imaginative inputs of the participants. I have to be prepared to go with the flow, adapting my approach as the moment requires, to respond effectively to the needs of the group and all its individuals. Consequently, every project is a collaborative learning experience – we’re all in it together!”
creative:connection in Southwark and Lambeth were funded by Prudential plc. Create has been running creative:connection since 2013, delivering 270 hours of creative arts workshops with 243 participants. In total, Create has worked with 8,245 participants with disabilities or SEN since it was founded in 2003.