Spotlight on… Claire Clark, Senior Quality Officer

Tell us about your role at UAL Awarding Body and what it involves.
As Senior Quality Officer I manage, maintain and develop the quality assurance processes that support UAL Awarding Body’s core business processes such as how we approve our centres, how we design and review our assessments for qualifications and how we ultimately ensure that the products we provide to our customers do what they say they do. My work is dictated by regulatory needs, which if met – help to assure us that our qualifications are robust and valid.

How long have you worked at UAL Awarding Body and what was your previous role?
I have been at UAL Awarding Body for just over 5 years and before that I worked in a similar quality and compliance role at an awarding body who managed business management qualifications.

What is your proudest moment at UAL Awarding Body?
Probably meeting my boyfriend who used to work in the Marketing team.

What is your favourite thing about working for UAL Awarding Body?
The people I get to work with, both in and outside of the office. The UAL Awarding Body team in particular are a great bunch of like minded people, filled with passion and creativity and they all believe in the benefit and positive enrichment of our qualifications.

If you were stuck on an island what three things would you bring?
1. A techno DJ armed with decks and a decent sound system
2. Factor 20 sun cream
3. Chilled Chablis

If given a chance, who would you like to be for a day?
Lizzie Deignan – Professional cyclist. I’d love to experience her speed and skill on the bike.

What would it surprise people to know about you?
I can squat 80 kg and have achieved Grade 8 in piano.

What is your favourite place in the world?
A Cos store on payday, post wine fuelled ladies lunch.

Student success stories: Past Origins prize-winner shares their experience


Work by Natasha Parker-Edwards, Origins 2016

UAL Awarding body caught up with Natasha Parker-Edwards, winner of  the Level 4 Foundation Origins award, 2016.

Name: Natasha Parker-Edwards
UAL Awarding Body Course & Level: Level 4  Foundation Diploma in Art and Design
Institution when exhibiting at origins: Barton Peveril Sixth Form
CollegeCurrent institution/employer: Bath Spa University

How did you find out about Origins?
I was told about Origins by my Art Tutor Rob French on the Foundation course. He suggested to a few of us that we should apply.

Tell us about the piece of work that you exhibited at Origins?
My work throughout FAD responded to the theme ‘manipulation’, I was interested in exploring female sexual health and the ‘taboo’ associated with this. This led me to investigate the more sensitive issue of Female Genital Mutilation. I wanted to highlight that FGM happens on our doorstep in Western society and isn’t so far removed from England as people may think. The piece I submitted for Origins was my Final Major Project outcome. It was a triptych, two sculptures – one of which was interactive – made from ceramics, glass, and steel with a supporting handbound book of prints, photography and text. It aimed to raise awareness of Female Genital Mutilation and the consequences of it by using entropy and seriality as visual tools to reflect ideas of body manipulation.

What did you find most enjoyable about exhibiting your work at Origins?
The Foundation had given me the tools to create a piece which appeared refined and ‘gallery worthy’. I was excited to see other peoples work from around the country. I enjoyed setting up the end of year exhibition in college which involved plinth making, hanging and curating our work. It was following this that I was selected for the Menier exhibition. This was an exciting experience as it allowed me to set up and curate my work within another environment which made me have to consider a new space/restrictions etc.

What was your experience of exhibiting your work at Origins 2016?
I really enjoyed seeing my work displayed in a more professional manner. I was able to talk to students from UAL courses around the country and see all different types of work which had been made across the UK. It was also beneficial as a photographer took some photos of my work in the space, which was really useful for my portfolio.

Tell us the most rewarding thing about presenting your work at Origins 2016.
I was lucky enough to be awarded the Level 4 Art Foundation Origins Award by Bob and Roberta Smith at the award ceremony on the opening night of the exhibition. It was rewarding knowing the award had been given to me as they felt my piece had ‘the most impact’. This is something that I was hoping my piece would have as it aimed to raise awareness of Female Genital Mutilation in an approachable, sensitive and informative manner. Knowing it had been recognised and picked for the exhibition was incredible and it was made an even better experience being awarded the prize and hearing an established artist talk about my work.

Having won the award, I was asked to do a 30 minute presentation at the 2017 UAL Awarding Body Annual Conference in London about my work and my experience of the Art Foundation as well as what I hope to do in the future. This was part of the same conference that Grayson Perry was speaking at. It was very nerve wracking but such an amazing experience to have been given. It is something I am proud to talk about to employers when discussing my work and experiences and I now feel less daunted by public speaking and talking about my practice which has also been beneficial at university.

What would you say to students that are unsure about submitting work to this year’s event?
Go ahead! You have nothing to lose, and so much to gain if your work gets accepted for the exhibition.

What are you currently working on at the moment and where?
I am currently at Bath Spa University studying BA (hons) Creative Arts: Art and Dance.
As a dancer and artist, I am passionate about cross art collaboration and how this can foster original, exciting outcomes. As part of my current art research project, I am collaborating with KT Yun a local glassblower. To explore ‘collision of the arts’ plus the collision of humanity and nature and the consequences that Western society has on the environment. I am creating a film and some photography which merges contemporary dance and glassblowing experimentation through the use of projection and video editing.

With my current dance focus on contemporary improvisation and somatic movement techniques as well as site specific performance art and Physical Theatre. I regularly work with postgraduate students, taking part in improvisation, gaga and site specific art workshops. I most recently participated in a two day ‘New Paths to Creativity: Somatic Movement Workshop’ exploring somatic improvisation, under the guidance of Karen Smith, an experienced and seasoned facilitator of this work. I was able to immerse myself into a world of movement exploration and creativity, learning how to release old habitual patterns and tensions and build confidence and originality in my own art and dance practice.

Furthermore, in February I choreographed and performed in a site specific piece at the Holburne museum, named ‘Dolly Mixtures’, which gave fresh interpretation to the museum exhibits in close collaboration with composers. It involved audience interaction and chance methods to decide particular movement, scores and locations in the venue.

I am performing in Bath Fringe this year in a contemporary dance/ physical theatre piece called ‘Remember to Smile’ based on desire, happiness and superficial utopia utilising the work of George Orwell’s novel ‘1984’.

I enjoy improvisation and experimentation, finding it a way of fostering unusual, relevant and exciting moments. I feel as though my experience of the Art Foundation really helped expand my ability to reach out to other artists and discuss my own work to help produce collaboration projects across the arts.

What are your educational and professional hopes for the future?
Currently, being interested in many areas of the creative world, I am fairly unsure. I know I want to work and study in Bristol, Glasgow or London (or perhaps Berlin). I am hoping to go on to study at postgraduate level once graduating from Bath Spa University. I am currently interested in the UAL Art and Science masters course. Or I may look into Art and/or dance psychotherapy courses. Professionally, I hope to be able to practice as an artist/ dancer and continue my collaboration with other creatives alongside perhaps becoming a university lecturer or psychotherapist. But my hopes for the future change regularly!

Click here to find out more about Origins Creative Arts Festival 2018

Spotlight on… Marc Mollica, Chief Examiner for Performing and Production Arts

Tell us about your role at UAL Awarding Body and what it involves.

I am the Chief Examiner for Performing and Production Arts and operate within the academic standards team here at UAL Awarding Body. My role primarily revolves around offering academic support for our centres and providing guidance on delivery and assessment. I work very closely with our quality and operations team during the moderation cycle and head-up a team of Senior and External Moderators. I also collaborate with our qualifications team in designing and developing a range of performing and production arts qualifications.

How long have you worked at UAL Awarding Body and what was your previous role?

I joined UAL Awarding Body three years ago, when the performing and production arts qualifications were first released. Prior to that, I managed a performing and productions arts dept. in a large FE / HE College and prior to that I worked within industry as a theatre director. I still manage to direct the odd theatre project here and there.

What is your proudest moment at UAL Awarding Body?

When I first joined the Awarding Body, we had 28 centres and 1500 students registered on performing and production arts qualifications; on the last count, we had over 100 centres and 6000 registrations – and this figure is constantly rising! Being part of a team that has seen such a meteoric rise and take-up of our qualifications has been very satisfying and it’s highly rewarding knowing that we are making a positive difference to creative arts education on a national and international scale.

What is your favourite thing about working for UAL Awarding Body?

The people – both internal and external. I work alongside an amazingly talented team who all have very big hearts and are passionate about arts education. I am also lucky that my role brings me into frequent contact with teaching teams from across the country who continually tell me that UAL qualifications are the best thing to have ever happened to their courses and a holistic, project-based approach really challenges and stretches their students.

If you were stuck on an island what three things would you bring?

Fishing boat, solar powered record-player and my complete David Bowie vinyl back-collection.

If given a chance, who would you like to be for a day?

My wife – it would be marvellous to experience the feeling of being in charge, even if it is for just the one day!

What is something about you that would surprise most people?

I used to be a nifty football player back in the day.

What is your favourite place in the world?

New York City – no other place like it!

Student success stories – past Origins prize-winner shares their experience

Privacy Protection by Neeraj Kainth, Origins 2017, Copyright Eva Clifford

UAL Awarding body caught up with Neeraj Kainth, winner of “strongest mixed-media piece” at Origins 2017.

Name: Neeraj Kainth
UAL Awarding Body Course & Level: UAL Graphic Design Level 3
Institution when exhibiting at origins: Birmingham Metropolitan College
Current institution/employer:  FEED Studio, BMet

How did you find out about Origins?
I was studying the UAL Awarding Body Graphic Design Level 3 qualification and my lecturers at college encouraged me to submit my final project for the exhibition.

Tell us about the piece of work that you exhibited at Origins?
My work was titled ‘Privacy Protection’. It addressed how easily we give away information about ourselves online. Through print, animation and augmented reality, it explored the culture of social media and how harmless contact with friends can in fact lead us to give away more information than we want. The work was housed in a manipulated network tower; a kind of assemblage of social media and technology. Information for it was gathered through manual and online questionnaires.

What did you find most enjoyable about exhibiting your work at Origins?
I think the atmosphere of the event was the most enjoyable thing for me. I loved being surrounded by peers who shared the same passion towards art and design. The location of the exhibition was also brilliant. It was great to know that my work was being shown in proximity to artists such Shepard Fairey and D-face.

What was your experience of exhibiting your work at Origins 2018?
I had never exhibited work to the public on that scale. At first, I was a bit nervous but the response from people looking at my artwork and the conversations I had with them made me feel really confident and the proud of the body of work I had created.

Tell us the most rewarding thing about presenting your work at Origins 2018.
The most rewarding thing for me was when my work was chosen as the “strongest mixed media piece.” I wasn’t expecting to win any prizes at the exhibition, but I was overwhelmed to know that my artwork had made an impact on people.

What would you say to students that are unsure about submitting work to this year’s event?
I would say go for it, 100% without a doubt. Only good things can come from exhibiting at Origins. I think it is a great opportunity for students to show their skills and passion for their subjects, and it is a brilliant experience for someone who is beginning their art/design journey or are in the early stages of their career. 

What are you currently working on at the moment and where?
At the moment, I am creating artwork for my end of year exhibition which is exploring the theme of Mass Surveillance through technology. I decided to stay at BMet and I am currently studying HND Graphic Design within the FEED Studio. The FEED studio is a creative learning environment linked to the college, that teaches at an industry standard level and is run like a design studio.

What are your educational and professional hopes for the future?
I hope to progress to university next year to continue studying Graphic Design when I finish my HND. One of my long-term goals is to work in a design studio and to be a part of the ever-growing design scene in Birmingham. I feel like Birmingham has so much to offer to the world of art/design, and I hope to be one of the young designers from the city to carry out this goal.

Click here to learn more about Origins Creative Arts Festival 2018.

Spotlight on… Lucy Dang, Projects Officer

Tell us about your role at UAL Awarding Body and what it involves.

I’m a Projects Officer within the Qualifications Development team. In a nutshell, my role involves developing, reviewing and designing a range of qualifications to support education in the visual arts, performing arts, design, media, music and fashion. I ensure that projects are properly planned, managed efficiently and delivered on time and to budget.

How long have you worked at UAL Awarding Body and what was your previous role?

I joined UAL Awarding Body in January 2017. Prior to that, I worked for an academic publishing company in the Editorial Books and Editorial Journals department. My main responsibilities included project managing book publications, author and editor relationship management, and developing pedagogical tools for students and lecturers.

What is your proudest moment at UAL Awarding Body?

My proudest moment was when we received the news from the Department for Education that the Level 3 Diploma and Extended Diploma in Art and Design had been approved for inclusion in Performance Tables. A lot of hard work had gone into developing the qualifications and it was a real team effort from everyone involved. Smiles all round in the office!

What is your favourite thing about working for UAL Awarding Body?

I love going on centre visits and seeing student work in action. It’s gratifying to see our qualifications come to fruition, and seeing all the different creative outcomes.

If you were stuck on an island what three things would you bring?

I would bring a copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a camera and Bear Grylls.

If given a chance, who would you like to be for a day?

I would love to be Yayoi Kusama for a day. She’s one of my favourite artists, and I would love to learn how to express myself as creatively as she does through her work.

What is something about you that would surprise most people?

I used to compete in Karate national championships and achieved a black belt at the age of 12.

What is your favourite place in the world?

Edinburgh is my favourite place. I lived there for four glorious years as a student and made many happy memories. It’s a beautiful city, and I always go back every summer during the Festival Fringe for a reunion with my friends.

The history of art qualifications never did run smooth

Laura McInerney is an education journalist – now a columnist for Schools Week, she was formerly the editor for 3 years, and has written for The Guardian for 5 years. She is also a co-founder of Teacher Tapp, a daily survey of teachers’ lives, and was once taken to court by Michael Gove for asking difficult questions.

By Laura McInerney

The history of artistic endeavour is strewn with rebels who ignored their parents’ wishes. Miles Davis’s dad wanted him to become a dentist. Frida Kahlo was supposed to be a scientist. Even Shakespeare’s family tried to co-opt him into being a wool merchant.

Following a creative path requires a strong spirit, but what if it was made harder by removing artistic training opportunities and only left a path towards dentistry or science?

Quietly, for the past few years, the government has been attempting to link together national income tax records, which holds everyone’s salaries, with higher education data, captured in student loans records, and, eventually, link all this to the national pupil database, which holds school records for everyone under the age of 33.

Once complete, ministers will be able to see exactly how certain qualifications contribute to a person’s earnings such that, in future, the government could make more, ahem, ‘thrifty’ decisions about the subjects it chooses to fund within schools, colleges, and university.

If this seems terrifying, it’s worth remembering that placing a cash value on qualifications is not a new idea. Back in 2014 the Department for Education released research claiming that five GCSE pass grades, as long as the bundle included English and maths, were worth £73,000 over a lifetime compared to only passing three GCSEs. A-levels carried an additional £90,000 premium on top of that. (This is for men; women’s premiums are slightly lower.)

More recently, government research flashed the salary rates of graduates in different degree subjects across newspaper headlines. Creative arts and design students scored lowest, with an average earning of just £20,000 one year after graduation. Economics graduates, meanwhile, were raking in around £33,000. You can see why Shakespeare’s parents thought business was more lucrative!

Laura speaking at the UAL Awarding Body Annual Conference 2018

Both sets of data have some serious issues. The GCSE and A-level estimates were only based on samples taken from across the entire adult population in the Labour Force Census in the mid-2000s. Statistical jiggery-pokery means the estimates may not be way off, on average, but these figures are certainly outdated. What an adult of 60 experienced as their earning pattern throughout the late 20th century is unlikely to tell us much about what a young person today will see happen to their income over the next half a century.

Furthermore, the whole thing relied on self-reported qualifications. And while I was very keen on writing down every last GCSE when I was applying for Saturday jobs at age 16, these days I rarely list them at all. (Especially that low grade in food technology – darn you, cookery!) The researchers note this problem and admit it’s impossible to say the extent to which it messed up the figures.

Using the national pupil database in future will help as the records are better-kept, although they’re not perfect. Experts who regularly use the database for social research often complain of its holes and problems.

More problematic for the arts industry, however, is the link with tax records. Tucked away in last year’s salary research a graph shows what percentage of each subject’s graduates are self-employed. Guess who had the highest percentage? Yup, creative arts and design! And why does this matter? Because self-employed income lags in the way it shows up in tax records. While salaried income drips into the tax office’s computer database each month, the annual ‘self-assessment’ rigmarole for those who are self-employed means the data comes in later, which means that cash is missed out of the salary headlines altogether.

Here’s another headline you probably didn’t read: once you add in self-employment, then after five years, creative arts and design students have a higher employment rate than graduates in computing.

Beyond all this, some other logical points should also kick in to show that arts education can be lucrative. Last year the creative industries contributed £90bn to the economy. The 2017 Forbes list of Britain’s fastest-growing companies heavily feature advertising and media companies. Even one of the recent big political stories – Theresa May’s £995 Amanda Wakeley leather trousers – show that British fashion designers are still a hot trend!

I also understand, reader, if at this point you want me to say that creativity is about more than money. It is, of course, much more important than that. But government ministers are custodians of taxpayers cash, and so I’m happy to meet them on their own terms and live with the idea that pounds should be spent efficiently. It just doesn’t seem as if the evidence, in the end, will be on their side.

For now, however, we must wait. It may be a while before the results are fully known and widely available. In the meantime, artists everywhere will need to carry on the generations-long tradition of not giving a stuff what other people tell them they ought to do, and instead keep blowing their trumpets, or wielding their paintbrushes, regardless.

#CreativityCounts: UAL Awarding Body Annual Conference 2018

A huge thank you to everyone who attended UAL Awarding Body’s Annual Conference at Shoreditch Town Hall this year (February 2).

Photo credit: James Hopkirk

Like last year, UAL Awarding Body brought all of its subjects together first thing, before separating for subject-specific breakout sessions in the afternoon.

Delegates from Art & Design, Music, Fashion, Foundation Studies, Creative Media and Performing Arts kicked off the day with Triple Double’s Paul Jenkins – who spoke about the importance of learning to fail.

Paul was followed by Schools Week’s Laura McInerney – who discussed what the psychology of politicians means for education.

Photo credit: James Hopkirk

“Are there thousands of jobs in design? Maybe not,” asked Paul. “Are there hundreds of thousands of problems to solve? YES!”

Laura, also a columnist for The Guardian, began by pointing out that “in 73 years, not a single education secretary studied a creative subject for their degree”.

Photo credit: James Hopkirk

Next up, guests were treated to a mix of presentations and performances from the talented students at Rotherham College, Birmingham Metropolitan College, Academy of Contemporary Music, and Birmingham Metropolitan College.

Other guest speakers included Rizing Games founder Michael Warburton, graphic designer Simon Wild, Touretteshero co-founder Jess Thom, freelance makeup artist Phoebe Walters, as well as Matias Shortcook (Associate Dean, Plymouth College of Art) and Dr Amy Mallett (Cohere Professional Development), who ended the event on a high with her speech: ‘Creativity changing lives’.

Photo credit: James Hopkirk

Thanks again to all of our guest speakers. Check out the full list of speakers, students, performers and guests below.

Please click this link to view the available speaker presentations.

Note: The link and presentations will expire in one month, so please download if you want to keep them on file or view them in the future.


Paul Jenkins: ‘Learning to fail’

Laura McInerney: ‘The psychology of politicians – and what it means for creative education’

Dr Amy Mallett/Sarah Lewis/Ron Frost: ‘Creativity Changing Lives’

Photo credit: James Hopkirk

Art & Design

Matt Moseley: Yearly catch-up

Simon Wild: ‘Becoming the master of two worlds – using professional experience to create projects that tell stories and build journeys’

Phoebe Walters: ‘Becoming a freelance makeup artist’

Dominic Green: The student experience

Photo credit: James Hopkirk

Creative Media Production & Technology

Lucy Sankey-Warner: Yearly catch-up

Neeraj Kainth: The student experience

Michael Warburton: ‘Real-world learning – starting an educational based commercial enterprise’

Photo credit: James Hopkirk

Performing & Production Arts

Marc Mollica: Yearly catch-up

Luke Harriot: The student experience

Jess Thom: ‘Touretteshero’

Photo credit: James Hopkirk

Music Performance & Production

Andy Sankey: Yearly catch-up

Lauren Walton/Christie Norbuch: The student experience

Andy Ellis/Stuart Belsham: ‘PRSfM – how songwriters and composers get paid’

Photo credit: James Hopkirk

Fashion Business & Retail

Justine Head: Yearly catch-up

Katie Williams: FBR delivery

Nikita Agapovaite: The student experience

Paul Jenkins: ‘Designing a new fashion store, from the shoebox up’

Photo credit: James Hopkirk

Foundation Studies (FAD)

Sue Cook: Yearly catch-up

Suzanne Archer: ‘Thinking for the future’

Matias Shortcook: ‘The character project’

There’s nothing soft about ‘soft skills’

Respect, Responsibility and Grit are all valuable skills within both creative education and the workplace. Matias Shortcook, Associate Dean at Plymouth College of Art, shares his thoughts about the role of ‘soft skills’, giving a glimpse into Plymouth’s implementation of the Character Project

Like so many colleges, in recent years we’ve seen a rise in the number of students coming to us with mental health struggles, personal issues and increased levels of anxiety, all of which impact on their ability to learn.

In light of this, a lot of our curriculum planning sessions start with the same question. While we’re planning links to industry, live briefs, and opportunities for students to set themselves up as professional practitioners in their fields, how can we make sure that the students are equipped to take advantage of these opportunities?

I’m sure that many of us feel that a growing part of our job as educators is to address the wellbeing of students, before we can even get to the creative education.

And I’m sure that we have all had, to lesser or greater extents, concerns when we wave goodbye to those students, hoping that we’ve helped them to develop the resilience to weather the challenges that lie ahead.

At Plymouth College of Art we have taken the position that it is not who you are, but what you do that defines you. We have expanded our crafts provision whilst others have closed theirs, and we continue to build on our heritage of making, through investments in cutting-edge technology such as Fab Lab Plymouth, as well as retaining traditional skills by rescuing antique wallpaper presses and letterpress sets.

Making is in our blood and central to what we do. But to develop intimacy in these practices and to use them to be successful in the creative industries, we recognise that you need a range of other skill bases, other than the technical.

With this need in mind, we asked what would happen if our students, our lecturers and our environment focused on soft skills, first and foremost? How would this change what they saw as possible in their creative practices?

Talking with my subject leads, we identified very similar values across our five Extended Diploma courses, Foundation Diploma in Art & Design, and GCSEs. These values were distilled into six areas which are Respect, Communication, Responsibility, Wellbeing, People and Grit.

I don’t want to pretend that we’re the first to do this.  We’re not even second, third or fourth in the pursuit of these important areas of learning. Across all the sectors, not just our own, people have recognised time and again the importance of developing a broad range of skills, alongside technical understanding. This was reflected in the STEPS (no, not the band) project, which was set up as a college partnership with eight institutions from across Europe in 2015 to research the nature, importance and need for ‘soft skills’ within the workplace.

Angela Duckworth in her study of ‘Grit’ laid out persuasive research, which demonstrated across different sectors of society that ‘grit rather than intelligence’, was the key factor in the success of an individual. Take a moment to review her work and the ‘Grit Scale’, which is super interesting stuff!

It’s also worth looking at K.I.P.P. schools in the USA, which have a well-established model, setting down a range of character strengths that demonstrate high impact on student success, across a wide range of socio-economic areas.

Based on our research, we had agreed how to organise these values and the next step was to agree on what the best outcome for each of these character values would look like at the end of our courses. We then mapped what these values would look like at the end of every stage, establishing the learning outcomes, or competency, for each assessment point of our courses. This has enabled us to create a system, now in its second year, where every six weeks we assess and feed back to the students about their character alongside assessing their qualifications.

Our environment needed to also reflect the Character Project, and all activities that are planned are prioritised in terms of how this will build the character of our students. Increased group work, more critiques, more competitions, events and external partners are part of this. The benefit of this way of structuring the skills of the individual is that it also allows us to create a home for British Values, Prevent and Employability.

We called it the Character Project, because it is a project, a work-in-progress that we continue to improve and refine, to the benefit of staff and students.

This year we saw nearly 40% of students walk away with a distinction, which is nearly double what students had achieved the previous year. More importantly, 80% of our students met or exceeded the ambitious targets that we agree with them at the start of the course. So, the ‘soft skills’ that we embed with the Character Project aren’t soft, they’re anything but.

Once, when discussing this project with a colleague they pointed out that the word ‘character’ has its origins in Ancient Greek, referring to an ‘engraved mark’ and the creation of dye for the embossing of coinage. This comparison was exciting because in both cases, an external force is required to shape the outcome. Character is not something that never changes, it is something that we can help to nurture. If we can develop these character traits in the young people that we teach, then they’ll truly leave with the skills that they need to succeed in their creative futures.

Images courtesy of Plymouth College of Art

Context is creative

Using context as a creative stimulus can add depth to both academic and performance-based student projects. Richard Hooper, Senior External Moderator and Performing Arts Teacher at South Essex College explains how…

Context can be used as an extraordinary tool to expand what could be a rudimentary interpretation of a stimulus. It can be used to develop and explore the inclusion of creativity in order to make a project unique and thought provoking.

A ‘creative’ context can be used as the incentive to gather a wider breadth of information which results in a greater selection of choices that can be used to develop the final outcome of a project. Perhaps it is easier to explain through specific examples I have used in my own practice.

When working on a production of Cabaret with a company of Level 3 Performing & Production Arts learners, the Holocaust was clearly the main theme of the book. This does not necessarily mean that the persecution of the Jewish population is the only context that can be used to expand performance choices.

Thinking outside of the boundaries of the plot, and making the objective a commentary on ‘the persecution of minorities’, stimulated an investigation into wider topics. Examples of how other minority groups have been persecuted, including specific case studies, expanded the choices the performers had to work with during rehearsals. This extended context allowed the learners to investigate themes such as race, sexuality, and varying religious beliefs. The broad, thorough and detailed research that the learners completed led their performance away from an approximation of a truthful reaction into an in-depth and realistic portrayal that is supported by fact.

Regardless of the fact that this information could be used to support one word or the entire project, it engaged the performers in worlds that were beyond their present experiences and encouraged them to delve into arenas that were previously unconsidered. Using this as the stimulus resulted in performances that were beyond the realms of what they thought possible at the start of the project.

The use of an extended context also enabled the performers to solve performance problems, which they struggled with through only exploring the obvious theme of the piece. The expansion of the theme offered more choices to explore during the rehearsal process.

Another example is the extension of the theme of ‘fairy tales’, in a production of Into the Woods, into an analysis of present day family values. Through the telling of stories, the performers explored the relationships between the members of each family, which allowed them to develop their onstage interaction. With the objective of the commentary resulting in the coming together of a new family who were not blood related, the Baker, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and Jack, the cast were able to explore what is considered as a family in this day and age and how this related to their own lives.

When encouraged to include their own family tree in their supporting information for performance, the learners developed a connection with their own heritage and used this as primary research to support their performance choices. It also allowed them to evaluate their own family values which, in turn, developed their growth as a respectable and thoughtful member of society.

The use of context as a creative tool can also be carried through into academic elements of the project. In this production of Into the Woods, the learners were directed to complete their reflective journals by means of a storybook written in the third person. Writing in the third person allowed them to step outside of themselves and evaluate and analyse their contributions to the project and their own character-building in a mature and reflective manner.

The development of a fairy tale also allowed them to analyse and evaluate the source material and structure of the musical itself. The creative element of this activity resulted in good engagement with the academic work and stimulated the performers to be far more evaluative of their personal contribution to the project as a whole. The structure of telling a story became integral to their submissions. Their project proposal became the foreword for their book, each reflection became a chapter, the final evaluation became the epilogue and, of course, many books have a bibliography.

I also use the context of a project to stimulate the format in which the learners submit their work. They are encouraged to offer their work in a contextually appropriate way. This photo demonstrates the way the Cabaret company decided to submit their work through a group discussion – The flight from persecution. They also chose not to have names in the programme as victims are often anonymous – a thoughtful and touching decision.

From the start to the finish of the projects, context became the overarching motive for every activity, be it practical or academic. By using an expanded context in this way, every element of the project supported the others. Information gained in one specific activity could be transferred to other pursuits resulting in a cohesive and well considered outcome in both performance and in the academic submissions.

Images courtesy of Richard Hooper

Learning to fail

Paul Jenkins is the Founder and Creative Director at Triple Double. He’ll be speaking at the upcoming UAL Awards Body Annual Conference on 2 February 2018. As a taster of what’s to come, he’s shared his thoughts on the importance of teaching and mentoring within the design industry…

Paul Jenkins UAL Awards Body Annual Conference

I’ve always learned skills and taken experiences away from others; my friends, previous colleagues, bosses, and now as the Founder and Creative Director of Triple Double, my team and our clients. I always say that when you stop learning, it’s time to move on and that’s essentially what I did by starting my own business – after holding several full-time design positions throughout studios, agencies and in-house roles.

Triple Double helps to educate everyone we work with by teaching and mentoring – helping people to gain new skills and empower their approach to problems. Within the education sector specifically, we work across traditional institutions such as primary and secondary schools, universities and adult learning, as well as with museums, charities, cultural organisations and community initiatives to deliver projects outside of the curriculum.

I’m also a huge basketball fan, and player, and so perhaps the idea of helping others is just embedded in me, working with four other players on the court to come up with the best solution to score points for every possession, but that’s another blog post.

So as a designer, what do you do with these experiences and skills you learn along the way? A lot of designers are good at keeping things to themselves, I mean they are specialists at what they do, and they help clients with their problems in a way that no one else could. But I’m a big believer that as designers, we should be helping everyone to learn and gain the knowledge and skills we also have – at every step of the way.

This is the reason why education is the first thing as a business I tell people about. Sure, we can make things for you, solve the problems you face, but if we can help you to become better at what you do, in your every day, then you learn from that, and so do we. It’s win-win. Educating others to become better really is one of the most rewarding parts of my job, I just happen to be a designer.

So where did this interest and passion come from? Well you guessed it, my own education experience. I left school at 16 to do a BTEC at college in Design, as my teachers at school told me I’d ‘fail’ if I didn’t do A levels – even though I knew graphic design wasn’t an option at school. I then went on to study graphic design at degree level at the London College of Communication and purposely took this specific course for its optional structured year-in-industry, supported by the excellent Sarah Temple. That year out truly changed my approach to design as well as what design meant to myself – still to this day do I receive enquiries from students asking about my internships in Berlin and Tokyo.

Spending two months in Tokyo collaborating with the best boss I have ever worked under, Eric Cruz at Wieden+Kennedy, was the cherry on the top of the year (although that was experience was so much more).

After returning to London, I came to the realisation that if I wanted to progress in my design career and eventually start my own design studio (which I think will always be the biggest ongoing learning I have), then it had to be centred around helping others through design. It couldn’t be inward looking, it had to be open, honest, collaborative, empathetic to others’ needs and definitely full of opportunities to learn from. I had to seek out people and clients who also wanted to work in that exact way.

Since then myself and Triple Double have helped deliver education projects, courses, workshops and talks for the likes of The CASS, Design Museum, General Assembly, London College of Communication, National Citizen Service, Ravensbourne, Regent’s University, Saturday Club Trust, School of Communication Arts and Wellcome Collection.

We also work with the likes of Airbnb, BBC, Mercari Europe, Goodlord and Unilever on design projects, and the education simply continues here as well. What I explain to everyone is that you have to ‘learn to fail’ and what I mean by this is to try things out, get things wrong, do things quickly, iterate, experiment and most importantly, play. Design should be all of the above, but if done well, it can help others to understand and learn the true value and power that it can bring. That’s when the exciting stuff, and true learning starts to happen…

So, why am I writing all of this? Well I’ll be speaking at the UAL Awarding Body conference in February 2018 so firstly, I’d love to find out why you help others – that’s one of the most inspiring things you can take away from someone I think. I’ll be (spoiler alert) talking about some specific projects that really have been prime win-win examples of everything I’ve explained here, including one about emojis with students in Sheffield and a project I’ve been involved with the Design Museum since its early beginnings.

For now, remember to learn to fail…

Image courtesy of Paul Jenkins