If you could build a better world what would it look like?
Gretel wants to live in a better world. She dreams of her perfect place -a Utopia to hope for. This piece of spoken word incorporating song, was inspired by ideas gathered in workshops gather with children and their families over 2022.
A Utopian world building workshop is available to book exploring children’s identity and values and Fantasy and Science Fiction Genres. You can read more about workshops here.
Informed by ideas gathered in workshops with young people and children, Red: A Dystopian Fairy Tale is a spoken word piece about an imagined futuristic world ruled by a totalitarian regime known as Mother.
A world building workshop is available to book exploring Dystopian fiction. You can read more about workshops here.
This afternoon, I entered into a Zoom meeting with composer and musician Tayo Akinbode, hosted by Z-Arts. Being a storyteller, can be a lonely process and we are living in a lonely time, so it was great to hear about how Tayo creates music to tell a story.
One of the thoughts that regularly swills around my head is around the difference and similarities between working with children or adults. It’s a question I get asked regularly moving between these different groups that I work with. It leaves me a bit stumped as other then a slight modification of language, there is no difference. Children laugh and so do adults. Adults struggle crossing the creative threshold and so do children. Both children and adults want to hear and tell stories. So it is a relief to hear someone as experienced as Tayo say ‘I wouldn’t dumb down music for children.’
I have finished writing the story of my family ancestors. A project I was inspired to start after working with Emily O’Shea company, On The Border. I am now in the process of editing the story into an audio experience and it is a relief to be piecing the story together. The writing process has been difficult. The vision I sat down with was to create a piece of audio storytelling about my great-grandparents. They were performers at the turn on the 20th century who went on to manage some of the first variety cinema’s in the country (a mixture between Music Hall and Cinema). Before I sat down to research, this part of my family had mythical qualities. I wanted to use Music Hall numbers in order to help tell their story. I wanted this to be a piece for family audiences. Something that could be enjoyed with everyone – an intergenerational activity. That you could listen at a distance together with your elderly granny who is shielding and your 8 year old nephew who is home schooling. That it would open up conversations about family stories in a way that I could not have with my own grandparents. I was going to use this idea to develop my creative practice, to experiment and play.
But the doubts creep in. Will children get this? Is the music too bawdy? Am I just inventing truths that I cannot find? Is this material appropriate for family audiences? Nothing kills playtime like doubt and nothing makes experimentation more pointless then isolation. So thanks to Z-Arts for providing connection and thanks to Tayo for grounding me and reminding me that children are no different from the rest of us, which in my wobbly, lonely, creative moments I forget.
I grew up in Reading and we had family down in Bath. When we drove down to see them in Bath, my Dad would play Peter Gabriel’s albums. We loved the track, Solsbury Hill. We used to drive past Solsbury Hill on the route to see our family. We used to climb up it (when you could). We loved that song. We’d ask for more Peter Gabriel. We’d listen Red Rain, Don’t Give Up and Games without Frontiers. We did not hear the loaded political meaning in these songs. We didn’t here the meanings that I as an adult now hear. Tayo told us today ‘Children like Music.’ Its a simple statement, but it is an easy one to make. No matter how much I see my children request Michael Jackson (their Dad’s favourite) or sing along to Fleetwood Mac (Rumours is my go to Album), in my artistic process my lived knowledge gets crowded out by my doubts over how to execute an idea. I managed to create children into something ‘other.’
That is why I love working creatively with children. They remind me that we are all not that different from each other. I’m looking forward to Z- Arts opening their doors again so I can be reminded of this by the real child experts, the children themselves. Until then, I will keep going. Clumsily put one foot in front of the other.
After all music is music to be made, all stories are stories waiting to be told and all humans are humans waiting to be heard, no matter their size.
This project am I am working on has bee made possible by funding from the Arts Council Emergency Response Fund. The funding has allowed me time to develop my skills, conduct research and connect to other artists. My thanks go to Z-Arts for providing free access to these conversations and understanding that these conversations are needed.
There is truth that artists are encouraged to access their inner child to cultivate their creativity. I am sure that you have heard this or something along those lines in the past. I get where it comes from. As artists we need to have intuition, knowledge, curiosity and a playful approach to our creative practices. However this phrase does a little disservice to children themselves.
Around the country and maybe even the world, there is an uptake in home learning. There is an understanding that children need to be practicing something creative. It will be engaging, they will have fun and they may even use some additional skills that will bring in the more formal elements of a child’s learning. Those elements that as a society we seem to prize above all other things – English and Maths! Oh, for a dismantlement of this structure. However this is not the blog that I am going to write.
Picasso and Lennon, two of the biggest creative talents of the 20th Century, told us that all children are artists. I am not going to disagree with them. I think we are capable of creating art, but there is a trend I have observed in children and adults alike, in my community practice. Whether we are making maps, retelling tales, meeting new characters, writing lists. Whether they are 8 or 80, a blank page empties the mind. Everyone is full of fears and doubts that block imagination and stamp the message on the inside of their forehead “Art is not for you.”
The thing is because artists are encouraged to access theor inner child and because we have all seen the quote art ‘Every child is an Artist”, which Picasso may have not actually said, we seem to think that children can create something out of nothing.
Children are not creative machines. No one is. It takes time, space, love, inspiration, commitment and play to create. That is all tiring. Sometimes we need to rest, reflect, dream. The truest thing I know as a community artist is that we are all capable of creating with enough encouragement. So what have we all discovered in our creative fervour that has been poured out since lockdown begun in March?
I have found that my expectations on my own children are not what I have for the children I teach. In the early weeks of lockdown. We made rainbows and dragons and mermaids and masks and puppets and pictures. We made them and then they were abandoned. They clutter up the corners of our messy home, gathering dust. I quietly slip them into the bin, a crafty craft post bedtime cull. These outcome based activities passed the time. Sometimes we were really happy to do these tasks and sometimes we made things with my parents over video chat and sometimes we were very cross when we created. I see now that it is forced. I as a maker would find this wearing to never control what I create. I wouldn’t feel proud all the time. I wouldn’t always be interested. If this was my exposure to creating, I would feel very controlled.
Crafting is important. Through doing this we learn how to cut, stick, stitch, sketch, tie, weave. These are important skills for children to have and skills that children don’t get a lot of time to practice once they are in the confines of the National Curriculum. It is vital that children get this practice in. But copying a craft made by someone else is not necessarily a development of our children’s creativity.
So where is the balance? What is the answer? We have to find the mid-ground. We have to provide the opportunity for our children to create. We have to listen to our children and follow their interests. We have to expose our children to ideas. The good news is that ideas are everywhere – games, tv, books, magazines, the natural world. We might have to provide some materials for our children to create with. We then have to let children own their process.
One of the things my youngest daughter loves is her torn paper. We have a box of scrap paper. This box includes old leaflets, envelopes, packaging. If we cut something out of a clean piece of paper we put the cuttings we don’t use into the paper box. But this is not the paper my daughter is interested in. She found some paper from a pastel coloured paper pad. And she tore them up. She stored them in a basket. She places them in little piles on the battered lid of an old gift box. She sorts them very neatly. They’re her cupcakes that she’s made or food for her animals or insects in her garden. It’s annoying at times, to trip or slip over this. It looks a mess. I could dismiss this as rubbish. Tell her to stop tearing up the new paper and use the communal torn paper box. TO STOP LEAVING IT ALL. OVER. THE. HOUSE. If I did this, I would be shutting her off from her creative practice.
The good news is we can all aid children to be creative, but we need to stop expecting creativity to pour out of them. We need to understand that the barriers we have to creativity, are the same barriers that children have. We need to understand that for as long as we focus on products above processes we aiding the shutting down of our children’s creativity. We need to understand that we will never innovate if we are first not inspired to do so.
‘People. Just the idea that the individual is capable of looking after himself, that we don’t need centralized government, that we don’t need father-figures and leaders, that every child is an artist until he’s told he’s not an artist that every person is great until some demagogue makes him less great.’
The actual quote by John Lennon, said in response to what should replace society’s hierarchical model of functioning- Penthouse Magazine, 1969.
If you are someone who sweats at the word ‘creative’ and feels it is a word so utterly other to you, you are allowed to not use that word. Try ‘experiment’ or ‘play’ or ‘investigate’ or ‘build.’ You have all the intuition to lead your child towards creativity, and knowledge will come with practice. If you’re in doubt as to where to begin, go for a walk and let your child lead you.