Then there were the roundtable and forum discussions, where we discussed barriers to authentic inclusion, and identified ways to shift these. For Seven Stories, the artform of children’s literature is at the heart of everything they do – and it’s by going to events like this that they can flag up with publishers that inclusion is fundamental to the national story they aim to tell. Seven Stories’ workforce (like that of many arts organisations) is not particularly diverse – they’re aiming to shift that barrier through targeted pathways to work programmes from 2018 to 2022.
Highlights of the day for me were hearing from Year 10 pupil Jarvia, one of Inclusive Minds’ Ambassadors, about her reading experiences – she spoke about reading new writing on Wattpad as she feels it’s less filtered – and I loved hearing Jay Hulme’s“angry trans” performance poetry (his description!):
In the afternoon discussions, I ended up sat next to the author, actress and presenter Cerrie Burnell. In her presentation, she talked about how the books she read as a child didn’t reflect her experience. She recounted a story about playing at Peter Pan in the playground: there was already a Wendy and a Tinkerbell, so one of the other children suggested that she could be Captain Hook – Cerrie was adamant that she was more of a Tigerlily. Cerrie encouraged her fellow authors to represent difference in an incidental way: “write the thing that you know, or write the thing that you want to see.”
Robin Stevens, author of the Murder Most Unladylike mysteries, talked about the two types of offence her writing might potentially cause (the one she loses sleep over is making errors about misrepresenting cultures and experiences outside of her own, which is why in her recent books she has been working with sensitivity readers) and Di Airey of Diversity Dynamics reminded us that although publishing is in some ways ahead of other sectors, that we still have a way to go: “There’s not enough change: there are too many people who hide an aspect of their difference.”
It was an inspiring and thought-provoking day, but ensuring the Vital North Partnership’s activities are inclusive is an ongoing process. We’ve done some interesting work, such as our Diverse Voices? symposium in November, and our recent Geographies of Gender and Generation collaboration, and in 2018, we’ll be focussing on BAME voices in children’s literature and activist networks through a new AHRC Creative Economy postdoctoral fellowship led by Dr Aishwarya Subramanian. But there’s still more to do. As Juno said so eloquently in her opening keynote: “The worst thing we can do is think we’ve done it, we’ve achieved diversity. We haven’t done diversity. You can’t tick diversity off the list.”
Seven Stories believes that the books children read help them to better understand themselves and the world around them, and they are passionate about championing inclusive children’s literature.
Dr Michael Richardson, leader of the Geography BA’s third year module Geographies of Gender and Generation, approached Seven Stories last summer about a new teaching collaboration focussing on challenging gender stereotypes. As part of this module, students are asked to develop a campaign or activity which promotes gender equality, and then reflect on this through a written assignment. In the 2017 / 18 academic year, Dr Richardson wanted to provide a focus for his students that would allow them to “explore intergenerational practice as an intervention method for the promotion of gender equality”. Having previously worked with Seven Stories on their 2015 Big Ideas project, Dr Richardson saw Seven Stories as a potential collaborator.
After receiving support through the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology’s Learning, Teaching and Student Experience fund to kickstart the project, we developed resources and a programme of student workshops, leading to a final event with children and young people at Seven Stories.
In the first workshop, Jayne Humphreys (Learning and Participation Co-ordinator at Seven Stories) and I introduced the students to issues around gender representation in children’s literature. We also introduced the five books that the students would be focussing on in the final schools event:
Next, the students were asked to pitch which book theywould like to work with. The students said:
“[Izzy Gizmo] promotes the idea of science and technology as a viable career choice for young girls rather than the typical caring roles that are often shown in children’s books. I also like… that the main character is of an ethnic minority”
“I think [Tough Guys (Have Feelings Too)] is… about allowing people of all genders to be more well-rounded human beings. Encouraging emotional literacy in boys in particular is a really simple and effective way to tackle a number of serious issues… This benefits everyone, including women”
Having chosen their books, the second student workshop focussed on storytelling and engagement techniques. Jayne led the students through Seven Stories’ approach to story times and how to use stories as a starting point for other conversations and activities. MP for Newcastle Central Chi Onwurah also attended this session, speaking to the students about the gendered workplace.
In November 2017, the students welcomed a class of Year 5 children from nearby Hotspur Primary School to Seven Stories. Working in groups, the students presented a 30-minute session with a small group of children, where they read their story together, discussed the questions about gender that the books raised, and took part in activities such as games, dressing up and drawing.
The students said:
“I thought it was a really creative way to put something we’ve learnt in lectures into a real-life situation.”
“I think the event at Seven Stories was really beneficial for us, as well as the children. Storytelling is definitely a good way of getting some big ideas out to them… I’m going to use this event as experience towards my future teaching career too.”
Teaching staff at Hotspur Primary School said, “We all had such a wonderful time at Seven Stories – what a great workshop!”
For Dr Michael Richardson, “This collaboration with Seven Stories has enabled me to enhance my teaching practice and improve the student experience. My module promotes intergenerational practice, or in other words, methods of bringing groups of people of different ages together. Of particular note was the impact of the local primary school children on my final year undergraduate students. This highlighted just how much children have to teach us as older people and reinforced just how much intergenerational work is a two-way learning process.”
And Jayne Humphreys said: “For Seven Stories, this has been a wonderful opportunity to engage the children of Hotspur Primary and to work collaboratively with the University students. Using children’s literature to challenge, inspire and empower children and young people is at the heart of the work we do at Seven Stories and it was a pleasure to be part of a project which brought intergenerational groups together and engage children in our local community to think about these big issues.”
What’s next? The students have submitted their assignments reflecting on the workshop, and these are being assessed; I’ll also be interested to hear their reflections on this in their module evaluation questionnaires. Following that, we’ll be evaluating the project and thinking about plans for next year. So, watch this space!
Thanks to the GEO3135 students, Dr Michael Richardson, Jayne Humphreys and Hotspur Primary School for their contributions to this blog post.
Universities and cultural organisations are working more closely than ever before. New roles and initiatives are emerging to manage these collaborations…
Navigating a challenging funding landscape, arts and cultural organisations are increasingly collaborating to make their resources stretch further and engage new audiences. Universities are similarly turning to partners, who can help to demonstrate impact beyond the academy, support challenge-based research funding bids and enhance the (increasingly expensive) student experience.
Aside from these external drivers, there are synergies between the two sectors. Both arts organisations and HEIs can be seen as ‘anchor institutions’, not-for-profit organisations which contribute to learning, economic growth, skills development and community engagement within their regions. Many universities run their own cultural venues; some of our national cultural institutions are eligible to apply for RCUK funding through their status as Independent Research Organisations. You could say we’re natural partners.
For larger organisations managing multiple cultural or HEI partnerships, co-ordination functions often sit with a team within the organisation’s staff structure. The National Archives’ Academic Engagement team co-ordinate engagement with academic audiences; Kings College London’s Cultural Institute facilitates collaborations between the University and the cultural sector.
But as you drill down to a collaboration between an individual university and arts organisation, new partnership models and roles, like mine, are beginning to emerge.
Our partnership is built on a shared ambition: that Newcastle becomes a centre for excellence in children’s literature. My work focuses on initiatives which are genuinely beneficial for both organisations, support our jointly agreed objectives and progress our long-term relationship.
Of course, working for two different institutions isn’t perfect – just imagine working between four different offices and two IT systems – but it’s a model that’s proving successful. Since 2015, our partnership has generated over £800,000 worth of funded activity and engaged with over 100,000 people. And beyond the numbers, I think that more interesting and innovative things happen at this intersection.
A collective ‘brand’
An extension of this model is Opera North and the University of Leeds’ pioneering DARE collaboration, positioned as a collective ‘brand’ embedded within both organisations. Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, the partnership has impressive statistics, encompassing more than 250 projects and attracting £3million in new funding.
DARE Director Lesley Patrick says: “The fundamental pillars to building the relationship included identifying areas of common ambition, to form an equal partnership with a common language. This created a framework which removes ‘policing’ and allows conversations to breathe.”
“DARE has allowed each organisation to prioritise the development of initiatives that make a positive contribution to achieving its own ambitions. It drives the partners to think and act more broadly, outside the traditional spheres – it enables business development.”
Networks of partnerships
And as partnerships between the sectors increase, new co-ordination initiatives are developing to support, catalyse and highlight activity. Culture Forum North launched in 2015, bringing over 50 Higher Education and cultural sector partners in the North together to discuss collaborations. The National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement’s MUPI project, which began in 2015, brokers and analyses partnership activity between small to medium-sized museums and HEIs.
There’s a culture change going on here: arts research and arts organisations are demonstrating that our sectors can work together innovatively and effectively. But external funding is still primarily sector-specific. Arts Council England and the Arts and Humanities Research Council have yet to release a collaborative funding call. Perhaps there’s an opportunity here for our funders to work in partnership, too?
Thinking about collaborating with a university, what animal is a university like? Is it an octopus? A soaring eagle? A bee? Or a huge, slow-moving whale? That was the opening question posed to delegates at the NCCPE Engage Conference 2017, and set the tone for two days of creative debate about the nature of university collaborations.
In the first plenary, Ahmed Bawa of Universities South Africa focused on the ‘intensely local, and intensely global’ challenges which we face in society today. In a context of growing inequality, he encouraged universities to think hard about what they can do to further the social justice agenda. Newcastle’s Institute for Social Renewal, and Seven Stories’ work with children and young in some of the poorest areas of the North East, means this is a focus for the Vital North Partnership’s work.
Nancy Cantor’s plenary, on Rutgers University’s work as an anchor institution within Newark, New Jersey, considered social justice in the context of the “birth lottery”. Universities do brilliant work on widening participation, but generally focus on Year 6 and above. In my work with Seven Stories, I see first-hand the impact that engaging with the arts has from birth onwards; and I often wonder whether universities need to engage with children and young people at an earlier stage.
In a complementary mini-plenary, I heard Sophie Duncan and Paul Manners from the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement talk about their attempt to create a typology of public engagement activity, and the motivations behind it. This seemed quite a successful and helpful framework when considering a single project, but I struggled to see how the Vital North Partnership’s work as a whole would map onto this.
And of course, I also presented at the conference. I participated in the Co-production in Practice workshop, where I discussed building momentum within existing partnerships and came up with some top tips with the other delegates attending. I also took part in the poster party – here’s my poster, which captures just some of the highlights of the Vital North Partnership’s work in 2017:
So what is collaborating with a university like? Well, I would say a hybrid between an octopus and a whale. Newcastle University is a huge organisation, but through the Vital North Partnership, Seven Stories is collaborating with lots of different Schools and departments. A whoctopus, if you will. What do you think?
In the foreword to the recently-published anthology of fiction and poetry for young adults, A Change is Gonna Come (Stripes, 2017), philosopher Darren Chetty writes, “We can think of change as the space between who we are and who we want to be—between being and becoming—as individuals and as communities” (7-8).
This sentiment entirely encapsulates the motivation behind the Diverse Voices? symposium I helped to organize with Seven Stories, the UK’s National Centre for Children’s Books, and Newcastle University, a symposium where Chetty was a participant. During my year as Leverhulme Visiting Professor (2015-16), I formed a relationship with the people at Seven Stories Collections – archivists, curators, and librarians – that was both personal and professional. They were supportive of (and occasionally amused by my revolutionary passion for) my project to make Black British literature a more “normalized” part of British children’s literature. As I put it in the book that resulted from that year at Seven Stories, “The face of Britain might have changed after World War II, but not necessarily the hearts and minds of white British people. This is partly because the Blackness of Black Britons was made manifestly obvious and continually depicted as Other; but the whiteness of white British society has remained largely invisible” (Children’s Publishing and Black Britain5).
The Diverse Voices? symposium, held at Seven Stories, allowed some of the brightest thinkers in writing, publishing, librarianship and academia to come together and think about ways to ensure that real change would finally come to the UK’s children’s literature. This blog highlights some of the thoughts (both from the event, and from their more public commentary) of the main speakers of the day.
Catherine Johnson encapsulates the idea of Britishness/whiteness in her short story from A Change is Gonna Come, “Astounding Talent! Unequalled Performances!” In this story, the young protagonist is told to, “Fight the world . . . You are a black man in a white world. A foreigner” (69). When the main character protests that he was born in Norwich, the man responds, “I doubt if anyone else sees it that way” (70).
Although I was familiar with this attitude, that if you are Black, Britishness is out of reach, I knew that Seven Stories did not want to mirror this sentiment in their museum or archives. Collections and Exhibitions Director Sarah Lawrance pointed out on Friday that, “We have a longstanding commitment to collecting diverse authors and materials” at Seven Stories, but it has not always been an easy task for them.
Part of my remit during my Leverhulme year was to provide some recommendations for expanding the collection, but I was very conscious of the fact that I – like most of the Seven Stories staff – was white and middle-class, and an American to boot: the very picture of privilege. What is the point of a person who has always been privileged enough to raise her voice (in revolution or otherwise) speaking on behalf of those whose voices have been historically side-lined? I did not want to replicate old histories. I suggested we bring some intellectuals – writers, editors, librarians, publishers, academics, book people – from historically-marginalized groups to Seven Stories to hear from them directly. Sarah agreed – as did so many of the great names that we invited.
We called the symposium “Diverse Voices?” because it reflected Seven Stories’ previous Diverse Voices initiatives and left open the question of whose voices were heard and where those voices were welcome. It became part of Newcastle’s Freedom City 2017 project, a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Newcastle University’s granting an honorary doctorate to Martin Luther King, Jr. The themes of Freedom City 2017 were those that King mentioned in his speech at the ceremony: the effects of war, poverty and racism on society. King had come to Newcastle from my current hometown of Buffalo, where he argued that these problems affected young people the most because “the best in these minds cannot come out” when they have to worry about their education, their housing, their ability to make their voices count.
I was lucky enough to discuss these ideas with author Alex Wheatle MBE in our Into Crongton with Alex Wheatle event on Thursday 23rd November 2017, who said that the characters in his Crongton series were affected by all of these issues – from World War II, which brought so many of their parents and grandparents to Britain, to the day-to-day poverty that prevents them from reaching their goals, to the institutional racism that keeps them “in their place”. All of Wheatle’s young adult characters in his Crongton series have creative and artistic dreams, but there remains a question over whether they will be able to achieve them. As he said at the symposium when talking about how whiteness influences prize-giving, “Otherness wasn’t quite adjudicated for.”
Otherness, or rather being othered, was something that had affected many of the speakers at the symposium. Filipino writer Candy Gourlay mentioned that her work had been translated to television with her main characters depicted as white because there was always “the assumption that if I had a hero, my hero would be white”. SF Said wondered if by only listing his initials on his books, he had created the same assumption: “The minute I took away the obvious ‘difference’ of my name, doors opened for me.”
Some of the participants mentioned historical moments when those doors were opened because of cultural change; author Beverley Naidoo talked about how “There were really close connections between anti-apartheid movements and what was going on in the UK” in the 1970s and 1980s. And librarian Jake Hope reminded the audience of the “radical roots” that led librarians (Black and white) to demand changes in publishing during that same time period. This sense of history was underscored by author Patrice Lawrence, who highlighted the importance of the historical record: “The joy of looking at archives,” she said, is that “you come to understand how we got to where we are.” And archivist and author S. I. Martin pointed out that archives could teach more than just adults: “Archives are a world that kids can write themselves into.”
There was at times a rumbling undercurrent of concern that the symposium was a good start whose promise might never be fulfilled. Author Ifeoma Onyefulu spoke those concerns out loud when she said, “It’s good to talk, but where’s the action?”
Many of the symposium participants found the pace of historical change too slow, and did not wait for a space to be made for them. Verna Wilkins, the founder of Tamarind and then of Firetree Books, talked about how her life’s work was “an attempt to redress the balance” in the world of publishing. The illustrator Yu Rong spoke about seeing a hole in the publishing world: “There is very little about China and Chinese people in UK children’s books” and so Rong has done her best to fill up that hole, at least a little bit.
But for almost everyone at the symposium, action by one group of people was not enough to bring real change for everyone. Instead, it will take hard work and difficult discussions to change children’s literature in the UK if we are going to make every child feel a sense of belonging in the world of books. We must read differently – think differently – speak differently. We must cross the barriers that keep us apart by any means necessary.
In Sita Brahmachari’s recent book for the publisher Barrington Stoke, Worry Angels (2017), she writes about the difficulty and necessity of communication:
“If someone doesn’t speak the same language as you . . . when you want them to understand not just the words that you say, but what you feel, then you try to speak in any way that you can . . . with your hands, with your eyes, with pictures in the sand . . . You act things out . . . you let the feeling show in your whole body . . . whatever way you can to show them you want to be your friend” (71).
It is this kind of communication we need to keep up between us all, even when it is hard. When it goes wrong – as it will – we must keep on trying. This is the only way to ensure that the change we want will come in British children’s books – for all kids.
While I was visiting, Annie showed me the creatures that live at Dove Marine, and told me about her work on engaging children and young people through taking marine science activities out to other venues. It struck me that it could be really fascinating to explore this with Seven Stories’ visitors, too.
So, on Saturday 23rd and Sunday 24th September 2017, Seven Stories and Marine Sciences collaborated to offer a special ‘Under the Sea’ themed weekend!
Faculty Outreach Officer Charlotte Foster led a team of students and together they took over Seven Stories’ Studio space. And they brought some amazing marine creatures with them!
Seven Stories’ visitors had the opportunity to see and handle starfish, sea anenomes, crabs and lobsters in designated handling sessions. It was amazing to see these creatures up close and learn about their behaviours and habitats. They fascinated both adults and children – even if some of them found Larry the lobster a bit scary…
Students from the Street Science team supported the handling sessions, origami and colouring in crafts, and an activity station all about marine conservation.
And Seven Stories’ staff got involved as well! They delivered under the sea-themed storytimes, colourful displays and decorations in the bookshop and café, and I even spotted some crustacean croissants…
Cathy Brumby, Seven Stories’ Senior Visitor Services Co-ordinator, said: “Charlotte and her team were fab! So friendly and approachable. The craft was great and well received, as well as the actual creatures, of course. It was lovely to be able to extend the activity throughout the building.”
Charlotte said: “Staff and students from Newcastle University’s Dove Marine Laboratory had a wonderful time introducing sea creatures at the Seven Stories ‘Under the sea’ event. It was a fantastic setting and Seven Stories were incredibly supportive (some even joined in holding a starfish or two!)
The weekend was a great opportunity for the next generation to learn about our amazing oceans. The team at the Dove hopes to continue working alongside Seven Stories to help inspire and enthuse families about the world around them.”
On 13th November 1967, Dr King came to Newcastle to accept his award, and in a moving address spoke of “three urgent, and indeed, great, problems that we face not only in the United States of America, but all over the world, today. That is the problem of racism, the problem of poverty, and the problem of war.”
Half a century on, the Freedom City 2017 festival aims to focus on these three problems, bringing Dr King’s legacy to life for a new generation and stimulating debate.
Newcastle University and Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books are both getting involved in the commemorations, and the two organisations are collaborating to present a number of joint events.
Fickling Lecture on Developments in Children’s Literature
Baroness Floella Benjamin OBE on ‘Facing Adversity with a Smile’
Tuesday 3rd October 2017, 5.30 – 6.45pm, Curtis Auditorium, Herschel Building, Newcastle University
Floella is also an actress, presenter (I have very early memories of seeing Floella on the BBC’s Play School and its successors), writer, independent producer, businesswoman and working peer. She has campaigned for 25 years on behalf of children and young people, and for diversity to be reflected in every aspect of our society.
Thursday 23rd November 2017, 6pm – 7pm, followed by a book signing, Percy Building, Newcastle University
Alex Wheatle MBE, winner of the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize 2016 and author of young adult novels Liccle Bit (2015), Crongton Knights (2016) and Straight Outta Crongton (2017), will be in conversation with Professor Karen Sands O’Connor (SUNY Buffalo State) in this free author event.
How do the Freedom City 2017 themes of war, poverty and racism play out in Crongton, where gangs rule the streets? We’ll find out…
This event is jointly hosted by Newcastle University’s School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics and Seven Stories.
Diverse Voices? Curating a National History of Children’s Books
Friday 24th November 2017, 9.30am – 6pm, Seven Stories
Seven Stories is the National Centre for Children’s Books – how are Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic voices represented in our national story of children’s literature?
In this one-day symposium, we’ll be exploring this question with speakers including Sita Brahmachari, Candy Gourlay, Jake Hope, Catherine Johnson, Patrice Lawrence, SI Martin, Beverley Naidoo, SF Said, Professor Karen Sands O’Connor, Alex Wheatle OBE and Verna Wilkins.
In Conversation with Catherine Johnson and Patrice Lawrence
Friday 24th November 2017, 4.30 – 6pm, Seven Stories
We’re opening up the last session of the Diverse Voices symposium to a broader audience. Join us to hear authors Catherine Johnson and Patrice Lawrence talk about their work and reflect on issues around children’s literature and race.
I’ve just enjoyed reading Catherine’s The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo (2015), and Patrice’s first book Orangeboy (2016) was a fantastic (and deservedly award-winning) debut. They’ll be chaired by teacher Darren Chetty, who contributed to the 2016 anthology The Good Immigrant.
This event is jointly hosted by Newcastle University’s Institute for Social Renewal and Seven Stories.
Victoria: Hello! I’m from Texas and graduated from Texas State University with a BA in philosophy, and trained as a special education teacher before starting my MA here in Newcastle.
Samantha: I’m Samantha Dunning. I did my undergraduate in Anthropology from Kutztown University of Pennsylvania. I always loved museums, both visiting and volunteering, so decided to get my MA Museums Studies and hopefully turn my love into a career.
Tell me about the Museums Studies MA course – how are you finding studying at Newcastle?
Samantha: I’m very happy with my decision to attend Newcastle University. The modules were stimulating, theoretical and practical. I’ve enjoyed living in Newcastle. There are plenty of museums and historical places to visit. It’s also one of the friendliest places I’ve been.
Victoria: It’s been absolutely exhilarating! The course has been very practically useful, and we’ve had some fascinating guest lecturers and opportunities for hands-on work. The museums in and around Newcastle are all top-notch and there’s always something new and exciting to go check out.
What attracted you to do a placement at Seven Stories?
Victoria: I actually heard about Seven Stories before I even moved over here; everyone who knows my love of fairytales and children’s books told me I would fall in love with Seven Stories, and they were completely right! Having the opportunity to do my placement working with children and books was perfect for me.
Samantha: I have done little archival work in the past and wanted the knowledge and experience. With the installation of a new exhibition coming, I saw the opportunity to do other museum work. I wanted to get as much out of my placement as possible. Seven Stories offered that. As a lover of books, I knew the collections and exhibitions here would be of great interest to me.
So, what have you been up to on your placements?
Samantha: I have done a lot of different work in my 30 days. I helped with the framing for the Comics exhibition. I also created facsimiles of older, more delicate comics that the visitors could page through and read. I assisted in the de-installation of the Michael Morpurgo exhibition and the installation of the Comics exhibition. Finally, I worked on a new archive acquisition: researching, sorting, numbering, repackaging, etc.
How is your placement helping you to develop the skills you’ll need for a career in the museums sector?
Victoria: Being able to focus solely on the way museum learning is developed and delivered has been so useful; our MA course touches on a little of everything, which is wonderful, but having the opportunity to see how the particular area in which I want to make a career works in the real world has been fascinating – and, honestly, a lot of fun. I love museum learning but I definitely needed some practical know-how to back up the enthusiasm!
Samantha: I have definitely received some practical, hands-on experience in a museum and archive. I could use all of this in the future. I also witnessed many discussions and decision-making that I could look back to if I ever find myself in similar situations.
What have you learned from your placement at Seven Stories?
Samantha: I have learned some conservation techniques, archival research and database entry, the process of exhibition installation, condition checking and much more.
Victoria: I’ve learned how much impact reading outside of schools has for children both in school and in life in general, and how that informs museum learning programmes. Seven Stories does amazing work immersing children in stories, and that makes an incredible difference in school performance in addition to just being a whole lot of fun for the children. Museum learning programmes have a unique opportunity to be as engaging and entertaining as they are practical and useful.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Victoria: Many, many thanks to everyone on the Learning and Participation team and the visitor’s centre staff for making my placement experience so fantastic! I’m so thrilled I had the opportunity to be a part of the wonderful work Seven Stories does.
Thanks for all your hard work Sam and Victoria, and good luck with the rest of your MA!
The project aimed to introduce the students to Newcastle University and develop their creative writing and artistic skills by challenging them to create their own fairy tales. 60 Year 8 pupils from Excelsior Academy,St Cuthbert’s High School and Park View School explored fairy tales through two days of workshops at Newcastle University, led by Newcastle University Library’s Outreach Team.
On their second visit to the University, the children focussed on illustration, taking part in a visit to Fine Art at Newcastle, and an illustration workshop facilitated by the Hatton Gallery’s Education Officer.
Day 2 also included a fairy tale Collections handling with Seven Stories. Paula was really keen for Seven Stories to be involved in this project because ‘it gave us an opportunity to work in partnership with the Special Collections team, to share our Collection in a different environment and give children hands-on access to archival material.’ She chose to show a selection of books and original illustrations from the Seven Stories Collection‘to show the variety of different techniques and styles that illustrators use’.
I went along to help facilitate the Seven Stories sessions, where Paula introduced the material – and then we let the children explore the Collection for themselves!
For Gillian Johnson, Education Outreach Officer at Newcastle University Library, “one of the key aims of the project was to inspire the young people taking part by giving them the opportunity to engage with exciting materials and meet different people outside of the classroom. And the fantastic original artwork shown to them did just that!”
I really enjoyed talking to the young people about the Seven Stories Collection. Paula commented that “the children were clearly interested in the material and asked lots of intelligent questions – and there were lightbulb moments for the teachers, too!” Gillian said, “The children were really engaged with the Seven Stories archive handling session. They were keen to study the illustrations up close; they put gloves on to handle the material and used magnifying glasses to look in detail at the artwork.”
What did the teachers think? “Exposure to original illustrations was a great experience for my students – they were able to see that they don’t have to create the perfect product in their first attempt!”
After the two days of workshops at Newcastle University, the children completed their fairy tale stories and illustrations back at their schools. Then, the Library combined these into a beautiful volume and presented a copy to each student at a celebration event held at the University.
Reflecting on the project, Gillian said, “We were really impressed with the high quality of the finished stories and illustrations produced by the children. The quality of the work shows that the students had really benefitted from the fantastic resources and expertise they had access to throughout the project.”
And the teachers were equally impressed! “My students are now lucky enough to call themselves published authors at the age of 12/13! They have been given exposure to so many different areas which have, and will continue, to inspire them.”
The seminar was suggested by Sage Gateshead’sDave Camlin. It gave us the chance to reflect on our time working together on Northern Bridge so far, and “to explore some of the tensions and opportunities inherent in collaborative approaches to the generation of new knowledge.”
Of course, there are tensions; when you bring together any group of academic institutions, or cultural organisations, there is competition – for students, for audiences, for funding. And although learning is at the heart of what both universities and cultural venues do, the processes through which we generate knowledge are quite different. We speak different languages. We have different drivers. Working in collaboration requires negotiating all of these factors.
Another tension which formed a focus of conversation during the day was the inequality of engagement with the arts. The Warwick Commission’s Enriching Britain, Culture, Creative and Growth Report states that “the wealthiest, better educated and least ethnically diverse 8% of the population forms the most culturally active segment of all”. How to reach those beyond that 8% is certainly a challenge.
But democratising culture and knowledge is becoming increasingly important in both the higher education and cultural sectors. The Research Excellence Framework emphasises the impact of research ‘beyond academia’; Arts Council England encourages the organisations they fund to reach more demographically diverse audiences.
From my experience of working on the Vital North Partnership between Newcastle University and Seven Stories, collaboration holds exciting opportunities. Partnership helps to make our activities more interesting and diverse. At the intersections between universities, cultural organisations and communities, we can draw on our collective expertise to create new kinds of shared knowledge. And with increasing pressure on arts budgets, we can pool our resources and become more efficient.
I explored the Vital North Partnership’s unique ecology at the seminar, giving a Pecha Kucha presentation:
It was also interesting to reflect on what role Northern Bridge, as a Doctoral Training Partnership, has as part of our shared ecology. I think the ways in which universities and arts organisations collaborate is changing. We are asking different questions, and having new conversations. I work at this boundary – and I’m interested to see where we’re headed next.