Tina O'Connell and ArtLab: creativity in the community
Four years ago, Tina O'Connell, an associate professor with Reading School of Art, set-up ArtLab, a widening participation initiative.
ArtLab was designed to bring together the University of Reading, its students, and the local the community; to engage young school children and teachers alike in what it means to be creative. Since its creation the project has grown to feature a variety of workshops and projects.
"I wanted to do something that brought Reading School of Art into the community, schools and our surrounding area so that our students could help young children engage in art"
ArtLab is concerned with how we make the most of our young peoples' future: by bringing a wide range of children from across different social backgrounds into contact with cutting edge art and technology projects. The aim of the initiative is to help educators, parents and pupils understand the value that art brings when combined with technology; benefits include amazing opportunities and potential careers within the creative economy, the fastest growing sector in the UK,
"We are trying to build a culture that gets everybody - no matter of background or ability - involved and engaged in art and what art means to them"
Underlying this idea are a set of core educational values concerning the deeper understanding of computing, digital media and new technologies that will form part of a vibrant cultural and economically viable society both today and in the future.
"ArtLab is about teaching our young people to understand what it is to be creative, about not necessarily knowing what the end product is going to be but not being afraid to try different things out whilst working as part of a team"
Key principles and benefits
ArtLab is based around three key principles:
- installing confidence in those involved, be that teaching staff, contributing students or the school children engaged in the programme
- identifying and solving problems
- inspiring creative thinking.
ArtLab gives students the opportunity to deliver bespoke workshops to schools, and to act as mentors to Year 8 pupils. These paid interactions help students develop a suite of transferable and interpersonal skills.
Participation in the initiative is also highly beneficial to those considering a career in teaching as students as are awarded a certificate - bronze, silver or gold - depending on the amount of contact hours they have carried out.
The most important concept borne out of ArtLab has been the idea of "co-researcher", a phrase meaning everybody learning from the experience and from one another. A notion that Tina believes ArtLab firmly enforces to this day.
"We treat the school children we meet the same as our students, who are treated the same as the Teaching Fellows who support them. In ArtLab we are all learning together. "
Over the past four years ArtLab and its students have been involved in various projects. Most recently in partnership with Reading International. This initiative, also set up by the Reading School of Art, asks school children from a range of backgrounds what the words "Reading" and "International" mean to them.
As the initiative enters its fourth year, Tina believes it shows no signs of slowing down and she has plans to take ArtLab beyond the school classrooms and into wider society.
Find out more about ArtLab.
"At the moment Art Lab focuses on young people and children; however, in the future we want to look at delivering workshops to those with mental health problems, or those in retirement homes. As artists we always have to be inventive and creative in what we can do. There is lots of different ways in which art offers"