Sunday, 29 December 2013

The Other Unfinished Conversation. Finished?

Well, finally, some closure. Almost.

I can report that I submitted my final activity report for this project to Arts Council England about 2 weeks or so ago, and await final approval for the completion of the project.

The virtual radio silence has been due to the sheer exhaustion I've experienced over the last few weeks in getting everything submitted before 8th January, and of course, that festive time of year takes up some time too.

In final up-sum, and in retrospect, I have loved this project, though it became very intense towards the end.

I've learnt so much in this overall process, the biggest learning curve being about how I actually work far too hurriedly, when actually what I crave is a project that allows me to fully develop my practice, slowly and methodically, with a much more acceptable, organic flow. For various reasons, including financial obstacles, I'm not getting this, but this, and learning to listen in order to work with people, have been the greatest, hardest and most valuable lessons for me throughout this project.

And I think the project did achieve its aims of raising my confidence and that of the participants. What impact this has on them in the long term in terms of their aspiration, may not become evident for many years, but I think the project gave them the freedom they naturally crave as creative young people, and it actually became about the capacity to learn creatively, as well as enhancing this confidence.

Overall, because of the amount of learning done throughout this project, by myself, the participants and the collaborators, despite some of the unexpected negative experiences that can never be planned for, this project was a resounding success, a success that can be evaluated through each of the three procect phases, with its different aims and expectations.

Phase One - Flamenco Training and Recording my Performance to Video:

In Phase One, I set out to learn 'El Embrujo del Fandango', originally performed by Flamenco pioneer, Carmen Amaya. Undertaking this training in Spain with a male teacher, I expected to learn all of this routine, however, I greatly underestimated the ability required to learn Flamenco!

Flamenco is an incredibly expressive art, which is about passion, heart and confidence. I engaged a Flamenco teacher with many years experience, who was also challenged by this project, as he had to teach me in English, so this project successfully pushed us both out of our comfort zones.

Working together on a one-to-one, daily basis, I learnt the basics of Flamenco and as the piece I wanted to learn was difficult even for a professional Flamenco dancer, we agreed that we would adapt the routine to my ability level, and that I would learn just half of the routine because of time constraints, so I was only able to learn half of the 4 minute performance, learning choreography based upon Amaya’s moves.

I wasn't totally satisfied with my final performance of ‘El Embrujo’ when I came to record it. I expected I would have had more time to learn the routine perfectly, and I felt that this expectation was disrupted because I had to plan the filming, etc which took time away from rehearsals and the creative side of the work. I did learn though, that I shouldn't be so hard on myself in future and I should be happy and proud of what Flamenco I did learn.

I was also pleased that I was able to engage with other creatives whilst in Barcelona including the Flamenco Dancer/Teacher, A Film-maker and a Photographer, cultivating future potential collaborations with these people.

Phase Two - Delivery of Arts Workshops to Participants in Halewood

I had a number of expectations for this Phase, firstly to engage two groups of 10 students (10 male, 10 female) from Halewood Academy in arts workshops, creating two video installations from the footage of my Flamenco performance.

Overall I engaged 14 young people in the workshops over six sessions, with a core of five, sometimes six students consistently attending sessions.  The Teacher at the partner school was taking responsibility of engaging the young people in the workshops whilst I was in Spain, but was challenged by time constraints.

Originally, I was targeting older students and though a couple of Year 10's did attend one of the sessions, the core group of participants were from Year 7 and Year 8, which turned out to be more beneficial, as I feel its was a positive thing to engage younger students in non-traditional ideas and digital based processes at early age to show their potential.

Within this core group there were two very enthusiastic girls, and three to four boys, satisfying my aim to encourage boys to engage in the arts in general and for girls to get involved in digital based work.

My original aim for the workshops was to have another workshop artist deliver the workshops with me, to work with the group of girls. However, there were a few communication issues with this artist, so I had to adapt the project plan and deliver the sessions myself, bringing in artist who I brought as a guest in the third workshop, to assist with flyer design for the event.

As there were not enough participants to create the two moving image / video installations I had originally envisaged, the idea changed to the production of an animation, as the participants liked this idea.

Delivering the workshops alone involved me learning the traditional process of rotoscope animation from scratch, which was another unexpected outcome. During this phase I also got access to LJMU's rostrum photography facilities as part of this process, so I was able to develop another creative partnership.

I felt it was a positive thing to introduce the participants to traditional drawn animation to enable them to appreciate the process and learn about developing patience and team-work. Also, it was something new that they weren’t familiar with in the classroom.

In this delivery phase, I did however learn to never underestimate the capabilities of my participants, as in one session they were quicker to complete the work I had provided than I had planned for, which revealed that I need to let go of tasks more and give them to the participants.

The Photoshop stage of the workshops was revealing in terms of the learning abilities of the girls and boys, as the boys seemed less engaged in these sessions than the girls, one of whom got through the Photoshop task of paint bucketing animation cells quicker than anyone else in the group.

Overall, the workshops were a huge success and very well received by the main participant. The feedback from each session was always very positive, though I was always quick to respond to any negative feedback. For example, in Session One, one participant wrote that the thing they didn't like about the rotoscope taster activity was that it took quite a long time to get to participate in the activity, so I ensured that in future sessions everyone had something to do all of the time.

Despite this, the participants feedback from each session was usually something like 'Awesome' or 'Ace' or 'Amazing', and the traditional processes of drawing the animation cells were most enjoyed as opposed to the computer based processes, which was quite unexpected, but provided intelligence for ways of engaging young participants in future.

There was never an activity that the participants didn't enjoy within the sessions, and the processes we covered were processes that they hadn't learnt before, such as Photoshop, which actually inspired the teacher for a future lesson.

Each participants said they would miss the sessions because they were fun and I think that these enrichment activities engage young people because of the freedom from the curriculum and the ability to experiment with new processes. One participant even said 'Arts Cool!' and in a later evaluation form asked me to return next year to reunite the group in another project!

I was also able to gauge that the confidence of some of the participants in terms of learning new processes and contributing ideas within a team setting had grown massively over the six sessions. All of the participants indicated that their confidence and creativity had grown over this time and also indicated a better understanding of the benefits of team working and the sessions did appear to enhance the participants interpersonal skills.

It didn't matter to any of the participants that the practitioner delivering the workshop was female, so I was unable to assess if there was an impact on the young people regarding my gender. However, this project has strengthened my ability to engage male participants in workshops and has given me greater confidence to approach the delivery of workshop sessions in future.

My ability to document the sessions in photographs and video was limited because only a few consent forms were returned which restricted this, so I need to assign more time within workshops within future projects to undertake this important task successfully.

Phase Three - Exhibiting the Work at a Celebration Event

My expectation at the beginning of this project was that there would be a Celebration Event to 'unveil' the work done in collaboration with myself and the project participants, and we managed to stage this, with 33 people attending the event and from the audience feedback I received, people enjoyed the event and the work shown.

The main points of feedback were that people enjoyed the Flamenco performance that was staged, though they would have liked to have seen me perform my routine that I learnt, (which I was unable to due to a bad back), more documentation about the involvement of the young people in the project and they would have also liked more people to have been there to experience it.

A positive thing about the event was that some of the project participants got involved in the Flamenco performance, after which all of the project participants got up in front of the audience and thanked me for the project, which is testament to the success and positive impact of this activity.

Another expectation of mine was the potential for this activity to run in and between other schools across Knowsley. An evaluating comment from an art teacher that attended the event from All Saints School indicated that watching the animation film had made her think that she should widen the net to inviting animators to collaborate with the students at her school, rather than just fine artists. I also overheard the Lead Teacher at the partner school indicating her interest in a trip for students to Barcelona, which I feel has been inspired by this project.

Due to the lower number of participants in the workshops, we only exhibited one moving image film/animation projection at a celebration event alone, but despite this change in the harder outputs, it was the softer outcomes that have been the most important element of this project. The overwhelmingly positive comments and feedback I received in the primary evaluation evidence from the young participants, is testament to the depth and quality of the participants experience through this activity and I feel that this more than balances out the change in harder outputs, making this project hugely successful.

In a Carmen Amaya style, I have nothing but pride in being a part of this great project to benefit my practice and that of others where I live, to raise all of our aspirations and for this and many more reasons this has been so insightful and life affirming and I have been grateful for this opportunity to grow and help others do the same.

I’m glad the young people were so passionate about the project, and I felt that this reflected my passion for this project too. Its important for young people to participate in these types of activity to keep them stimulated and challenged and see what’s going on in in art in the real world and its a victory to complete the work. 

As the educator and peace-builder, Daisaku Ikeda has said:

‘Education is a process of stimulating and awakening people from the very core of their being, enabling them to unlock and develop the power within them to create happiness. For this, passion is key.’

The other unfinished conversation of gender differences in confidence and aspiration may be far from finished, with quite some way to go in how we educate our younger generations in becoming equal and as good as one another, but I think, by recognising the potential of the young participants through this project, I've definitely enabled them, and myself, to develop a more creatively enriched life.

Thank You's:

I would like to thank the following people for their great help and support throughout this project:

Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain:
Ale @ Roig Ventiuno Crea, Avisual Pro, Barceloneta Centro Civico, Giada Cotugno, Julia Fossi, Tea Gaurascio, Toni Moniz & Escuela de Baile Flamenco Jose de la Vega, Alex Pauchard, James Wardell.

Liverpool, UK: 
Arts Council England, Bluecoat Books, George & Laura Brumby, Rona Cameron, Rocio Castillero, Justyna Czasnowicz, Roger Edwards, Andy Freeney, John Green, Matt Gregson, All of the Staff and Students at Halewood Academy, Halewood Town Council, Samantha Hatton, Daisaku Ikeda, Liverpool Dance Centre, Liverpool John Moores University, George McKenzie, Carlos Santos, Mrs Liz Shelbourne and Barry Worrall. 

And thank you to everyone who has followed and supported this blog and shared with me this journey of creative self-discovery. 

So, now that this project has finally come to an end, what now for me? 

Well, keep developing my practice and keep going. That's what! In the pipeline is a much longer term photography project and trying to get back into flamenco dancing as, one thing I realised from doing this project, is that I'm constantly craving a space where I have the ability to express myself beyond what I'm doing now. I need to keep challenging my self-expression, and as Carmen Amaya would do, have the courage to live without fear holding me back!

So, as of January 1st 2014, my further adventures can be followed at:  and I hope to see you there.

Gracias, Saludo and Ole! 

Sunday, 1 December 2013

In A Reflective Mood….

And still evaluating. This is a long, tough, honest, educational, process…

Watch this space.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

The Order of Things...

Apologies for the virtual silence, its been a hectic few days gathering evaluation and press cuttings together for my activity report (that I really need to complete!)

I thought I would provide you with a visual tour through the event last week, so you feel like you were there I guess.

One thing I will say is that, (and friends of mine who are also artists agree with this), it is so hard to gather support and get people to come to art events when you're an emerging artist.

Even if something has had a lot of money and advertising pumped into it, it is still difficult to get people to support. A case I'm thinking about is a very high profile art/music/creative event that was on in this city of Liverpool the day after my event, and I happened to notice on a famous social networking site that one of the event musicians/performers performing only had about 10 people attend their performance.

Honestly, this made me feel disappointment for that person and event, but also that maybe I hadn't 'failed' as much as I had thought through the attendance of 34 people at my event.

Sometimes it doesn't matter how much advertising and marketing is done, you just can't get the support and I really don't know why this is, other than to say that the weather could have a lot to do with it and that people are genuinely too busy to support. I'm not complaining, its just a struggle that has prompted me to think about what direction this audience development side of my practice must go in.

Anyway….back to the pics, taken by the wonderful Liverpool based photographer, Justyna Czasnowicz.

Jackie, the (funky) art technician, pegs out the animation
cells in prep for the event.

Pulling my weight.
Fancy footwork…

…and more fancy flamenco steps
And over to Carmen..


Then Clare….    

Allie begins the performance...


Wednesday, 20 November 2013

For Me, Carmen & Gillian….

'Self Portrait as Me, Carmen & Gillian' (2013)

On Reflection...

So, as I promised, I will report on the event yesterday.

Now I am rested (sort of!), I can update you on yesterdays events.

The way I work when I'm setting up a show or an event is that I can never really plan what is going to go where until I am in the space and working directly with it.

Last week, I was told that I would have to use a different space to the one I thought I was going to use in the school for the celebration event, so I had absolutely no time or access to the two dance studios where I was going to be presenting the work, and therefore, absolutely no idea as to what I would be dealing with in terms of what my original installation ideas would be for the animation cells that I wanted to hang.

Equally, I was short on prep time yesterday, as I could only have the art technician's help from 12:15 and then I couldn't get access to the actual rooms until 1:15pm.

So faced with this, I just continued with the idea of hanging the animation cells on fishing wire with small pegs and started preparing them with the help of Jackie, the art technician. My outlook was that, however many we got to hang in the time we had was OK for me. It didn't have to be the entire 1300 plus cells that myself and the students had traced, though if there had of been the time to do that, that would have been so beautiful.

For me, I feel very fortunate in that everything always seems to work out as it should when I get into a space. I know we can't always rely on fluke's, but again, its only when I see a space, almost on the day of an install, that I get an idea of what I want and how the work can be shown.

So anyway, for some reason I was only aware of the one dance studio that I'd gone into yesterday to start planning where things where going and being hung etc.

The only decent space I could see to hang the cells was from one iron post at one far end of the room, crossing diagonally to a post near the front left of the room.

Now, there was only really room for 4 rows of the animation cells with this kind of set-up, but mystically, the first set of cells from the first 118 frames were the cells showing the hand-traced close ups of my feet. I remember laughing to myself because this was perfect for the event as Carmen Amaya  was known specifically for her fast and furious footwork. Perfecto, no?

So what happened next was an absolute gift from the universe really, as the caretaker came and opened up the partition door that opened the gateway to the other dance studio that I previously couldn't open and there was the state of the art white board projector that I had requested (after I was informed that the rear projector I really wanted wasn't available).

Things were unfolding nicely as I set that up and then put the information boards on easels as the connection to art and dance was made.

Jackie and I finished in time for the project participants and the first guests to arrive.

Only one of the parents of the main art club participants showed up, I expect because of work and childcare and it turns out that the family live in the same road as me, so this is real community work going on here.

After the event I heard that this parent had said that her child had never engaged with art before this project and that he had enjoyed it - which I was delighted to hear.

Then there was a guy from Liverpool Cultural Champions who had written a piece about me online

I though that this was great because he talked about me being someone who lives my dreams and goes for what I want. Thats what I was trying to inspire the young people to do, never hold back and never give up. But I must learn not to do that myself before trying to inspire others I suppose?

So after most of the guests arrived (around 34 people on the monitoring form!) I did a little thank-you speech and explained a bit about how much this project meant to me, how tough the last 3 months have been and that in essence, this project is about raising confidence in young people in Halewood, through creativity.

I have to say I did get a bit blubbery and emotional because I have worked so so hard on this project to make it work. I think maybe too hard sometimes in that its become a slight obsession that it had to be the most grandiose project, when really, on reflection, it didn't need a massive event (or that much effort for the event maybe?) as what matters is the impact its had on the students participating. Not a great big show. The sentiment is in what the students have gained from this project over the last 6 sessions.

What was important though was to illustrate what I meant about raising confidence through creativity and the relationship between these two things.

I had read an article featuring the famous jazz musician Wayne Shorter which actually summed up what I was trying to achieve. He said in this article:

"Its a funny thing, the state the world is in today with the economy and no jobs. This is the perfect setting for a relationship of courage and creativity to manifest within many walks of life. It is a time for great creativity." (SGI Quarterly, January 2012)

I shared this with people in the hope that they may understand what I meant and then, then came the Flamenco!

As part of the event I hired Flamenco dancer, Allie Herrmann from Manchester, who was totally amazing in spellbinding the audience, really warming up the cold November evening with her hearty
Flamenco dancing and workshop, in which 2 of the young male participants got up and joined her on the floor to have a go at a few steps.

The reason Allie was so great, not just because of her very well trained moves, was because she managed the audience so well and also because, after my speech she could see how emotional and passionate I was about the project. She explained to everyone how Flamenco is about that confidence that I'm trying to pass on to the young people, and I think they took it in, because everyone was, in their  own individual way of responding, reacted very positively to the performance and workshop.

She also explained how Flamenco is not about celebrity culture. It is a dance of passion and of struggle. there are famous dancers, she explained, but its not about becoming famous. Carmen Amaya was  self-taught and danced for herself and her own pleasure. It was her strength, passion and unique style that catapulted her into the limelight and to becoming a leading figure of Flamenco and Catalan culture.

Again, that was so good for the younger attendees to hear, as all too often these days the culture of celebrity is rammed down their throat and they're given the message that to be famous is to be someone and we should all strive for the 'material'.

Joining in with some of the steps that had become so familiar to me during my month in Barcelona, really re-ignited my desire to start Flamenco again. I just haven't had the time to do any since being back and thats really regretful, but the fire is very much still there, and I haven't hung up my nail capped zapatos yet!

Allie Herrmann puts her best foot forward at last nights event
Photograph: Justyna Czasnowizc

After the performance / workshop, everyone was free to watch our film / animation again, though this was interrupted by the participants taking to the floor to thank me, which was so lovely and appreciated (even followed by my own fan club chant of 'we love you Clare, we do!' the shame!)

I will be posting a separate blog about the work produced from this project as I didn't get to show the more personal piece of work I 'created' out of the Flamenco training process. 

                                     Still from ' Bewitched Triptych', the collaborative animation.

So, all in all, though many people didn't turn up (even those I thought would come who had supported the project!), on reflection I felt it was a success and the reason was this. Even if I have inspired one young person who participated or attended the event or even one older person there last night, even if I have inspired them to use creativity or art to gain confidence in some area of their life, is that not positive?

There were 3 young women at the event last night who were students at the Academy and they were brilliant in that they stuck around and got involved in the Flamenco moves because they had an interest in dance. Sadly I did;n't get a feedback form from them (doh!) but the fact that they were there is amazing - and they stayed for the whole event - because at the beginning when I was setting up they were asking, who is the famous dancer that they'll be watching, so when I told them that 50 years ago she died aged 50, they were shocked and still hung around to see what was going on.

After the event, I heard the lead teacher for the school on the project talking to another teacher from another local school and they were talking about how they'd love to do a school art trip to Barcelona.

That other teacher had also said to me that she had never though of inviting animators into school to work on projects, she had always gone for fine artists to engage her students.

Also, another of the parents of one of the project participants who arrived a bit later told me something really encouraging that her daughter had said, which was, did she think that I would do another art project at the school?

That to me was just one of the bigger victories of this project and is to be celebrated as though there were a thousand people at last nights event.

So, now that party is over, (and its so funny how quickly everything flies by despite the weeks of planning), today I have down the last bits of press hoping for some retrospective coverage out of the project and then its on to evaluation, evaluation, evaluation!

In the meantime, here is the final animation piece I showed at the event.

Result? Victory!

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Victoria! (as in Victory. Well, sort of!)

So I have news to report that the Celebration Event went ahead successfully today.

There were about 20+ attendees, which, on a wintry November eve like tonight is OK, I guess.

Right now I feel as though a huge weight is off my shoulders and that I can relax, but of course there is a lot of follow up work to complete.

At the moment, its been such a tiring few weeks, months even, and such a tiring day that I will escribe pronto, this chica is so exhausted, in a good way.

I've drawn so much out of this event alone. I will enlighten you more tomorrow, but I did a good thing in my community.

For you Carmen. Muchas gracias.

As has been the case for such a large part of this project, Estoy canasta. Again. Time for bed, there is still much work to do tomorrow, reflection, evaluation etc etc…a whole report on today and hopefully some pics as well!

Hasta maƱana, when I write more.

Buenos noches x


Well, I am just about on my way to the school to install the animation (called 'Bewitched Triptych') and other bits and bobs for the Celebration Event tonight.

This is a victory as I've been letting fear get the better of me all week, all month, all project!

I've learnt soooo much about myself during this process, namely that I tend to take on too much myself!

Feeling excited and nervous about tonight, don't know who to expect!

I tried my best in every way and will post more about the final works later or tomorrow, when I've rested!

Thinking of Carmen as today is the 50th Anniversary of her passing.

One groundbreaking woman to another. Thank you Carmen. Your spirit lives on, even outside Catalonia. Ole!