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! 

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