To be an ArtScaper, you have to change—change yourself and change your community.
Heinrich, 8, Student
The north west edge of Cambridge is changing. A new district is being built with homes and spaces for over 8,500 people to live, work and learn together on the University's North West Cambridge Development. Since 2013, a public art programme, curated by Contemporary Arts Society and InSite Arts, has been inviting artists to investigate and respond to these changes through commissioned pieces and the habitation residency. In 2015, Dr. Esther Sayers, Goldsmiths College was invited to write a strategy for educational work and research, which aimed to engage children and their communities to become involved in the artists working at the site and the development itself. This strategy evolved into the ArtScapers programme with the involvement of social enterprise Cambridge Curiosity and Imagination. It is built on the core value of co-creation for children, their schools, teachers and their families.
ArtScapers explores how creative activity can support young people to become confident citizens constructing their own cultural lives. It is framed by the overarching question: what role do artists play in the development of new places for living? How do young people relate to the city as it changes and how can they help others to think creatively about these changes? ArtScapers takes an open ended approach in which creative activity provides new modes of relating to Cambridge as a developing city. The programme invites children and their communities to join in creatively with the process of change.
ArtScapers has been developed collaboratively - by Cambridge Curiosity and Imagination's Ruth Sapsed and Susanne Jasilek, Esther Sayers from Goldsmiths University and Gabby Arenge, studying with the University of Cambridge's Faculty of Education. The project builds partnerships with schools bordering the site, through which children and the adults who work with them take on the role of ArtScapers exploring their city as it grows. A map of core values has been put together to describe the working model which guides ArtScapers' approach. The core values will grow with the project, in year one they have been: co-creating, reflecting, being curious, looking differently, imagining.
In 2016, Artscapers has been working with Mayfield Primary School and the University of Cambridge Primary School - six classes and 180 children have been involved to date. As co-creators they have been thinking with us about how to help others to approach these urban changes creatively. ArtScaping this year has been provoked by the habitation artists work at the North West Cambridge Development and the first permanent commission at the University of Cambridge Primary School. After their own creative enquiry, the children have been introduced to some of those artists' exploratory processes and invited to see the site investigations made by the artists during their reflections on the same site.
CCI artist Susanne Jasilek explains how she has approached the planning of these workshops:
The broad spectrum of the habitation artists practice together with the emerging and constantly changing environment both natural and man-made was a rich resource for us all and inspired and enabled me to research and plan in quite a different way. I had to think how to synthesise the many artists, components and ways of working into something new, some approach which would make sense to young people. There were overarching themes for the public art programme and each artist had been partnered with a University department. I wanted to help the children comprehend in a very real way what it is to be a contemporary artist working in this environment, how artists work, and how this creative thinking can be useful, even essential in other contexts.
To invite children to be artists in residence in their own right seemed necessary and wonderful, but also highly unusual. I had no idea how they would respond to my prompts, plans, questions, materials. I had especially planned for them to only encounter the work that had already been made about the site once they too had had the chance to respond creatively. I think this helped them to really value their own ideas and not think of themselves as imitators.
The surprising outcome of this work is that a new community is emerging out of the creative process of engagement. Parent helpers, children, artists, and educators are together becoming ArtScapers.
I think that actually engaging in the learning experience with them and particularly arts it's really important that they see you that you don't just do it straight away and not kind of like "here's the one I did earlier. I want you to do something like this." It's more like "we're going to have a play with this. And we're going to try out different ideas" and "I want to try it out with you, too" so that kind of creating with them rather than showing them the kind of thing that they're aiming for.