Guest blog post by Baz Chapman, Programme Manager for Walsall Arts for All.
My name is Baz Chapman, and I’m the Programme Manager for Walsall Arts for All (WAFA). This is a 2-year project which addresses Walsall For All’s priorities around Young People Learning and Growing Together and Connecting Communities. Why? Because at its heart is bringing young people together from across different geographical, demographic, cultural and religious communities and using the arts as a way to celebrate both their differences and what they have in common.
Throughout my career, I’ve seen the extraordinary power of the arts to increase cultural understanding in a unique and positive way. By using an artistic process to bring out those things which matter to us – what we eat, what we wear, what we like to do in our spare time, what we feel passionate about, what our hopes and ambitions are for the future – we can create a non-threatening, equal environment of sharing, where everyone’s views count, and where illumination of others’ perspectives can break down negative perceptions about people in other communities. And at the same time, we’re developing children’s and young people’s artistic knowledge and skills.
WAFA has 14 participating schools (10 primary and 4 secondary) from across Walsall and has paired up schools from differing areas of the borough to work together and commission an artist.
In year 1 of the programme, we are focusing on visual arts. It’s been fascinating, and a great privilege, for me to meet with the 7 pairs of schools and help them come up with plans for what they’d like to achieve. I’ve been particularly impressed with how they’ve planned ways to get their students to connect across the schools during the programme, such as exchanging half their participants with their partner school on project days, sending regular pictorial updates on progress to each other, and setting up pen-pals who will connect before the projects commence, as well as during and after.
It’s great to be able to commission a diverse range of art media too: I’m currently speaking with textile, graphic, mosaic and mural artists from across Birmingham and the Black Country, who are also getting very excited about this programme! Plus, by working alongside the Walsall Cultural Education Partnership and Arts Connect, we are able to connect schools with wider arts opportunities around the region, and also locally, where there are some superb Walsall artists and organisations whose work may not be known to all schools.
So it’s going well. But a major priority we want to build on next is young leadership. Our next generation has the power to create more positive and integrated communities, and we want to use WAFA to support young arts leaders to be arts advocates and activists in their schools and communities. Each WAFA school is currently identifying Young Arts Ambassadors who we will train to champion the arts, as well as helping us to shape both the future of this programme and the future role of the arts in Walsall.
Walsall Arts for All is a Walsall Cultural Education Partnership programme, supported and funded by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government through Walsall for All and by Arts Connect, the Arts Council ‘Bridge’ organisation for the West Midlands. Baz Chapman is a West Midlands based Arts & Education consultant and project manager.
Arts Connect are looking for an experienced organisation, team or individual to conduct an approximately 18-month qualitative and quantitative evaluation of the Walsall Arts for All programme with 14 schools. For more information, please click here. The deadline to apply is 6th January 2020 at 12 noon.