As part of our annual programme of artist led workshops with The CE Academy we introduce students to slightly older learners who are able to exert a positive influence and broaden horizons without appearing as threatening figures of authority. In February 2018, we were visited by artist David Blyth and students from Gray’s School of Art on a study visit from Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen. The aim was to form a pedagogical learning exchange through shared experience situated within a friendly and creative context. However, that wasn’t even half of the story.
We are acutely aware of the complex learning needs of our students and the artists we work with are selected on their ability to adapt to these needs, as much as by their artistic ability. In his own words, David Blyth “Likes animals, art and people, and tries to make work that helps them get along better”.
For the first workshop, the group from Aberdeen was faced with a student who had become unable to speak or even make eye contact with other people. He had withdrawn coinciding with, not because of, the presence of David and his university students. Approaching this as an advantage rather than a disadvantage, David handed the student a collection of letterpress letters, challenging him to communicate his name without speaking. This progressed to making full sentences, using an anagram-making app on his mobile phone. By the time the workshop was over, the student had created a whole table full of prints using combinations of letters and an Adana printing press.
The presence of so many adults could very easily exacerbate this student’s state of mind, making him feel like he was at the end of a microscope. But the student was eventually happy to introduce himself to the visiting Gray’s students, as they had respected his space until the end of the workshop when he was ready. After being given the power to communicate during this workshop, the student has continued to flourish in an ongoing transformation that later saw him win the Overall Winner prize in Alfred East Gallery’s Youth Open 2018.
In contrast to the first workshop, David’s second was with a far more energetic and extroverted cohort of students. Unlike the previous gentle approach, this time David changed tactics and made an instant impact on both sets of students by revealing two dead pheasants and a buzzard. Initially landing in the lap of one student whose eyes went big as saucers in disbelief, the buzzard was eventually named Jason and provided with a temporary blanket made out of kitchen roll. Attention was captivated as students carefully examined and dissected the birds under David’s tutelage.
Before this second workshop was complete, it was the students from Gray’s turn to lead. Having observed David’s Jedi-like powers of engagement over the previous two days, the group delivered a bonus activity teaching the CE Academy students how to create their own cyanotype prints. Where the university students benefitted from the experience of observing and presenting a live project with challenging participants, the young people benefitted from meeting young adults who were mature enough to set an example as role models, but young enough not to be seen as threatening or authority figures.