Somebody foolish once said that the students who have been excluded from mainstream education that we work with on our Alternative Provision programme are never going to be artists.
They were wrong, firstly because you write children off at your peril, especially these children. But they were also wrong in thinking that the purpose of providing access to the arts for those who would otherwise have none is to make everyone artists.
The benefits of participating in the arts are well documented (but not well enough) – from improvements in mental health and wellbeing, to social and emotional development, to superior cognitive abilities such as critical thinking, creativity and problem solving.
Case in point is Martin Steed, videographer, cameraman, Steadicam operator and creative polymath who is careful to avoid the title artist, preferring to identify as someone who helps other people realise their ideas. In 2014, and on many occasions since, Martin greeted our students with equal amounts of patience and generosity. With no predetermined learning outcome, Martin instead presented the students with a variety of equipment and sat back and let the students investigate. A kinaesthetic approach to film making.
Initial questions such as “How much is this worth?” – answer “a lot”, quickly engendered trust and respect for the equipment. Next came questions such as “What does this do?” and “How does this work?”, students discovering their curiosity for themselves rather than being forced.
At this point Martin simply asked “What do you want to do with it?”. Over the past five years, students working with Martin have answered by making vlogs, green screen studios, live-streamed events and even played hide and seek using remote cameras. In 2014, their answer was simple. “We want to make a horror film.” What followed was a masterclass in problem solving.
Elaborate ideas such as hordes of zombies were quashed by the logic of how many students were actually present. Once a basic plot was outlined the problem was how to move characters between inside and outside spaces, leading to students establishing camera angles and edits. Keen to use Martin’s Steadicam, a long walking sequence was planned with the camera gliding over the irregular surface, adding a touch of professionalism.
A measure of how engaged the students were in the process was the realisation that characters would have to wear the same clothes for shoots the following weeks, which they duly obeyed. Short of a full cast the role of ‘the murderer’ fell to yours truly, to much amusement among students and to much alarm among our board of trustees.
When one student was unable to attend the final shoot due to illness another problem presented itself. How could we finish the film without contradicting what had gone before? Ghosts, dream sequences and revisiting the action 50 years later with adults playing the roles of grown up students were discussed and tested. In the end students decided the final edit should be a cliff hanger.
Like with Martin’s workshops, what happens next is up to your imagination.