Alternative Monday 20 – Broken Windows

When we began working with The CE Academy in 2009 we discovered that the school often displayed colour photocopies of the work that students made with us instead of the originals. This was done to protect the work, as students would often destroy their own pieces, and this way the display could be replaced by another copy.

The Broken Windows theory is a criminological theory that states that visible signs of crime and anti-social behaviour encourage further crime and disorder. The controversial theory hasn’t always been used responsibly or effectively when policing communities, and relies on an element of fear of authority. We hoped to discourage students’ vandalism of their own work using instead the positivity of pride. Our theory – call it Vandalised Artwork – was that if we could elevate the quality and value of the work in the students’ eyes, they would become proud of their achievements, be protective rather than destructive, and this behaviour might then filter into their everyday lives.

We started to see early signs of change with students asking to take their work home, but they often reverted to type, depositing their work out of the car window at the end of the day.

But soon students progressed to making work to give to family members, particularly grandparents. We often need to hold onto work to help the students gain Arts Award qualifications. When faced with this practicality, students would often become enthused enough to make enough work to keep everyone (notably including themselves) happy.

In 2012 an exhibition of work made by students following artist led workshops with Kate Dyer, Lorraine Dziarkowska, Kenneth James Martin, Susie Turner, Simon Woolham and I was exhibited to the public at The Castle in Wellingborough. The students framed much of the artwork themselves and public feedback indicated it was as high quality as many of the adult exhibitions the venue showed that year.


In 2017, work made by the students was selected for Leicester City Council’s Open 28 exhibition at The Old Library Gallery. One student won the Soft Touch Arts Prize with a pinhole photograph (made with an energy drinks can camera). Another sold their drawing to a member of the public.

Every year since 2013, students have had work selected for the Youth Open at Kettering’s Alfred East Museum and Art Gallery, winning many more prizes, and selling more pieces of work. Adjusting their own value system, and seeing it reinforced by anonymous members of the public, is tremendously rewarding for the students.

The current Youth Open exhibition featuring the work of nine recent students is on view at Alfred East until Saturday 2 November 2019. This year also saw one of our students win the Virginie Litzler prize for best CE Academy artwork.

In 1935, Walter Benjamin argued in The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction that the aura of the original work of art is devalued by reproduction. Today as their original work hangs intact on many walls, I think our students would agree.

James Steventon

Look out for more Alternative Monday posts every fortnight, looking back on some of our favourite alternative provision activities.