SENsory Atelier General Update

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From Bob Christer, SENsory Atelier Programme Manager

After an eventful few months in beginning the SENsory Atelier programme, I thought it would be good to share an update on how the programme is progressing, what we’ve worked on so far, and our plans for the future.

I came on board as Programme Manager in late February, with a residency at Ashmount School about to begin with Associate Artist Sian Watson Taylor, and a study week to Reggio Emilia in development with teachers from our first year schools. As we know, the global pandemic changed everything, putting our planned joint practice development with teachers on hold, and making face to face delivery impossible. More than that, we swiftly realised that young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities and their families would be cut off from the support networks that are so vital, particularly those connected to in school activity.

Sian helpfully agreed to redevelop our plan for a residency at Ashmount, to instead work on developing our ‘SENsory Atelier at home’ resource packs. Quite simply aiming to give young people, their carers and families a set of resources that could help to plan at home exploratory art activity using everyday objects. Together with Schools Learning Assistant Caroline Rowland, we developed a set of digital resources and accompanying videos designed to cushion the blow of a loss of in person artistic collaboration.

We also started some conversations with Sightlines Initiative, the UK’s reference Agency for Reggio Children, around developing a bespoke programme of activity for teachers from our 9 schools, and artists. I’m delighted that these have now started on 14th October, and I’ll be blogging on what we cover, and thoughts and developments that come out of those sessions as we go along.

Much of the timing of lockdown, school closures, and reopening made it clear to us that we needed to plan for the eventuality that in-person delivery would look extremely unlikely until 2021 at the earliest, and whilst we are itching to get artists into schools and really begin our collaborative programme, we have had to look at what we can meaningfully do in the interim. Fortunately, our core funder, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, have been extremely supportive of our plans and actions, helping us to see this as a time to prepare and to do what we can that is within the scope of our original aims.

This period of preparation has given us some valuable time to research, to discuss practice with organisations such as House of Imagination, The Whitworth, and Meadow Arts, and time to dig into consultation with teachers, helping to build a small support network across the 9 schools.

We’ve begun to develop a new Artist Network, Nurture, which will help us to bring artists together to discuss best practice in sensory approaches, explore issues and challenges, and most importantly for us, to hear more views, and to engage with more artists in helping to deliver the SENsory Atelier programme over the next few years. Sign up to the Nurture mailing list here.

We’re supporting Associate Artist Wai Sum Chong with an Arts Council funded programme to develop digital games around music theory elements with inclusivity and accessibility in-built, something that has great overlap with SENsory Atelier programme, and also wider learning and outreach programmes at Attenborough Arts Centre.

The current climate, makes planning for the future feel very much like a ‘choose your own adventure’ novel with multiple pathways sprawling out in front of us as we try to plan for our next step. While that can be a daunting prospect, it’s also exciting, and filled with possibilities. One such exciting staging post in our near future is the excellent Little Inventors programme.

Little Inventors is an organisation that challenges young people to create inventions, before selecting a handful to be made into prototypes by artists, engineers etc… They are keen promoters of young people’s independent thought and creativity, treating young people’s ideas seriously, whether that young person has created an ingenious device that works in the real world or not. Together with Inspirate, a Leicester based non-profit that specialise in events, festivals and creative learning programmes, we are developing a model of Little Inventors resources that are inclusive and accessible for all learners with SEND. Given the nature of social distancing requirements, this has enabled us to plan a blended learning model of artist and teacher developed resources which will be delivered in school as a collaborative programme of work with young people, teachers and artists, even if the artists are not able to be physically present in the room. We’re hopeful that this will generate new opportunities for us moving forward as we start to look beyond 2020, and the continuing possibility of a need for distanced based artist involvement.

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