A major exhibition about one of Britain's most iconic musicians was always going to be a runaway success. But the Victoria and Albert Museum (VA) in London, which is hosting David Bowie Is, has found a canny way to involve students from his former secondary school, too. The students are creating a film that explores Bowie's influences and lasting impact against the backdrop of where he grew up.
Ravens Wood School in South Bromley, now an 11-16 boys' school with a mixed sixth form, was called Bromley Technical High School in the early 1960s when it educated "a quiet boy ... who knew exactly what he wanted to do". Bowie (known then as David Robert Jones) has credited his inspirational art teacher Owen Frampton as a major influence on his life.
But when secret talks began between the VA learning department and the music and drama departments at the school it was hard to decide which direction to take. Bowie's career encompasses so much, from music to video to fashion. How would they pin down one area?
The project began with 30 or so students from the school's performing arts and music academies using six sessions to brainstorm ideas. They were shown presentations of films about growing up in the 1970s and considered: what style of bike would young people have ridden? What would they have eaten? And what music might they have listened to?
The students then enthusiastically trawled the internet to rediscover the world in which Bowie grew up. The sessions culminated in the showing of the now famous 1972 Top of the Pops clip of Bowie, where the skinny singer with the spiky, flame-coloured hair sang Starman to a television audience of appalled parents and transfixed teenagers.
This was followed by a presentation from Kathryn Johnson, research assistant on the VA exhibition, about its overall theme, and a look at the video for Bowie's recently released single Where Are We Now?
Students were then given time to do further research before presenting their findings. One student photographed street signs in the area where Bowie grew up. They also explored notions of masculinity and femininity. How was Bowie able to play with these ideas? What was acceptable in the 1970s and why?
To develop characters the group used a twist on the childhood game Exquisite Corpse, in which figures are developed step by step on a piece of paper. Each person draws a different body part, but they cannot see the part the previous artist has created. The result is a mixing of female and male clothing and accessories.
The film is due to be completed in June and will be shown at the VA on 17 July.
Meanwhile, the students making the film were scheduled to visit the museum on 25 March for a day of tours and activities to inspire them further.
To find out more about the exhibition, go to www.vam.ac.ukcontentexhibitionsdavid-bowie-is.
For further details of the events programme for the David Bowie Is exhibition, go to:
For more on workshops and events for schools, go to: