There was no one moment when I decided to set up my own arts organisation, AmaSing, but instead it came about as a result of 20 years working as a primary school teacher specialising in music and a growing realisation that schools needed help to provide arts and cultural experiences.
I setup AmaSing to deliver dance, drama, music and visual arts workshops for schools and other educational establishments to help enhance children’s creativity, confidence and wellbeing. This year, for example, we held numerous workshops with schools over a nine-month period, culminating in three days of concerts at the Storyhouse theatre in Chester with over 1,000 pupils performing.
The success that we have achieved has shown that collaboration is key for schools to provide high-quality arts and cultural experiences – and that help often comes from some unexpected quarters.
Getting specialist arts input
Enlisting the help of arts specialists – composers, artists, poets, dance teachers and more – is essential. Most teachers have little arts training so bringing in professionals will help them to pick up skills that they can use and develop with pupils. Working with professionals can also give older pupils something to aspire to if they are interested in the arts for a potential future career.
Arts organisations, too, are great sources of advice and engagement. Artsmark gives schools a clear framework to develop their arts provision and puts them in touch with "Bridge Organisations" that can provide training, advice and teaching resources, and signpost schools to other local arts providers. Our local Bridge, Curious Minds, was a great help in encouraging local schools to sign up for AmaSing.
Ultimately, we managed to give each child taking part a recognised Arts Award qualification and helped the schools involved on their Artsmark journey. We are now an official Artsmark Partner, as it has proved such a fruitful relationship.
Building community links
Community links are also really important and can often come from the most unexpected of places. Chester Zoo has been one of our most fruitful partnerships.
The zoo already has an educational programme that uses songs to highlight its conservation work and so we were very keen to partner with it to get this message out further. We ended up teaching the Chester Zoo song, Palm Oil Conga, to 38 schools, thereby helping to educate thousands of children about the palm oil crisis.
We have also worked in partnership with charities Dementia UK and Young Minds UK, which led us to collaborate with the Countess of Chester Hospital to hold music and art workshops on the children’s ward, and work with elderly patients suffering from dementia. The artwork produced during these sessions was then displayed in an exhibition at Storyhouse, helping to showcase to the public the benefits of these community links.
Schools should certainly explore what opportunities exist locally to see if there are arts organisations or charities that could become potential collaborators for arts-based initiatives.
Finding your funding
There is always the option for schools to use outside funding to help deliver their arts initiatives, too. It’s not easy but it can be done. One way is to apply for funding from the National Lottery or local community grants but you will be competing against many others in doing so.
My teaching experience helped me think outside of the box, and led me to approach credit card company MBNA for sponsorship, as it is a major employer in Chester and had set up the MBNA General Foundation to distribute funds to local education and community groups.
Ultimately, with a bit of creative thinking and collaboration, schools can still find ways to provide pupils with valuable arts and cultural experiences that could otherwise be a struggle to provide if working alone.
Rachael Borman is a primary art teacher and director of AmaSing
Find out more about Artsmark and cultural partnerships here