Back to the drawing board

17th November 2000 at 00:00
Teachers who want to regain an identity as an artist in their own right - or to develop it for the first time - can now benefit from a new scheme. Fiona Flynn explains

Outside your classroom, when was the last time you picked up a pencil, paintbrush, camera or chisel? When was the last time you made some art of your own? The Artist-Teacher Scheme was launched last year by the National Society For Education in Art and Design (NSEAD) to help artist-teachers evaluate their work, focus on where they want it to go, and work alongside other artist-teachers. The scheme is not confined to practising artists; others can pick up their creative skills again after a long absence.

Penny Hay, who set up the scheme, explains: "For years, artist-teachers have been trying to balance the professional demands of teaching and getting on with their own creative practice. The Artist-Teacher Scheme aims to provide a space for artist-teachers to review and develop their creative work in relation to the highest levels of contemporary art practice and in the contexts of art museums and higher education."

Around 30 art teachers took part in the scheme in London this year. During three days at Tate Modern the group had discussions with Tate curators and professional artists, visited the Delphina studios at Lodon Bridge and the new Kinetic exhibition at the Hayward, and taking part in workshops looking at the Tate Modern's controversial themed hanging policy. Over the following two days, at Wimbledon School of Art, the group collaborated to make a limited edition book of prints. In the course of a week, everyone had the opportunity to show a presentation of their own creative work, getting invaluable feedback from the group. Phil Barrett, who teaches at the Purcell school in Bushey, summed up how much the teachers on the scheme have in common. He attended the course last year and acknowledged that art teachers can feel isolated in the staffroom. "Art teachers often don't mix very well - so it's important to touch base with others who talk the same language. We all come from the same situation - we share a common experience." For Phil Barrett, creativity is central to being a teacher - as well as teaching art, he runs a creative writing course at school. "Being creative is central to teaching - but I want to be creative with the pupls, not just for myself."

Despite producing a decent body of creative work, Phil feels more comfortable calling himself a teacher rather than an artist: "It's more convenient. If I said I was an artist I'd have to justify it, and that makes it harder." Last year he left the course "buzzing for weeks, feeling able to locate what I was trying to do". He says: "This year I've come back to 'fill up the pot again'."

Susan Horwood is a nursery teacher from Kingston. She also attended the scheme for the second time: "The scheme came at just the right time for me." She took a year off school and, taking her children, rented a studio in Spain. "I felt I had to just do it and get it out of my system. I was trying to practise painting , the act of it, just to see and feel what it was like to work as an artist." She is now returning to work part time.

The scheme is intended to enable art teachers to see themselves as artists once again. But do you need to be practising yourself to teach effectively? Opinion among this group of people was divided. Gail Olding, one of the professional artists supporting the scheme, is clear about her priorities:

"Working as an artist isn't an option. I have to do it."

Whether full-time teachers can consider themselves serious art practitioners was debated during the course of the week. Susan emphasises how her own practice reflects on her role as an effective teacher. "It's so important to be able to move on with your own creative work - especially now the Government dictates everything we do in school," she says.

The Artist-Teacher scheme operates a variety of projects, which this year include the four-day summer school at Wimbledon School of Art and Tate Modern in London, a three-year part-time fine art MA at Wimbledon, and, in Liverpool, a two-year part-time artist-teacher MA at John Moores University is collaboration with Tate Liverpool.

NSEAD has developed a good working relationship between staff at Tate Modern, Wimbledon School of Art and freelance tutors, to improve professional development for artist-teachers. It wants to extend the scheme to Birmingham, Leeds, London and the South West, and into Scotland and Wales.

More details from Penny Hay, NSEAD National INSET Officer, The Gatehouse, Corsham Court, Wiltshire SN13 OBZ.Tel: 01249 714825

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