Get a feel for the real deal

9th June 2006 at 01:00
Carolyn O'Grady on the collective success of a young artists' group which is making waves in Great Yarmouth

"It's like we're doing it for real; we're in the art world," says student Amelia (16), a founder member of CCYY, a young artists' group exhibiting this month at the central library in Great Yarmouth. "We usually focus on famous artists in school, so it's good to work with local artists and see how they live and work," adds Ollie (16).

Presently CCYY consists of around 50 year-10 and 11 applied art and Btec students from Caister High, Cliff Park High, Great Yarmouth High, Great Yarmouth College of Further Education and Oriel High School. The aim of the group, says Geoff Litchfield, art teacher at Caister High, "is to allow the schools to exhibit work in professional surroundings, to share ideas and to gain the respect of the artistic community". The project helps with sharing trips, training and giving students experience of curating exhibitions.

"We're beginning to see that as a group we have more clout in terms of getting funding and finding venues for exhibitions, and can pool contacts in the local art world," says Litchfield.

"CCYY has allowed the schools and college to strengthen links, support one another and take on larger scale projects than they would individually,"

says Mark Wood, visual arts lecturer at Great Yarmouth College of Further Education. Even more importantly for staff, it acts as a support network for teachers.

Launched two years ago with an exhibition at premises donated by the council, CCYY kicked off with a break-the-ice workshop at Great Yarmouth College of Further Education, where all the members designed their own logo for CCYY t-shirts together. The groundwork had been laid by staff at the schools and college, but, apart from providing the artwork, pupils were involved in the whole process of curating and organising the exhibition.

"It was interesting that from the start the pupils decided not to exhibit as separate schools - they wanted one exhibition, taking any element of competition out of it," says Geoff Mead, project manager for Great Yarmouth College of Further Education's increased flexibility programme, a DfES initiative to encourage the development of vocational education. Since then, with a grant from the borough council, the staff and CCYY students have arranged a workshop with four artists - a fashion designer, a printer, a designer of 3D works in paper and acrylic sheeting and a specialist in dyeing - at studios in Lowestoft.

The pupils have become involved in the arts' world, submitting work to an exhibition at Great Yarmouth's Time and Tide Museum alongside artist Maggi Hambling, working with a lino-print artist and a ceramicist to produce a collective piece for an exhibition called "Coast", now on permanent display.

"It has helped give us an insight into organising an exhibition and getting space," says Jack (16). It has been difficult choosing work to go into exhibitions, everyone agrees. "Initially we tended to choose on the basis of friendship, but then we realised that we had to be a bit more hard-headed," explains Amelia (16). Staff have had to work hard, meeting twice a term or more often as an exhibition approaches. Money is always an issue, said Litchfield (so far they have received money from the council, the Learning and Skills Development Agency and from the Flexibility Initiative). Tasks like designing the posters and invitations were initially placed with students in the individual schools, with all the students coming together later in the process.

Says Litchfield: "If you can stimulate creative excellence and the right attitude, then all the curriculum targets and results should look after themselves."

How to create an art network * Use existing structures like joint inset days, exam-based courses or liaison meetings for planning.

* Establish a small group of like-minded people - too big and it may not work.

* Target one group of pupils, such as applied GCSE art and design pupils or Btec students.

* Focus on a common project at a neutral venue, like CCYY's t-shirt making project.

* No school uniforms: pupils need to create a new group identity. Involve pupils in developing that corporate image, name or logo, none of which should show the pupils' ages or schools.

* Decide on a title and themed exhibition, and insist on having a real deadline.

* External venues give status to work.

* Define the roles of staff and students clearly.

* Involve the students in as much of the work and decision making as possible.

* Hold a private view for parents, governors, dignitaries and so on. If possible lay on music, catering and a guest speaker.

* Stay positive - and be prepared to give up lots of time.

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