Tertiary - Home is where the art is as college and local community unite

14th January 2011 at 00:00
Artist in residence helps learners to focus on the creative and cultural aspects of college life, and turns their talents to a timeline mural

"Everyone can learn to draw. The brain is a muscle to exercise."

The words are spoken by Pearl Kinnear, artist in residence at Cumbernauld College, as she shows me the college's contribution to the Big Draw.

As someone who would need a lot of teaching, I am pleased to hear this, and, on looking at the different parts of the mural, I can see that this positive view has filtered through. The quality of drawings varies, but it doesn't matter. The mural as a whole, with the Forth and Clyde canal as centrepiece, looks amazing.

Ms Kinnear took up the position in July when the college's equality and diversity committee decided to look for an artist in residence to focus on the creative and cultural aspects of college life.

"A lot of college students were finding it hard to express themselves," explains Peter Hughes, workforce development manager at the college. "The aim was to get them to express themselves more. Some of the Get Ready for Work and Prince's Trust students have had some hard knocks in the past."

Her base may be in the art department, but Ms Kinnear is available to all students. She has worked with the children and staff at the college nursery; liaised with Get Ready for Work learners on a collage to be developed over the period of the residency; organised cultural visits to art galleries; and held workshops exploring techniques. She has also set up a blog of her work with the college.

"People think of art as being paintings and sculpture," she says. "We introduced them to conceptual art. Some of the Get Ready for Work students had never been to an art gallery, so I organised trips - to the smaller art galleries as well as the big ones."

Twenty-year-old Craig Cole is a Prince's Trust student. He took part in the Big Draw and Ms Kinnear worked with him, taking photographs of the Antonine Wall for the Tom Muir Award.

"A lot of us said, `we can't draw', but Pearl just came up to us and said, `yes, you can draw'. I no longer feel afraid to draw just because I'm not good at it," he says. "Even if all you can draw is a stick man, it's still art. Art isn't just about drawing. Pearl opened my eyes up."

A large part of the role involved working on community projects, and encouraging student involvement. One of these was working with the Croy Miners' Community on a mural.

"They always wanted a mural incorporating the history of the area, so Get Ready for Work got involved," says Ms Kinnear. "The project went well and it turned into an inter-generational project, with older people in the community working alongside the students."

Ms Kinnear visited Croy with the pupils once a week, taking on board the historical society's ideas. The result is a timeline mural in the main hall of their community centre.

Two of the art students come to join us and it is obvious that they have a good rapport with her. Her base in the art department is totally open; she refused the offer of a glass door, opting for total open access.

Jenna Adair, 18, is full of compliments. "Pearl has given me a different perspective to art and a fresh view. She has made us think, and helped us with techniques," she says. "There have been times when I felt I had hit a brick wall and Pearl would come along and say, `think about things'. She expanded my knowledge."

"Pearl has been involved in mentoring our work," says Ruth Burgon, 22. "It has been brilliant to have her influence just along from the classroom, and great having someone so enthusiastic and passionate so close by, who we could go to for a chat and to see if our ideas make sense."

Far from differentiating between those with artistic talent and those without, Ms Kinnear appears to relish the fact that her work has grouped them together. All have a place in working on the murals, and on the other artwork produced both in the community and in the college.

She says: "A lot people don't draw after they leave school, but drawing helps them balance their mind. I have experience working in the community and I have seen it work well."

The position at the college runs until the end of January, when an exhibition and accompanying booklet are planned. The college murals are on track and will be finished early next year. As this is the first time the college has had anything like this, all agree it will be good to have a permanent reminder of all that has gone on.

For Mr Hughes, there is no doubt that it has been a success. "The community aspect was particularly good. It makes the college seem more approachable to the community. Some, who wouldn't normally have considered college before, showed an interest - a nice spin-off," he says.

"The college has a strong aspirational culture and Pearl's work is wider than the curriculum. She has really made a difference, liaising with different groups. She has worked with all sorts of faculties and has been a real focus for cultural activity."

scoted@tes.co.uk.

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