They made us what we are today

4th November 2011 at 00:00
As part of a campaign to keep access to culture alive in the recession, successful creatives have teamed up with the teachers who inspired them, as Kerra Maddern explains

It's a tough time for the arts in education, with music, art, and design and technology excluded from the Government's new English Baccalaureate qualification. But now some of the country's foremost dancers, artists, writers and musicians have joined together to demonstrate the importance of cultural learning by being photographed with the teachers who inspired them. They want to illustrate the influence these members of the profession had on their careers.

The pictures were taken by renowned photographer Hugo Glendinning as part of the ImagineNation: The Case for Cultural Learning campaign, which was organised by the Cultural Learning Alliance and will also involve the publication of a charter and the exhibition of these pictures. Members of the alliance, which was formed in 2009, include Tate, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal Opera House. It aims to be a "collective voice" to ensure children have "meaningful" access to culture in the difficult economic climate.

The alliance is chaired by film maker and educationalist Lord Puttnam, who asked these leading cultural figures to take part in the campaign.

1. Hip-hop choreographer Kate Prince and her former teacher Caroline Barrett

Ms Prince, director and founder of the ZooNation Dance Company, has created dance routines for some of Britain's biggest bands, as well as working on TV shows and directing the West End's first ever hip-hop show.

During her time at Bryanston School in Dorset, she had to stop dancing because it was not on the timetable. But she found herself in Mrs Barrett's class between 1987 and 1989, and was inspired by her English lessons - which continue to have an impact on her choreography.

"She made them fun. Books became interesting and cool, and I wanted to do good work for her," says Ms Prince. "She was really passionate and that had an impact on me. I even created a piece of choreography about reading. Mrs Barrett was very kind. She had time for everybody and I model myself on her when I'm teaching."

Ms Prince went on to study for a degree and an MA at Edinburgh University. When she left school, Mrs Barrett helped her get permission to come back to choreograph a show for speech day. The experience convinced Ms Prince that directing and choreography was her dream job.

"Kate knew exactly how she wanted everything done and what she wanted to do. She was very authoritative, not bossy at all, and she got the pupils performing like professional dancers," says Mrs Barrett. "I was amazed: where did that come from?"

Mrs Barrett now works at another school in "deepest Dorset" and is trying to persuade Ms Prince to visit the pupils. "I would be the most popular teacher in the school if that happened - the people Kate hangs out with now are seriously cool," she says.

2. Award-winning visual artist Matthew Darbyshire and his former teacher Dan Emery

Meeting Mr Emery proved a revelation for Mr Darbyshire, who had previously only encountered strict art teachers who were more interested in how clean he left brushes than the quality of his work.

The artist was in Mr Emery's first A-level group at Deben High School in Felixstowe, Suffolk, when he became a teacher in 1993. They completed many local art projects, such as the decoration of a building at BT's research centre in Martlesham Heath and life drawing at the house of a local artist.

"Previously there had been this hierarchy between teacher and student, which was just archaic, so meeting Mr Emery was a novelty," says Mr Darbyshire. "Working with him opened up whole new areas of art for me; it enabled me to put my skills into practice. He made art feel free and natural. His encouragement was vital."

Mr Darbyshire's work stood out even then. "I always believed Matthew was going to reach somewhere significant in the art world because of a combination of his technical skills, ideas and passion," says Mr Emery, who is now deputy head of Northgate High School in Ipswich. "He was very into his work and just got on with it. There was a depth to Matthew that you don't see in the average A-level art student. He always went the extra mile. It felt like our relationship was like a partnership, where we discussed ideas."

The pair kept in touch until nine years ago, and Mr Emery attended Mr Darbyshire's degree show. Now aged 34, Mr Darbyshire went on to an art foundation course at Suffolk College and studied at the Slade School of Fine Art and the Royal Academy in London. He then taught at the Chelsea School of Art while working as an artist, and now works with BA fine art students at the Ruskin School, Oxford University.

3. Choreographer and dancer Akram Khan with his former teachers Joseph Faria and Frances Horrocks

Mr Khan showed his sense of rhythm at an early age. At Wimbledon Chase Primary School in south London he would practise tabla beats on the table when he should have been learning maths. Teachers noticed his restlessness, but did not realise his gift until he won the school's annual talent competition with his impression of Michael Jackson.

Mr Khan, 37, says his victory was a "pivotal moment" for him. Now his work is acclaimed throughout the world and he runs his own dance company. Mr Faria and Mrs Horrocks regularly watch him perform, and relish asking him "awkward" questions when he gives talks.

"I was a very naughty child. My teachers at Wimbledon Chase gave me a sense of what old-fashioned discipline was, and Frances encouraged me to dance," says Mr Khan, who still lives locally.

Mrs Horrocks, now retired, remembers him as a "lively little boy", but also a pupil who would fall asleep easily. Mr Faria used to throw board rubbers in his direction to "wake him up" - although they were not intended to hit him.

"He was always interested in what everyone else was doing. He was very good at folk dancing even then. I only had to show him a step and he would know what to do," Mrs Horrocks says.

After leaving Wimbledon Chase, Mr Khan went on to study at De Montford and Leeds universities before setting up his own company in 2000. "He was very well mannered and shy back then - he never put himself forward," says Mr Faria. "But when he wanted something badly he showed real commitment."

4. Furniture designer Max Lamb and his former teacher Helen Trimble

His time in Mrs Trimble's class convinced Mr Lamb he could turn his interest in art into a career. Because of her, he was able to visit galleries in Paris and London, including the Barbican, where this picture was taken.

Mrs Trimble, who taught Mr Lamb when he attended the Priory Academy LSST (Lincolnshire School of Science and Technology), remembers him as a talented student. It was a new school and he was in the first group to take A-level art.

"The school was then very small and we knew each other very well. There was a sense of everybody doing something for the first time, which was quite inspiring," she says. "Max was very highly motivated. He was always able to talk about his work coherently, and still is. He was very open to ideas. He used to play around with perspectives and enjoyed creating visual illusions."

Mr Lamb went on to study at Northumbria University and the Royal College of Art, and won the International Designer of the Future Award in 2008.

"My dad was in the RAF, and we moved up from Cornwall and I arrived at the school mid-way through the term. That's always quite tough but Mrs Trimble gave me immediate support," he says. "She's such a friendly person, and so cheerful and happy. She was also very understanding, open-minded and gave us so much of her time. It makes such a difference to a child when their teacher is enthusiastic, as Mrs Trimble was."

Mr Lamb, 30, and his parents keep in touch with Mrs Trimble, and he meets up with her when she brings pupils to London.

5. Poet and novelist Lemn Sissay and his former teacher Harry Unsworth

As the only black pupil in a secondary school in the heart of Lancashire in the 1970s, and growing up in children's homes, life was not easy for Mr Sissay. He knew from an early age that he wanted to be a poet, and spent hours writing, but nobody encouraged him.

Today, his poems have become public artworks in his home city of Manchester - and at London's Southbank Centre, where this picture was taken. Even back in the early 1980s, when he first met Mr Unsworth, he knew he wanted to make a living through writing and the teacher was the first person to read his work.

"It was very evident he had a natural ability. He was so quick-witted and always had opinions he was willing to share with the class," says Mr Unsworth, who taught Mr Sissay CSE English at Leigh CofE High School in Lancashire. "All I tried to do was point him in a certain direction, to influences I knew he would find interesting. I tried to open his eyes to different aspects of poetry."

The pair kept in touch after Mr Sissay left school. He used to visit Mr Unsworth so he could perform poetry for his pupils. Within two years, and while he was still a teenager, Mr Sissay's first book was published.

"He was always very single-minded and independent about what he wanted to do, which was writing poetry. He also had an innate ability to perform," Mr Unsworth says.

Mr Sissay describes the teacher as a "really important flag on the mountainside of the base camp of adolescence".

"I used to go home with spit on the back of my coat. Mr Unsworth was the first person who saw my work for what it was," he says. "Many years later I invited him to see me perform at the Royal Exchange (theatre) in Manchester and I mentioned him on stage. It was incredibly moving for both of us."

6. Maria Balshaw, director of Manchester City Galleries and the Whitworth Art Gallery, with her former teacher Ruth Kightley

Mrs Kightley was a "visionary", but not "heroic in the style of Mr Chips", according to Ms Balshaw. "This is because she encouraged us to think for ourselves. At the time this was visionary, but she worked that way just from gut instinct," she says. "She wanted us to be adventurous and inquisitive. She was a very firm disciplinarian, but she absolutely believed in children. I remember her saying to me: 'My goodness, is there nothing that girl can't do?'"

Mrs Kightley taught Ms Balshaw at Lings Lower School in Northampton between the ages of five and nine. Teachers worked in teams and the school was open-plan. She thinks it was this which fostered Ms Balshaw's leadership qualities.

"She always found a logical way to do something, and the other children would copy her, maybe without realising it," she says. "I'm so pleased Maria is fulfilling her potential. She was always so dedicated at what she did; you always knew she was listening and wanted to get everything right.

"She also had a lively sense of humour. I remember her alert face and very kind eyes."

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