Updated: Dec 6, 2021
The last year has seen the world encounter challenges that were unimaginable to many of us in the Western world before 2020. The devastating loss of so many lives in the pandemic coupled with the loss of our daily routines, disruption to work and education and the feeling of missing out has created an air of uncertainty that has impacted no one more than our children.
I have been lucky enough to spend much of the last year working with children and teachers as part of an artist residency at the incredible Seymour Park Community Primary School. The headteacher has a wonderful approach to teaching and really understands the importance of creativity to a child's learning and growth - commissioning guitar and banjo lessons over lockdown to keep spirits up while the emergency curriculum focused on Maths and English. With the school’s cheering and inspiring motto of ‘Making a World of Difference’, I knew that it would be important to approach this residency with an abundance of creative positivity, while being sensitive to the changes and disruption these young children have had to face over the last year.
The focus of the project was to bring back some light and happiness to the playground, and to create a feeling of community and togetherness that had been battered by loss and trauma during the pandemic. Returning to work and school has been difficult for so many of us, and I hoped to help ease the transition with this project which would help to reinvigorate and nurture the whole school family.
We began with lots of different workshops where the children and staff got involved in collaborative exercises that included painting, illustration and collage, one of my favourite workshops to teach. Combining different techniques allowed the children to be free and let their sense of fun and creativity flow in their work, something that many had missed during the lockdown restrictions. It was a joy to see the uniqueness and creativity of each student blossoming.
When designing the final mural, we took to the outdoors to look at the different shapes and colours that surround the canteen wall where the mural was to be located. Painting on such a large scale is something that children aren’t often exposed to so it was fascinating to get their ideas on what shapes and colours they thought would look good in the space. I made sure to guide the students while always referring back to my own experience and knowledge of how different colour combinations can create a joyful and happy response.
The completed mural entirely transformed what was a dreary area of the playground landscape from a grey canteen block to a vibrant, happy beam of colour that wraps around the building. Yellows and oranges form the base of the mural onto which loose forms of children in a fantastic riot of colour and pattern that were created by children and staff in the workshops jump out to put a smile on the viewers face. It was a privilege to be able to work with the students in this way, and having worked with Mr Johnson, the headteacher on another mural at the beginning of my public art journey in 2015 that still stands today, made it all the more special. The outcome is something that both the children and local community love and the sense of joy and life it brings to the playground is one I think we can all be immensely proud of.