View from the Bridge – by Holly Donagh, A New Direction (Bridge org for London)

‘Quality’ is a loaded word – it manages to be both bland and snobbish – but there is no question it cuts to the heart of how we contest and fight for what we believe is important when working with children and young people. Without some notion that our work is good, we slip very quickly into a kind of basket weaving for the under 20’s.

Despite this I have a lot of sympathy with contributors to the blog who stress that debating quality within the sector must never be a substitute for actually generating and promoting work. Stuart from Theatre Is suggests our first question should be ‘how do we secure the conditions for more opportunities for children and young people’s work’.  After all we are in a period where the very existence of art as a subject worth studying at school is being seriously challenged – there are real battles that need to be won and whilst we debate quality the young people we are talking about literally get older. We all only get one chance at a creative childhood.

The new Bridge initiative has a real opportunity to both intervene helpfully into debates on quality and ensure that we maintain a sense of urgency about the bigger picture. We – Bridges – occupy an interesting position between the mainstream education sector and the publicly funded arts and cultural world. I see our role as providing a resource to arts organisations in terms of advice, guidance and networking but – because we start from the position of what is best for the young person – we can also maintain a critical distance and where necessary provide some challenge.

A New Direction is the lead Bridge for London and we work closely with four other arts organisations that have incredible skills and expertise in working with children young people – Apples and Snakes, Sadler’s Wells, The Roundhouse, and The Lyric Hammersmith. Our experience at A New Direction comes from nine years delivering Creative Partnerships – running innovative creative projects with schools across the capital. Working in a school setting it is imperative to ensure young people have tangible learning outcomes from their work which they can use to move forward in their education and development (the Arts Award is really useful in this context). Through Creative Partnerships we developed effective and light touch methods of evaluation that were helpful for practitioners, the school, the funder and the young person. For more on this see http://tinyurl.com/7mhz3oh

I believe Bridges can help bring arts organisations together and consider where we have challenges and shared concerns regarding the definitions and measurement of quality and ongoing evaluation and monitoring. We can use our strategic position to devise research programmes that engage a range of partners and which might otherwise be too complex for a single organisation to take-on. We can also take a more long term approach thinking about really tracking the impact of engagement in culture/arts in the lives of young people over a period of years, we can fill interesting gaps.

Having a concern for quality at heart is not necessarily the same as having a consistent evaluation framework, and it is more important to sustain a culture of engagement with issues of quality and an awareness of the different needs of different parts of the triangle (partners, artists, young person) than to lock down any kind of single assessment model.

Holly Donagh
Partnerships Director, A New Direction
Tw: @HollyDonagh E: holly.donagh@anewdirection.org.uk

It only takes a moment to comment; what do you think the role of the Bridge Orgs should be in relation to quality?

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One Response to View from the Bridge – by Holly Donagh, A New Direction (Bridge org for London)

  1. It’s also important to recognise quality wherever it appears – it’s not just about a national reputation or large projects with large organisations. So many smaller arts organisations and individual artists do fantastic work under the radar, and it’s often better for schools to have an ongoing relationship with a local arts or heritage organisation in the long term.

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