A new quality network in the SW – by Eloise Malone and Deborah Aguirre Jones

One of the most exciting aspects of working in a field of practice which is still developing, is the opportunity to combine new practice with continual enquiry into what makes the work valuable and meaningful to the whole range of people involved: participants, artists, arts organisations, commissioners, setting-staff, audiences, and families…

In the South West we and a self-selecting group of organisations and individuals have recently come together to develop an action-research process, which will respond to multiple needs identified as crucial in supporting the development of quality practice:

The need to better inspire, inform and support commissioners of opportunities for children and young people through art, so that work is “set up” to be the best it can be from the beginning

  • The need to support early and established artists/organisations who have a good grounding in arts practice with young people but lack opportunities, challenge and inspiration to take the work to “the next level”
  • The deep desire we have ourselves to go further and deeper in designing and developing extraordinary arts experiences with, by and for children and young people
  • The need to transfer innovative practice across art forms and practitioners, and to find out which methods of knowledge transfer are most suitable in our field

It’s early days yet, and we’re still consulting, debating, and designing the model; but over the next year we’re going to be initiating a process through which we will challenge, support, and research one another‘s practice in making good quality work with and for children and young people, whilst supporting other practitioners and arts organisations, and stimulating the markets for children and young people’s arts practice.

Some of the common values we have identified so far are:

  • Expecting excellence from children and young people, and designing processes which support them to generate the best and most authentic work they can make
  • Ensuring young people’s work is visible, championed, and showcased appropriately
  • Supporting children and young people’s developing criticality, as well as artform-specific skills
  • Fostering a wider climate in which participatory work is viewed as an autonomous and highly-skilled practice, rather than as second best or a “stepping stone” towards something else
  • Using transdisciplinary knowledge and practices from, for example, social psychology, community development, marketing and communications, and health fields to inform and enhance our arts practice
  • Focusing, beyond structures and core conditions, on the processes and practices which are indicators of quality outputs and outcomes
  • Working through practices and processes to understand the core systems by which this work happens, and through that understanding create blueprints by which these systems may be shared and further developed.
  • Working in partnership with purchasers of work, to develop their aspirations and knowledge of what’s possible, and to develop our own understanding of their needs and values to create bespoke offers

As we go along, we’ll be blogging what we’re doing – and why and how – so that we can share our learning with our contemporaries. We’re just at the beginning now, but it’s an exciting time and we’re all relieved and excited that this field of practice is finally getting the attention it has long desired.

Get in touch with us to find out more.  Members of our group so far include:

Theatre Royal Plymouth – Victoria Allen; Attik Dance – Ben Dunks; Daisi – Liz Hill; Effervescent – Eloise Malone; Cirque Bijou – Billy Alwen; B Creative – Stuart Wood; Deborah Aguirre Jones – artist; Sarah Cobley – arts consultant; Helen Davies – arts consultant

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