Guest blog: Arts Award at the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum

08 December 2017

Guest blog: Arts Award at the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum

Jenny Phillips is the Education Officer at Middlesbrough’s Captain Cook Birthplace Museum, which is part of the Department for Education's Making a Mark, an initiative supported by the National Portrait Gallery as part of the Arts Council’s Museums and Schools programme. In this blog, Jenny explains how she worked with one group of young people to help them achieve their Arts Award Discover, while taking part in a Making a Mark project.

Making a Mark is delivered across eight venues in the Tees Valley and encourages students to understand more about, and feel proud of, their local heritage and identity. This raises aspirations and helps children realise they too can achieve. Schools visit the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum from across the Tees Valley and beyond. It's really important to develop strong relationships with local schools, especially those in deprived areas. The offer of Arts Award as part of the Making a Mark programme has proven popular with teachers over the last few years. Some teachers are surprised that coming to a museum can be part of an Arts Award journey, but most museums hold artworks of some sort and art is a great way for children to learn more about history.

Art is an opportunity to engage young people of all abilities. It's accessible to all in an enjoyable way and Arts Award encourages this from an early age. Our season’s temporary exhibition however, had a heavy science focus, which posed a creative challenge to the delivery of Arts Award. The exhibition, Pacific Predators, looked at three enormous creatures from the Pacific Ocean. The displays linked well with the Cornerstones curriculum topic, Blue Abyss, for Key Stage 2, but we also wanted to incorporate art and local heritage into a one-day visit. We wanted 60 local Year 4 school children to feel proud, as well as having something to show from their visit to us, both in their classroom and personally.

The group looked at models of the creatures to learn about their features and adaptations, and then drew them in detail. We introduced magnifying glasses and microscopes to encourage children to look at features and patterns in some of the smaller sea creatures from the museum's handling collections. To build on this, the children worked with a local artist to create willow fish sculptures. This re-visited the features of a fish, its shape and adaptations, and to make sure we covered everything, we followed this up with a session in school. All the children were able to achieve their Arts Award Discover through the project.

The children related well to working with a local artist with an enthusiasm for Captain Cook, helping them learn more about someone they'd already looked at in school. Adapting the Cornerstones programme of study to include Captain Cook as a local hero increased its relevance. Children were able to relate to, and see the significance of creatures they'd never seen in their own lives. When children realised a local hero from their home area had seen and recorded these amazing creatures, it gave them a real sense of awe and pride in where they come from.  

Children’s understanding about the relevance of art in the wider world also developed from this session. One boy who had a particular flair for observational drawing was noticeably enthused by gaining an Arts Award. He was keen to become an architect and through this experience he could really see how art could be used as he grew older. Finally, taking a ready made display back to school meant teacher and pupils alike could continue their discussions and share them with parents and peers at a school assembly.

We've continued to use this structure to deliver Arts Award sessions for schools, including a local history topic based on the Cornerstones project, Urban Pioneers, but adapted to our local area. We looked at the suburban areas around the museum and worked with a local graffiti artist. By including a famous local hero or two in the workshop, children were really engaged and they created some amazing work for display in their school.

Using artists to enhance museum-based workshops is incredibly beneficial to visiting groups, regardless of the topic. Artists and art can easily be incorporated into science or humanities workshops. Art also provides a hands-on approach to learning, and through the Arts Award, museums can really offer an opportunity to consolidate learning for children of all abilities and give them an extra sense of achievement. Combining Arts Award Discover with a museum visit helps continue the momentum of learning back in school on a far greater scale than a more traditional school workshop.