Volunteering on the Young at ‘Art programme – interview with Michelle Ampah
Michelle you’ve been volunteering for Cool it Art for just over a year, what inspired you to get involved?
Well I’ve always done voluntary work in the past and I wanted to do something creative; so I saw your website and decided to help with art.
What’s been your favourite moment so far?
All of it! I love the classes every week – it’s just so creative and it’s lovely seeing what the attendees do, how well they do with the art!
What’s been your biggest challenge?
There hasn’t really been one – I just love it, no challenge!
What do you feel you get from volunteering?
I get a lot out of it – I’m not working anymore I’m at home; I’d be totally isolated if I didn’t do the voluntary work. I just love being amongst all the other people here!
Can you tell us a little bit more about your background – and the skills that you’ve gained from all your experience prior to volunteering?
I used to work for victim support and dealt with people who had been victims of crime. I actually did an interior design course so I’m a qualified interior designer – but never used it because I was always working, so I’ve always loved the arts. I worked for the job centre with lone parents, so I’ve always worked with people – customer service based. So those sort of skills help me interact with people. I wanted to get into the art side of it purely for – not only to help other people – but for myself because I enjoy art!
My HeadStart Experience – Imani Brown:
I had always believed that volunteering would be a waste of time and bore me to death, but I was wrong, it was the cherry on top of my NCS experience. I never would have thought that just by spending a few hours painting and varnishing a few murals would have had such an impact on my life. For the past couple of months, I’ve been volunteering with Cool It Art and I have learned many valuable lessons by doing so.
I have been working alongside Amanda and members of the public to make a difference in the local community to create the Bromfield Murals. It has been a great experience for me as I never knew painting with a few people could be so fun. Initially I was scared to start volunteering with Cool It Art as the last time I had picked up a paintbrush was four years ago, I thought you had to have some experience or have reached some sort of art qualification. The only thing I had remembered from Art lessons is to always paint in one direction and that’s the only thing I essentially needed.
Volunteering with Cool Art has taught me patience and that little details really contribute to the bigger picture. Before Art had always been something that I had always said I wanted to do it my spare time, whether it would have been just drawing or creating collages, I had never gotten around to it and by spending time on the murals, I had managed to do that. Not only did I reach some of my personal goals, I developed a newfound respect for any Artist. I had no idea so much preparation was necessary to produce a couple panels. The design had to be drawn out first then we had to measure 21 stripes of masking tape to create the stripes (this was very trippy and almost made us crazy but as perfectionists we pulled through) then layer on multiple layers of paint after mixing some of them. Then layer on varnish while hoping the colours wouldn’t bleed into the white, thankfully they didn’t.
Time flew by and the three-hour sessions felt like twenty minutes. The only annoying thing was that I had to fit volunteering around my college schedule, it meant leaving earlier on days when I’d usually stay back studying, but it was worth the sacrifice. I think the most significant part for me was when I came back to help varnish them and they all looked so beautiful complete. I felt so proud of my work, even though I didn’t create the actual design, I helped to pick the colours and create the stripes and paint the flowers. Even though I had only played a small part in doing them, it was very satisfying to see it become part of a wider collection. I can’t imagine how proud Amanda must feel to see all her ideas come to life. I’m so grateful to have spent my time volunteering with her.
My experience of HeadStart; the importance of volunteering – Emily Jerjian:
My experience with volunteering at HeadStart has been great. I’ve been with Cool it Art and it’s been really fun helping out wherever I can. Over the past few months my jobs have ranged from helping 6-10 years olds make salt dough bowls and painting them to varnishing the Bromfield Murals to making popcorn and serving drinks at family film night.
It has been really enjoyable working with younger kids as I have a little sister myself so it was really easy to adapt to my new environment. They are well-behaved and talented so it makes it much easier to communicate and work with them. Some challenges were, when more than one of them was asking for help and I didn’t have enough hands, in that situation I had to make sure the other was able to do something whilst I was helping the first child. It was really nice to see how the children helped each other with their art tasks as well.
A personal experience that I remember clearly would have been in one of the Monday Classes run by Amanda, from Cool it Art. I was helping this little girl called Paige design a pattern inspired by patterns from different countries, continents and cultures such as Persia, Islam, South America, Africa, China. I’d map out a pattern for her in pencil and she’d decide whether she liked it or not and then copy. She decided colours and we finished it together. I was touched when at the end of the session she helped me put away the pencils and said thank you before she left.
I’m really passionate about Art as I believe it is something we come into contact with everyday but goes unnoticed by many. Therefore the fact that I was able to share my knowledge of the subject was really nice and rewarding. Even by doing the smallest things like helping them design their own fonts for National Handwriting Day I felt like it was a relaxing yet educational class for them.
Some of the downsides of volunteering was not being able to fit the sessions in with my school timetable. A lot of them crossed over and so I was unable to attend which was a shame or I would turn up late which was impractical. This was unavoidable but I think in order to have benefited fully from this I should’ve been more flexible with timing.
I have found that going from the NCS three-week programme to working with HeadStart was important for my own personal development and I am glad I did as it does not only benefit my CV but I also got to know these young children on a personal level and it was really fulfilling.
Community Art – more than just Art; inspiring future generations to be socially active – Amanda Callis:
So the beauty of holding after school art classes is I get to set the topics that we learn in each session. Often I set it around seasons, holidays – random days of celebrations such as “Talk like a Pirate day” as I can’t resist throwing a pirate party; but on a more serious note I take the opportunity to explore different issues through Art.
Whilst I always try and bring in other subjects such as Maths, English and Science; I also get the opportunity to bring in other themes such as mindfulness, community and even life skills – something as simple as being kind. I discovered it was “Random Act of Kindness Day” on 1st September in New Zealand, I thought this was a fantastic concept as not only could I create a session around this – paper flowers with a random act of kindness label on it to be presented to the person we wanted to be kind to but I could get the kids to do kind acts. By doing this type of session we can create a dialogue to explore what kids think about being kind and how they interact with others which can lead to other conversations about behaviour in general; what is good behaviour and what is bad behaviour. Ultimately kids taking ownership of what they can do to be better people through ideas being sparked through these conversations.
I’m a firm believer that if you make things fun you can teach kids about anything – the best learning happens when you don’t realise it is; Art is a fantastic tool for this. Other things we have covered are “Happiness Boards”, “Earth Day: What makes your World” and “Thank you cards” as January is national “Thank you month” all of these have elements of well-being as in thinking about yourself, your place in the world through your family & friends and on a larger scale things you can do to help your community – sometimes it is as simple as saying thank you! Other projects we do cover the environment encouraging plant growing or helping nature such a “Upcycled Bird Feeders” or “It’s Our World: My Favourite bit of my neighbourhood” part of It’s Our World which is a larger initiative showcasing works created in response to the environment by the World’s future custodians.
Even without the topics we choose to teach – on a really basic level having such a large age group in one class (3-12 year olds) and living and working in such a culturally diverse area we get the kids to support each other; be it through older kids teaching younger ones different skills or simply encouraging the kids to engage with each other in a safe and nurturing environment to create new friendships. These two things combined plus the fact the children have a creative outlet to express themselves through, the chance to ask questions, push boundaries – all help with their development. I know if I hadn’t had Art as a kid or a caring teacher – I would have had every potential to go off the rails; so if I am paying it back now – these kids will have every opportunity to pay it forward and that is what I hope to achieve even on a micro scale it will still be worthwhile as it can have a ripple effect!
Cross-curricular Learning – Amanda Callis:
So whilst I work as a Community Artist and all my sessions and projects are arts based – I think it is massively beneficial to bring in other elements of learning across the curriculum.
The best kind of learning in my experience is when you don’t realise you are learning! The weekly after school sessions that I run are predominantly about art however they bring in other aspects such as maths, english, science and even life skills – with elements of mindfulness and confidence building added in for good measure.
One of the current projects I’m working on is a story-based mural which is being supported by Walker Books and GreatArt. The benefit of a project like this is – not just the opportunity to paint on a wall and get messy but inspiring imagination, a desire to read and even creating their own stories as this project intertwines the children’s favourite stories of old and new ones they have just read.
Some of my favourite sessions from the weekly classes have been “Food Art” , “Pop Up Planters & Milk Bottle Watering Cans”, “Happiness Boards” and the “Flat-pack Zoo”. “Food Art” was successful in the respect that children tried many fruit and vegetables they had previously refused – we simply stated that the food is your palette of colours however whatever you pick you have to eat so choose carefully! Parents were overjoyed that their children had eaten such a variety; which I think gave them ideas on how to get their kids to eat other things at home. The “Pop Up Planters & Milk Bottle Watering Cans” and “Flat-pack Zoo” got the children thinking about nature, biology, maths and elements of engineering but through art so they didn’t find it too difficult because creativity was the focus. Something like a “Happiness Board” inspired by the UN’s international day of happiness is a great way to engage with children because it gives them a way to think about what they really enjoy but it also gives you useful insight as to what potentially you can do in the future to help if they aren’t having such a great day – all of which is a really positive way to go about working together.
With digital platforms being so accessible this helps to promote further inspiration – for students and teachers alike. We all have different skills as educators and it is beneficial to be able to see what others are doing simply because they may have covered something that wouldn’t have occurred to you – which in turn can strengthen the sessions you deliver.
Art is the tool – but not necessarily the outcome, we all need different things in our lives to balance out our knowledge; it is inspiring that spark to create a legacy of learning that I find the most exciting. You know when children are engaged when they go and do their own research around the area without you even asking – so this is the engagement I try to aim for as a measure of success.
The Importance of Sharing Work – Amanda Callis:
I have worked as a Community Artist for the past seven in a variety of settings such as Artist in Residence in schools, pop up events at ZSL London School and most recently setting up a Social Enterprise, Cool it Art, providing free art classes for underprivileged kids. The role of a Community Artist is slightly different from that of a teacher as whilst there are elements of education it is done in a much more informal way as the objectives are different and the primary focus is on creativity but also aspects of well-being.
Social Media Platforms like Facebook, Pinterest and Forums are massively beneficial – not just for displaying work but also for documenting it. When teachers display work – it shows the students that their work is worthy of public display; that is has value!
The difference between social media and the traditional classroom display is that this sense of value and pride is massively amplified as social media is on a global level – it is one thing to get praise from your teacher or classmates; but the potential to engage with an audience anywhere in the world is an exciting prospect. The classes we provide spans the age groups and elements of different academic subjects so not only can a whole range of work be showcased but there is the potential to inspire Teachers and children through that work
As a Community Artist it is important for my professional practice and project development to photograph all the sessions I carry out taking photos of work in progress and the finished piece – the children respond really well to having their work photographed; often they will come up to me wanting their picture taken of their finished work simply because they are so proud of what they have created and excited to see that finished work on the internet!
The other benefit of having work displayed digitally is the possibility of sharing with family and friends – even those overseas. How many times as a child did you make something you were beaming with pride with and wanted to share with the world? Parents often now have to work longer hours so potentially can’t make it in to school as much as they did before – by having work online and accessible there no reason not to be able to share the work and share the joy.
When one of the parents asked her son what he enjoyed about the sessions and having his work documented “It’s just fun mummy. Because I get to do lots of different arty things with my friends and even when I think I’m just making a mess they help me to make something good!!”. Let’s inspire more kids like this one – let’s get sharing!