The Arts Bring
“Gifts in Context”
The “Gifts in Context” activity was devised by Rosalie Hastwell for the Artist Training Program.
“Gifts in Context” extends “Gifts” out to a much longer and more detailed activity that combines these various art-form approaches with the approaches that teachers and health professionals might take to promoting the mental health of students.
- Scenarios: At the same time as the art form groups are doing the gifts exercise above, a matching number of health professional–teacher teams are considering written hypothetical scenarios. Each team is presented with a different scenario describing a particular class or group of adolescents. The scenarios include descriptions such as the gender, age, geographical, and socio-economic hints about the group. The scenario also suggests some issues (social, educational etc) that might be facing this group of students, as well as some priorities that a teacher may have for working with this group of students. The hypothetical holds information that a health professional might be interested in about this group, in relation to protective and risk factors for mental health. However the hypothetical is not comprehensive – some things are to be added later.
A SAMPLE SCENARIO created for training day with Victorian artists along with guest health professionals and education professionals, after the 2009 bushfires
- The school is a small rural school, located in the north-eastern part of Victoria about 1.5 hours from Melbourne.
- It is an annexe of a larger school in Eastern Metro Melbourne.
- The staff are all local, and know the children and their families very well.
- It is a strong presence in the community, and parents and community members are often in the school grounds.
- The school community has currently been affected both directly and indirectly by the bushfires on February 6th 2009.
- There are normally 2.5 EFT staff but have had an extra-acting principal for the past two terms this year to offer support to the teachers since the fires. This support will cease at end of term 2.
- The classrooms are warm and inviting, with a mix of an old school house and some portable buildings with plenty of windows. It has a relaxed family feel to it with mixed ages working together at times.
- The classrooms are bright and busy and well resourced with computers, books and games.
- There is a multi-purpose hall in the town for use by the school but is currently full of donations for the bushfire relief.
- There are 27 students comprising of 15 girls and 12 boys.
- Ages range from prep to grade 6 with the majority being in the senior classes.
- A couple of the children are newly arrived as their school was burnt in the fires.
- Most of the grade 6 children usually move onto the high school at the town about 30 minutes away and some go onto schools in the city.
- Many years teaching between them all and would be very welcoming of a Festival for Healthy Living Program.
- They are currently all extremely tired and mentally and physically exhausted from the trauma and the extra duties that have arisen as a result of the fires.
- Music is already a big part of what they do here and any extra involvement from the outside would be gratefully received. They feel that interacting with the other schools nearby would also be a valuable contribution to the healing process.
- NB: The regional office however, is concerned that all fire-affected schools have let their core business of literacy and numeracy slip of late, and is keen for them to get back on track as soon as possible so their preference is that any thing to do with the FHL be done in the afternoon so as not to interrupt the morning sessions.
Scenario contributed by Lea Trafford, Festival for Healthy Living.
- Presenting the Gifts: The health professional and teacher/education professionals have been considering their respective hypothetical scenarios at the same time that the art form groups have been articulating their “gifts” for adolescents. Each art form group is then asked to present their “gifts” to the broader group. They can do this in whatever way they like – as a performance, as a visual map, or a simple verbal presentation. The broader group can comment/ask further questions about how these gifts and they way they might work with young people.
- Matching the Gifts with the Scenarios: Based on the presentation of “gifts” by each of the art form groups, the teacher–heath professional team then gets to choose which art form they would like their group to work with.
- Working together: Once the art form groups and the teacher–health professional teams are paired up, they undertake a facilitated process to determine how they might work together with this group to address artistic, educational and mental health promotion goals.
Each group receives the following instruction sheets and works together over a day to reach a solution to the challenges they have been presented with. They are then asked to create a presentation, utilizing their art forms, to show both aspects of the scenario and to indicate important aspects of their solution with the broader group.
Sheets containing the following instructions are then given to the groups:
You will be looking closely at the scenario you have been given to discover the implications of the information that is provided there, as well as adding your own touches to the scenario to really bring it to life so that you will be able to work with it creatively in the next stage of this process (Stage Two)
- What opportunities and challenges are there for the artist in working with the teacher and the health professional involved in this scenario? (You may need to flesh out the portraits of each of the co-workers here – the teacher, the health professional and the artist/s.)
- What are the mental health needs/issues of this group of students? (Again, you will need to springboard off the info that is already given within your scenario, and add to this.)
- What are the opportunities and challenges that you see for an artist(s) working with the group of students depicted in your scenario? (Try to avoid going into any detail about just how the artist will work with them artistically/creatively at this stage – that will be your task tomorrow!)
If your scenario does not already specify this or if you think there is a need to further flesh this out:
- What are the factors within the broader school community – and the community beyond the school – that will influence the way the artist(s) approach working with this situation?
- What are the expectations (of the students, teacher, school and broader school community) for the performance/public outcome? For example, is there an expectation of a fully fledged musical production with lights, glamorous costumes etc? How will the artist(s) know what these expectations are and how will they work with these expectations?
- What other resources (space, people, etc) might the artist be able to tap into as they start to plan how they will work with this group? How will the artists find out about these resources?
- What are the signs the artist will be looking for to see whether their approach is working? Will there be changes that the artists will be looking for in the students? In the teacher? The health professional?
By the end of this session, you will have used these questions (and no doubt some further questions of your own invention) to create an intriguing and “living” scenario that you just can’t wait to work with in Stage Two!
Your final task for the session is to plan how your group will show this fleshed out version of the scenario to all of the other groups. Your presentation will be clear and informative as well as engaging and entertaining – it should use both verbal and creative means to communicate the “portrait” of your class, teacher, health professional and artist and all of the associated opportunities and challenges that the artist(s) will face. Have fun!
Stage Two: Tasks and Questions
In Stage Two you will return with your group to your scenario. You will be naming the goals that will be shared between the artist(s), teacher and health professional working with this class – goals that are to be achieved through the workshop period itself as well as through a performance or presentation at the end of this time, where students share the work they have done with the broader school community including parents and families. As well as shared goals there will also be some differences in emphasis, approach and perspective between the artist(s), teacher, and health professional. What do you imagine these might be? What are the tensions and opportunities that might arise from these differences?
Make the most of the collective knowledge and experience of your group.
- What are the potentials for your art form to be used to engage and work with this group of kids through a creative process? Think about the “intrinsic qualities” of your art form as well as the form’s alignment with mental health promotion aims and educational objectives.
- How will the artist(s) plan their workshop approach in collaboration with the teacher and health professional? What challenges and opportunities will there be for the artists in developing ideas and plans within this partnership approach?
- Where might the final performance/presentation outcome happen? What will it look/sound/feel like? And what will be the response to it? Think about the health promotion goals here as well as educational and artistic goals. Where do these overlap and how will these goals will be developed? How might the artist(s) work towards identifying and realising these goals in partnership with the teacher and health professional? How will the artist/teacher/professional know whether their goals have been achieved?
- Which goals might be desirable but might not be able to be achieved within your scenario? What might the artist be able to do about this?
- At the end of the 20 weeks what will the artist, health professional and teacher have learnt from this experience? How, when and with whom might they share it? Does it matter if there is a permanent legacy of this process, and why?
As with Stage One, your final task for the session is to plan how your group will present to all of the other groups the way in which you have approached “solving” the questions posed by your scenario.
Once again your presentation will be clear and informative as well as engaging and entertaining – use your art form to show us aspects of the solution, the workshop approach, the public outcome, the relationships, challenges and learnings that have marked the imaginary journey you have been on.
Be prepared for both the delight of the audience in seeing and hearing what you have come up with as well as for their probing questions and constructive criticism.