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Tuesday 7 November 2023

Meadow Arts Commission: Watermark School Showcase; Engaging Young Minds Through Art, Education, and Activism

(Oliver Bliss Watermark School Showcase collaboration photographed by Meadow Arts)

I had the fantastic opportunity to collaborate with Meadow Arts, working closely with two local schools, Cherry Orchard and St. Barnabas in Worcester. Commissioned to respond to the artwork exhibited across Worcester, I found inspiration in Hilary Jack's evocative work, "Deluge." Jack’s piece focused on global flooding events and the rich tapestry of myths from various cultures, presented as dual streams of information akin to a newsreel running alongside TV news articles. 
(Oliver Bliss Watermark School Showcase collaboration photographed by Meadow Arts)
I proposed a response to the concept of a post-apocalyptic underwater world, where melted ice caps submerged significant landmarks. I saw this as a unique chance to educate students about cultural heritage, initiate discussions on climate change, and offer a platform for young people’s viewpoints.

(Oliver Bliss Watermark School Showcase collaboration photographed by Meadow Arts)

Recognizing that the upcoming generation will bear the brunt of climate change’s impact, I aimed to guide the creation of artwork contributing to both education and activism. I encouraged students to draw from their heritage, incorporating landmarks relevant to their backgrounds. Moreover, I strived to represent a diversity of religious sites, considering the display's location in a religious space.

(school visits seeing the landmarks sewn into their pillowcases)
(instructions for teachers)
What surprised me was the schools' enthusiastic support throughout the process. While I initially proposed using second-hand discarded clothing, the head at Cherry Orchard suggested tie-dyed pillowcases, a successful teaching tool at the school. I provided guidelines for the teachers, who conducted a workshop before my involvement. The vibrant blues and greens of the tie-dyes offered a subtle shades mimicking under water oceans that beautifully complemented the chosen landmarks.

(draft designs which didn't make the cut)
(pupils contributions from school visit)

St. Barnabas contributed a plethora of second-hand Calico fabric and scraps, which were instrumental in outlining the landmarks and creating backings for the sea creatures the pupils designed. This collaborative effort enriched the project, incorporating diverse inputs.


(pupils sketches from the Worcester Museum exhibition)

The project began with school visits to The Hive, where outdoor artworks lead up to Worcester Museum and Gallery. The pupils engaged in discussions about the represented pieces and shared their thoughts on climate change, contributing key statements that infused the pieces with political motivation, amplifying their voices.

(prep for pupils statements)

In hindsight, the intensity of the process wasn't adequately factored into my planning, particularly the time needed with the pupils. Stenciling and cutting over 1000 letters became a challenge. However, with my partner's assistance, we managed to create consistent, stylistically uniform letters for the statements the pupils had crafted. Subsequently, I guided sessions with the pupils to embellish these statements, acknowledging the varying skill levels and experiences in sewing.

(school visits)

I showcased drafted pieces to the pupils and utilized an interactive whiteboard to explore the locations on Google Earth. This exercise provided a visual understanding of the landmarks' global placement, fostering a sense of connection and distance from our own surroundings.

(examples of sea creatures created by pupils) 

The project also highlighted how essential motor skills like sewing were impacted by the pandemic. Some pupils had advanced skills, attributing their learning to family lessons during the lockdown, underscoring the pandemic's influence on fundamental skill development.


(examples of sea creatures created by pupils) 

Moreover, students contributed images of sea life, using references and encouraged to craft their own species, considering the underwater world of the year 3000. Upon assembling their contributions, we collectively crafted political protest banners displayed with bamboo reeds, offering a poignant portrayal at Worcester Cathedral. Families of participating pupils also had the opportunity to view the work, enhancing community engagement.

(School showcase at the Worcester Cathedral) 

The Watermark Showcase has become a journey through collaboration, education, and activism. It emphasized the necessity of involving younger minds in discussions surrounding climate change and its repercussions. Hopefully, this project amplifies the influential role of art in engaging, educating, and inspiring the future generation, underscoring the confluence of art, education, and social awareness.

(School showcase at the Worcester Cathedral) 

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