For their involvement in The Big Draw Festival 2019: Drawn to Life, The Open College of the Arts [OCA] developed a month-long online course encouraging people to experiment with mark making and use drawing to help support wellbeing. We couldn't wait to catch up with Joanne from OCA to hear about some of the successes of the course, some of the difficulties they overcame and to find out more about the college itself.
We hope you enjoy the interview!
Hi Joanne! Thanks so much for chatting with us today. Could you start by telling our readers a little bit about the Open College of the Arts (OCA), its history and your work there?
The Open College of the Arts is an open access, distance learning provider of higher education courses based in Barnsley, UK.
We were created by Michael Young in1987, one of the founders of the Open University, to offer high quality arts courses as a means to transform lives, with the opportunity to develop and express creative talents under the guidance of experienced artists.
"Young was a profound believer in the transformative power of education and was always deeply concerned with issues of inequality and exclusion. Young validated the idea that students themselves should be involved as active participants, not passive recipients of education. That their life experiences outside the university – in the workplace and in the home - shouldn’t be seen as irrelevant or a distraction, but a positive asset." (Horrocks, 2015).
This is part of the OCA’s ethos today as we strive to be at the forefront of student-led creative arts education.
We offer degrees, foundation courses and the opportunity to study for personal development, all the information can be found on our website.
In the UK, the EBacc has had a devastating impact on the endorsement of creative subjects (which include Art, Music, Media, Design & Technology); last year saw a 10.2% decline in the uptake of these subjects. What role do you think that higher education institutions should be playing in the access to arts and creative learning? Why do you think the next generation of makers and creators are so important?
Often the go to statement about the importance of the arts is the direct correlation between creativity and capitalism and whilst this is worthwhile, money makes the world go round and all that, having access to the arts means so much more. As ways of problem solving, thinking, research, commentating on the world, social justice, wellbeing, beauty and enjoyment. Higher Education institutions have the means to offer access to creative arts and therefore the responsibility, young people are the future after all and their potential stakeholders.
[Painted string butterfly created on OCA Big Draw course]
What role does drawing play in your day-to-day life?
I’m a prolific doodler, I use it to concentrate in meetings, make notes and plans and when I have the time for pure enjoyment!
This year’s Festival theme, ‘Drawn to Life’, focuses on the vital role of creativity for our health and wellbeing. As ‘social prescribing’ gains greater recognition as an effective tool for living a healthier and happier life, we believe it is now more important than ever to create opportunities for accessible, fun, creative events within our communities. What is your opinion on the health benefits of creativity?
At OCA we reach people in every walk of life, with over 20% of our students having a declared disability which could be physical or mental, often both. Being able to access a creative arts education from their home can be life changing. Engaging in the arts allows you to process your thoughts, ideas and emotions, make sense of them or escape them. It is a universal language we can all understand.
OCA works to ensure that people from all walks of life have the opportunity to access Higher Education. On your website you describe yourselves as ‘a community of peers, students and tutors working together, offering encouragement, creative criticism, hints, tips and sharing ideas’. With the ideas of creative support and inclusivity in mind, how do you think that ‘Drawn to Life’ resonates with the work that you do at OCA?
As mentioned above the majority of our courses are open access which means you don’t need any prior qualifications or experience to enrol onto a degree, as you study from a distance this makes our courses more cost effective than a bricks and mortar experience and our flexible timescales mean you can fit learning around working and caring responsibilities. We work to ensure a dynamic online learning environment for our students so they have parity of opportunity to meet other students and have that peer to peer relationship and support network. Most of the staff at OCA HQ have had mental health first aid training and OCA are working in partnership with the leading mental health charity SANE to support mental health and deliver SANE’s new Creative Awards Scheme, a new initiative to enable people suffering from mental health or caring for people with mental health issues to access the visual arts and harness their creativity.
[Bubble Painting created on OCA Big Draw course]
For this year’s Big Draw Festival you developed a month-long online course encouraging people to experiment with mark making and use drawing to help support wellbeing. Could you tell us a little more about how this went?
At OCA we are developing our new virtual learning environment and for the Big Draw we wanted to design an activity that was inclusive, open and online - staying true to who we are as an organisation. We launched in the first weeks of the festival in October and had over 250 people sign up which is brilliant. We’re in the business of learning so for us this was also a great opportunity to see how people respond online and how we can capture that footprint of learning and activity that happens off line. Participants responded in a myriad of inventive and exciting ways.
What are some of the challenges that you have faced / overcome in organising this Big Draw event? Could you dispense any top tips for anyone interested in running their own online course as part of The Big Draw Festival?
We tried to make it as easy as possible for participants to join in, we were conscious as a HE institution we would need to adapt the language we use so it was accessible by people of all ages and from all backgrounds. We wanted to contextualise the activity without being overly academic and introducing the wellbeing aspect was also really important. We used video, animation and forums to try and create an environment that was welcoming. We used an application called ‘padlet’ as our gallery space for students to share their creations, this was anonymous which I think in hindsight would have worked better with a bit more about who the people were using it, also it is never easy to get people to go away and make something but then come back online to share what they’ve done so perhaps we needed a bit more interactivity. All in all though as a pilot it worked really well and we’re happy to have reached so many participants.
What are some of the benefits you see of taking part in The Big Draw Festival?
As you mentioned we’re in an era where creative arts education is being stripped from schools. The Big Draw provides a creative space for everyone to join in, it connects people intergenerationally and globally so stories can be shared, cultures understood and skills learned in a democratic way. It reinforces values of respect, tolerance, and wellbeing in an engaging and fun way.
Thank you Joanne and the team at the Open College of the Arts!
Interview by: Matilda Barratt
The Open College of the Arts is one of our Big Draw Festival 2019 Sponsor Partners.
Did you run a fantastic #DrawnToLife event?