The Big Draw Festival 2018: Play is well underway around the globe and as Festival organisers fling open their doors to visitors who love to draw and to those who think they can’t, we chat to the Big Draw Co- creators who are joining us in obliterating the ‘I can’t draw’ myth and eliminating barriers to creative learning through their Big Draw Festival events.
We’re thrilled to be stealing a few moments with Big Draw Festival organiser extraordinaire (and Big Draw Festival Award Winner!) Helen Ackroyd, The Principal Arts Officer at Inspire: Culture, Learning and Libraries.
Inspire’s reach is impressive, they deliver services from 67 buildings across Nottinghamshire, their ever-ambitious programmes are made possible by a dedicated staff over 600 people. Significantly, this year, Inspire became one of the first Library services to be awarded National Portfolio Organisation (NPO) status from Arts Council England to deliver a cultural programme through its libraries. This marks a significant and concrete shift in how the function of Libraries are changing.
Their ambitious programme of Big Draw Festival exhibitions and free events wholeheartedly embrace The Big Draw’s #Play2018 theme this year at 13 libraries across Nottinghamshire. We find out why libraries are fast becoming the new community and cultural playgrounds and why you should visit an Inspire Arts Big Draw in 2018!
Photos courtesy: Inspire and Neil Pledger
BD: Let’s talk libraries: Dusty carpets, browning sticky tape and solitary study, are these the relics of libraries past?
HA: Absolutely, here in Inspire, Nottinghamshire Libraries we have dynamic Cultural spaces that embrace all forms of artistic endeavour with lots of our 60 spaces having galleries, art rooms, music and performance areas and of course lots of lovely books. As the arts team for libraries we inject as much creativity as can!
BD: Why are libraries a good place to draw? Would you encourage other libraries to take part in The Big Draw Festival?
HA: Yes, I would encourage Libraries across the county to join in! Libraries work with and welcome so many groups all the time and Drawing can engage all ages and work for any theme. We have used The Big Draw to work with groups but also Library staff showing lots of ways they can use the vehicle of drawing themselves regardless of ability to be part of something bigger. As well as working directly with artists in libraries this empowerment of Library staff builds capacity and impact of our Big Draw across the county every year.
Snapshots of Inspire's Big Draw Festival events L-R: 2015: Every Drawing Tells a Story, 2016: The STEAM Powered Big Draw and 2017: Living Lines.
BD: One of the main components of our work here at The Big Draw is promoting the influence of visual literacy. We believe that it is crucial to a multitude of industries and disciplines, not just within the visual arts sector. Can you share your views on the benefits of being ‘visually literate’ in one’s everyday life, especially working alongside the more traditional ‘three R’s’ and within your work in libraries?
HA: Before anyone learns to read they learn to read pictures, and picture books are the gateway to developing readers for pleasure that will forever value books and the free access a library offers. Working as we do with visual arts in libraries supports and adds value to the development of visual literacy and literacy. Exploring a common non-verbal language of marks, textures, signs, symbols, diagrams and drawings underpins our work and supports artists and authors to work together with groups to using visual language to explore an idea and then show those ideas to others in artworks in our gallery spaces that in turn are read visually by the visitors.
We are bombarded with images all the time and employing artists and drawing to skill people in reading and making images is important for helping us all understand the world.
BD: This year, The Big Draw Festival is celebrating the power of Play in the creative process, as well as in all aspects of life. Play is not something that people would normally associate with libraries but research has shown it to be a powerful tool in both early development and adult learning. What is the role of play in your libraries and how has this year’s Big Draw Festival theme encouraged a more playful approach to your programming?
HA: I disagree that libraries are not playful, the children’s section is bright and encourages play, long gone are the days of having to be quiet. Our libraries include, toys, crocodile seats, a giant ipad table, a discovery room with 3D printer and Raspberry Pi’s, there is even a climbing frame and a slide! The magic of The Big Draw, at its best engages children and adults who through drawing, play together.
BD: We meet people all the time who tell us that drawing has changed their life, from our patron Andrew Marr who took to his sketchbook to rehabilitate his co-ordination after a life-changing stroke, to the artist Liz Atkin who began drawing as a way of refocusing her hands as she found her compulsive skin-picking disorder was severely impacting her life.
Can you tell any #drawingchangeslives stories you’ve encountered along your Big Draw journey?
HA: We have many stories from parents and teachers over the years that comment on how The Big Draw projects engage young artists who they have found hard to reach. Drawing has opened engagement with other subjects in a way that feels exciting. The sheer joy and pride for those that get to see their work in gallery spaces, valued and celebrated in a public way has a positive effect self-esteem.
BD: Reports published by The Joint Council for Qualifications this year revealed that uptake of creative subjects (which include Art, Music, Media, Design & Technology) have declined by 10.2% over the past year, attributed to the introduction of the EBacc.
Yet a recent research and opinion pieces published by Forbes and The Washington Post agree that creativity will be the most vital skill of the future. Moreover, the DCMS revealed last year that the creative industries were worth £92bn to the UK economy and had the highest sector growth rate.
Since arts provision in schools is becoming increasingly diminished, have you noticed an increased demand for creative arts learning and activities within libraries?
HA: Yes we are worried about this too and it’s why we think our work is so important.
Libraries are being recognised as cultural hubs in communities and Inspire are one of the first library service organisations to have gained Arts Council, National Portfolio status which over the next four years is allowing us to work with artist’s musicians and theatre companies to develop our offer and engage communities with the arts.
The cultural sector can and is shouting loudly about the value and need for creative skills for the future of the sector and, we can and do embellish and support cultural education.
'Blue Sky Green Fields' - The Big Draw 2009 community engagement project led by Inspire.
BD: How do you think libraries differ from other cultural or community provisions?
HA: A great thing about Libraries is that they are valued and used by the community they are situated in, and they are found in the biggest cities and the smallest villages. Very few people feel intimidated by a Library, we all first used them as children and they are public spaces that have no expectation of a financial transaction. The visiting demographic mirrors the place in which they sit, something not always true of other types of cultural sector venue. Artists working with and in Libraries can give access to the arts for communities who may otherwise be isolated from a local cultural offer.
BD: You have been organising Big Draw Festival events for some years now, and your commitment has even been acknowledged in your assignment as a regional Big Draw ambassador, can you tell us how and why you first decided to get involved with The Big Draw?
HA: I trained as an illustrator and have drawn for pleasure all my life, it helps me look and understand and communicate and I believe is brilliant for my wellbeing. My Big Draw journey began 10 years ago working in a rural gallery and running education programmes to engage groups. I initially wanted something to help dispel the fear of trying something new and to help market the offer for the venue. I found that using The Big Draw as a project driver opened up the floodgates to individuals and groups who wanted to join in. Suddenly The Big Draw was far less intimidating than saying come and draw. The very next year I got offered the opportunity to work with The Big Draw, Eileen Adams and other likeminded arts educationalists to develop a peer learning action research programme and explore ways to use Drawing and The Big Draw in new ways. This was my #DrawingChangesLives moment, we drew in new ways, shared practice and developed training, it was fantastic.
I developed the training into a way of dispelling fear and skilling non-arts professionals who work with groups of people to use drawing in their own settings to tackle any issue they may have. Getting to know each other, verbal communication, using music, group work, understanding maths etc etc. We trained care home workers, early years staff, teachers, and Librarians and the ripple effect of sharing skills and freely giving ideas and sometimes materials meant more and more groups joined in.
The rock solid peg then The Big Draw gives us to plan and promote engagement around, and the impact of that engagement on the leaders and participants alike is why we bulid an extensive offer around the theme every year. I can honestly say we are never short of ideas and get excited about the possibilities of our next Big Draw as soon as one is finished.
BD: You have just opened your new ‘Automata’ exhibition with new works by artist Keith Newstead at Mansfield Library, with your accompanying Big Draw Festival events you are posing the question: What would happen if the Circus came to the Library? We love that your #Play2018 events start with a question, it really feeds the imagination and is really in the spirit of this years Festival.
BD: Can you tell us a bit more about the exhibition and your Big Draw events this year?
HA: This year The Big Draw 2018: Play! is part of our Arts Council work and we have worked with local artist Emma Reynard and 12 schools across the county to explore the question “What would happen if the Circus came to the Library?” 669 young artists responded by drawing on acetate and using chalk pens to draw lions leaping off the bookshelves and librarian strong men lifting books while riding a unicycle! All of this work then went to automata artist Keith Newstead to inspire him to make a donation box for libraries.
Keith’s wonderful work was revealed at the opening of the exhibition of all the young artists work in Mansfield Library Gallery on 27 September with the Arts Council, school Children, Emma and Keith in attendance. The gasps as the sheet came off the work was fantastic and the young artist who said “This has been the most fun day” as she left summed it all up.
Automata were made and circus themed refreshments enjoyed. The exhibition will tour Inspire Library Galleries for the next year. And during the festival month of October Emma Reynard is running public workshops in libraries to explore more Circus Library fun!
BD: The last word goes to you!
HA: Lets Change the world together with a pencil!
Keith Newstead with his newly unveiled automata donation box inspired by 669 artworks created by school children in response to the question: What would happen if the circus came to the library?
With thanks to Helen Ackroyd and the team at Inspire from their decade of The Big Draw dedication!
We hope you enjoyed our interview with Helen! If you have been inspired by her insights into the world of libraries, literature (visual and otherwise) and the infinite possibilities of drawing, why not become a part of the world’s largest drawing festival or find an event near you this autumn?
Inspire's Big Draw Festival Events and continue into November throughout Nottinghamshire. Take at look and get involved with one of Inspire's #Play2018 events!