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Lockdown learning – the digital education resources that raised the game

Andrew Lloyd-Webber, Bernadine Evaristo, and Jarvis Cocker are among the 160,000 signatories of the Public Campaign for the Arts petition in opposition to funding cuts for arts and archaeology courses in Higher Education.

This threat to the viability of these courses is, of course, just part of a long history of reductions in arts education at all levels.

The pandemic has profoundly affected educational provision for all subjects and stages. While education providers have moved mountains over the last year to continue to educate their students, art teaching has been stubbornly difficult to maintain. As Ofsted reported, ‘many’ schools had to limit their arts teaching.

The Crafts Council found that ‘Research about the benefits of arts education does exist, but again this is not reaching teachers and senior leadership teams.’

Arts teaching is under threat.

The government have proposed funding cuts for FE courses as arts and archaeology are not ‘priority’ subjects.

Yet, as the Cultural Learning Alliance recently reminded us, ‘The UK’s world-leading creative industries are essential for the future growth of our economy. They contribute £115.9bn a year to the UK GVA, accounting for 5.9% of UK GVA and are growing at four times the rate of the UK economy as a whole (43.6% between 2010 and 2019 in real terms). The creative industries employ 2.1 million people, and the number of jobs in the Creative Industries increased by 34.5% from 2011 to 2019, more than three times the growth rate of employment in the UK overall (11.4%).

So, the services provided by museums and art galleries are now even more vital. Education teams have pulled out all the stops to continue delivering excellent engagement resources during the pandemic, supporting education for art and archaeology and across the curriculum.

And organisations have found a broad range of ways to realise these projects, particularly in this challenging environment.

If you want to do more, take inspiration from some of these excellent engagement projects…

The British Museum – The Museum of the World

Developed in partnership with Google Cultural Institute, The Museum of the World is an astonishing interactive which is well worth a few minutes of your time (but likely you’ll want to spend more). Travel through the immersive timeline, which spans cultures and continents, and discover constellations of twinkling artefacts. A truly beautiful project that elegantly describes the importance of historical collections, museums and archaeology.

Many organisations used Google resources for their engagement projects – Google Arts and Culture tours were especially popular. And The British Museum’s partnerships have been a superpower in the pandemic – for example, their Virtual Visits are sponsored by Samsung and were able to quickly add capacity to meet growing demand.

Historic Environment Scotland – Learn at Home

A brilliant project for anyone wanting to grab kids’ attention and get them thinking about history. Historic Environment Scotland gathered resources and skills from across the organization to develop an incredibly charming new resource section of their website.

Take a look at their short ‘Craft Knight’ films to get a feel for the project – How to Make a Catapult, with Craft Knight is great and made ‘from home using a phone, homemade props, and the invaluable directing and editing skills of a photographer colleague’ (GEM Case Studies). The project is a great example of what you can do with a collaborative team and an experimental approach.

DigVentures – Archaeology at Home

As field activities became almost impossible, not-for-profit DigVentures rapidly developed their Archaeology at Home resources to continue their groundbreaking work into archaeological collaboration.

The project developed a six-week ‘How to do archaeology’ online course, a two-day festival and videos with virtual tours.

This model engaged with an extraordinary number of participants, with over 11,000 online archaeologists from over 90 countries and an additional 11,800 primary school children in the junior course.

The project was an award winner in the European Heritage Awards / Europa Nostra Awards, reaching a new audience for archaeology and a new way of connecting the professional and amateur archaeologist community. Incredibly – it also led to the discovery of a new henge site in Derbyshire.

National Museum Wales – Minecraft Your Museum

National Museum Wales challenged 6-11 year olds to build a fantasy museum in Minecraft – they then asked that the kids filled their museums with exhibits from their seven museums across the country. Hundreds of kids obliged – with museums featuring pyramids, dinosaurs, and an anti-gravity chamber.

This project was possible by the educational version of Minecraft which is available to all children across Wales.

Find out more here.

Firstsite – Art Is Where The Home Is

Firstsite art gallery in Colchester was talked about a lot in the first lockdown for their fantastic resource pack developed with a roster of highly acclaimed artists – such as Greyson Perry, Cornelia Parker, Jeremy Deller and Sarah Lucas. The pack has been downloaded over 48,000 times – but what’s makes this project even more impressive is the way that Firstsite has built on this success.

Head over to their Art Online pages now to find a broad range of virtual resources. Firstsite also moved their ‘Super Black’ festival for Black and Caribbean history and culture online, and a series of films can be watched on the website. Plus, not only are there more activities here but there are also additional outreach resources. There’s an online studio space for sharing and conversations, showcase for The Great Big Art Exhibition which took place in windows across the country, and the surreal kids’ YouTube series ‘The Art Cave’.

What next?

In their ‘Remote learning in museums, heritage and cultural settings’ case studies, GEM commented that the ‘tireless work of museum and heritage education professionals to respond and reimagine what cultural engagement looks like during a pandemic continues to inspire and inform definitions of remote learning.’

Museums and cultural organisations have the potential to lead the way in remote learning – reaching out to diverse audiences and supporting education for all.

About the author – Rebecca Hardy Wombell

Rebecca Hardy Wombell is a freelance writer who works with a broad range of creative organisations, including artists, galleries, museums and design-led retailers.

Her writing aims to develop and delight audiences by putting her clients’ beautiful works to well-crafted words.

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