School Going From Strength To Strength

By Sally Lampitt

Just a year after opening, The School Creative Centre in Rye has firmly established itself as a centre of creative excellence in Rother – demonstrating how community, arts and business can work together to become a powerful and successful force.

With more than 30 resident artists and associated companies, and an ever growing programme of workshops, training and outreach programmes, it is no surprise that The School received the Outstanding Contribution to the Community title at the 1066 Business Awards earlier this year.

From the outset, The School has created an environment in which both established and emerging artists can flourish and engage with the local community. For resident sculptor Yulia Podolska, The School has been instrumental in developing her career.

“It is such a unique environment,” she says. “I wasn’t expecting to find something that could meet all my needs. Not only do I have a light, airy studio that is just right for me – and plenty more space available to develop larger projects, but it is full of artists and craftsmen, offering a pool of skilled people who I can call on to help. I have also learnt a lot from the professional development courses that they run, and the public events here give me access to many new customers.”

The School was delighted that Yulia’s first UK exhibition resulted in her winning the Bronze Age (Young) Sculptor Award at the Society of Women Artists’ 149th annual Summer Exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London in July.

The potential for artists to work together and develop their art has seen some exciting collaborations. Master weaver Simon Young and recent theatre design graduate Ruby Antononwicz-Behan are currently working with resident performance artist Jenny Edbrooke on her Smalls project – a creative adventure into the history, psychology and physiology of underwear. The team created a grand costume, with a two-metre-long woven skirt made entirely out of bras, knickers and pants. Jenny will premiere Smalls in September at The School, prior to a UK tour and international tour in 2011.

All the resident artists – painters, sculptors, ceramicists, textile artists, jewellers, weavers and perform ance artists – contribute to The School’s outreach and training programmes. At the Open Studios event in April – at which 2000 visitors witnessed first-hand the inspiration and motivation that drives the artists to create – they delivered a range of free workshops throughout the day at which both young and old could learn new skills and discover new talents.

The School is committed to encouraging community participation, and the Easter holiday workshops for young people, in film, graphic art and rap music, were particularly successful, culminating in The School’s first album release with accompanying music video and graphic poster. The feedback from participants speaks for itself: “The tutors were brilliant, making it easy to learn and great fun… The workshops are just awesome!”

As well as resident artists, The School Creative Centre p r ovides a base for Connexions CRI, which provides information, advice and guidance to vulnerable young people aged 16-19, encour aging them to access and engage with education, employment or training opportunities. In May, The School’s Outreach and Education Co-ordinator, Chrstine Harmar-Brown, was commissioned to work on a project to capture the responses of young people to the Raising of the Participation Age. The resulting film and curated exhibition offered both insight and a platform for further debate when it was presented at 14 -19 RPA Conference in Eastbourne and then at the Post 16 Options Fair in Eastbourne.

The School’s continued partnership with the Youth Development Service has enabled it to offer regular workshops targeted at developing confidence and team building, especially with those aged 14+. Working with Brightonbased AudioActive, The School runs a series of courses at which local youngsters can learn anything from sound technology and Turntablism to beatboxing, live looping, street dance, rap and lyric writing. AudioActive has now set up a second base at The School to develop creative musical projects for children and young people in Rother, and will team up with other professionals this summer to deliver an ambitious production, The Rapdramatic.

In May, The School hosted members of the Urban Playground team for the day when a group of young people were coached in the art of ‘Performance Parkour’ resulting in a dazzling display of synchronised tumbles and gravitydefying spins. One participant said: “Really good – there’s nothing like this in Rye. I have to go to London or Brighton otherwise, so if this can go on I’d certainly come back and do more.”

The School’s unique relationship with Rye College – a specialist performing arts secondary school – has enabled students to engage with professional working artists and participate in a diverse range of workshops and events including a Professional Development workshop in collaboration with Rother Arts Development, a three day arts engagement programme and a Graphic Novel project. In April, The School also hosted Rye College’s annual fundraiser, the East Sussex Contemporary Art Fair.

As a venue, The School offers a space for resident and visiting artists and musicians to showcase and present their work. Highlights this year include the internationally renowned singer Sarah-Jane Morris, aerial artist Lorraine Moynehan (Circus Space, London) and performance artist Jenny Edbrooke.

Ian Ross, The School’s Director, says: “Our activities to date show how committed we are to partnership working, connecting people to each other, to opportunities and to other services. With the on-going support of East Sussex County Council, Rother District Council and the Arts Council South East, we can continue to develop an arts infrastructure for the area and demonstrate how the community, arts and business can mutually benefit from such a relationship.”

The School Creative Centre

Rye’s Own September 2010

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