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Spotlight: Artists as Role Models and Mentors

Pairing professional artists with children can have a powerful impact on both the children's aspirations and the artists work. Thea King, a Freelance Communications Coordinator and Graphic Designer, reflects on her experience working alongside school pupils and the importance of making professional artists more visible in children's lives.

The UK is full of amazing artists and makers but they are often hidden from children's view - Thea King

I once worked on a project where a practitioner pointed out that we often ask children and young people to do things that they never see adults do. We regularly ask children to draw a picture or write a story from imagination. All great, creative and expressive activities, but things that we, as adults, rarely do alongside them. As a consequence, these creative activities often become associated as something that you only do as a child. The same as play acting, dressing-up or rolling down a grassy hill. It can suggest to children that these things are only OK if you're young, because grown-ups don’t do them.

Of course, in the case of all those things - drawing, story writing and especially rolling down grassy hills - adults do do them. The UK is full of amazing illustrators, graphic designers, stage builders and hill rollers, but they’re often hidden from children's view.

Children and young people need to know art is there for them at any age

This has really stuck with me. Children and young people need to know these art forms are there for them at any age. They need to know that it’s OK to colour in and write songs until you are 106. Not only that, but that you can have a fulfilling and legitimate career doing just that.

The organisation Ministry of Stories, who I have worked with, does role modelling fantastically well. Each of their young writers is mentored by adults who also love to write stories and illustrators who can’t wait to create pictures of their characters. They legitimise the children’s work and actions by pairing them with professionals who are saying ‘look, I do this too’.

As a designer, it has been brilliant to be in that role as part of Thurrock Trailblazer. I led a design and branding workshop for pupils taking part in the Next Top Boss competition in which teams are set real life business challenges. For Thurrock Trailblazer the challenge was to create a marketing campaign to promote the cultural learning programme to other children and young people. In the workshop we talked about what makes great design and explored the power of branding. We had really interesting discussions with the pupils around what appeals to them as young people and why certain campaigns work for them. The session was intended to help inform the next stage of the pupils' work but it also gave me a fresh and unique viewpoint on how young people approach visual design.

When we saw their final presentations a few weeks later I was so impressed to see that what I had shared of my experience and the thoughts from our group discussions had been incorporated so creatively. It was clear the session had really helped them to challenge and refine their ideas.

Wherever you are, there will be willing and enthusiastic adults wanting to share and support young people

Matching adults with skills to young people with vision doesn’t just have to be something that’s only done in big cities or as part of large scale projects. The process can work on small, local scale too. Wherever you are, there will be willing and enthusiastic adults wanting to share and support young people. So many times I have heard adults say ‘I wish these opportunities/this person/this project were around when I was younger’ - This can be a big driver for adults to step-up and volunteer. Tapping into your local pool of adult mentors can really help with children's learning and aspirations.

For me, working with young people always reenergises my own practice and it is a really enjoyable way of sharing my passion. Their ideas and vision often surprise and inspire me. For the young people, I hope that I am that person standing up and saying this is for you and it is for forever.

The more confident we can all get in sitting alongside young people, colouring, drawing and creating, the more we can make sure imagination and creativity is for life and not just for childhood.

Written by Thea King, Freelance Communications Coordinator and Graphic Designer  / Photo of Thea by Tom Oldham

More In The Spotlight

The Royal Opera House Bridge Spotlight is a selection of stories, profiles and provocations from inspiring leaders in cultural learning across Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Essex and North Kent. Explore more…

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