Collaborative Murals With Awenek STUDIO CIC
Panel one and two of seven
This summer we created a 52 ft long collaborative mural celebrating the rich history of the Rame peninsula. It was designed and painted over two months by resident and visiting artists of Awenek Studio CIC, children from three different primary schools and the local home education group. The children who took park added their personal mark by designing a chosen element – from ferries to frigates and smugglers to Segway’s. We wanted to enable the children participating in the painting to move beyond ‘having a go’ and be able to say ‘I did that’. We aimed to maintain the personality of our many artists’ contributions all whilst creating cohesion across the piece.
The brief was a local timeline for the education centre at Mount Edgcumbe which would be hosting visiting school groups. Our vision was of piece that was vibrant and dynamic and moved through time and the place, that made an initial impact but would then further engage its audience in unpicking the details. Our design deviated from the traditional timeline format and instead became a collage of events and places in their historical context. We selected landmarks but also included some of the lesser known stories that we uncovered in our research.
The mural project combined art with local history. Cross-disciplinary projects are a growing trend- especially partnerships between the arts and other subjects. There are recognised benefits of an arts approach to other subject area; these include Increased accessibility through alternative forms of communication (such as visual or performative formats) and increased audience reach1. It also offers different tools and languages to describe and explore the subject, enabling novel and imaginative perspectives2. We have seen some evidence of the benefits whilst on this project; in process and its reception it has spurred curiosity and people have reported their interest in exploring the peninsula’s history further.
This project made me ask questions about the importance of sharing local history and heritage with our children. I had a personal interest for the subject matter and I relished the excuse to take a dive into books and digital archives. However, history as an academic subject has had its slack; with the subject showing a declining trend in schools and higher education and a reduced importance in the national curriculum3. One argument given is that the content of history is irrelevant – it is been and gone and so any knowledge we uncover is inconsequential4. It may offer transferable skills, but its knowledge will not alter how society works or drive technological progress. This criticism applies the notion of immediate utility to children’s learning (learn Chinese to go to China). It seems neither fair nor accurate and vastly over-simplified why and how children learn.
Exploring the past can enrich our understanding of our contemporary; from its societal systems, environmental interactions, political developments, belief structures and patterns in a diverse array of factors that influence our daily lives5. Without an understanding of how and why things came to be, we may fail to see problems ahead, appreciate the value of what we have and neglect to protect what we inherit– including our intangible cultural heritage and societal based freedoms.
Learning about our local heritage has benefits for our current community. It is shown that there is an association between the apparent distinctiveness of a place and its resident’s positive orientation towards it, promoting greater efforts to affiliate and nurturing stronger communities bonds6. This sense of place is found in the physical heritage of the landscape and the living traditions of local culture. The positive attitudes and sense of ownership towards locality increases motivation to support and participate in the community and look after where they live.
We had a chance to reflect and review when the painting was finished. The working method was dynamic and required a responsive approach, adjustments and decisions were made as the visual art piece evolved. We knew that it could never be a near a comprehensive history of the area and choosing what to include and miss out had been a challenge; we tried to consider our personal biases and the different personal importance that people attached to aspects of our heritage. There are inevitable challenges in presenting a history and we must remember that it is not the past but just one reading of it, as said by Jenkins (1991); ‘history remains inevitably a personal construct, a manifestation of the historian’s perspective as a narrator’7 . Some of our choices for the mural were shaped by the the visual nature of events and the familiarity of still extant places for it was foremost an art piece but offered a narrative of the past.
The mural is a journey through time, set in our familiar landscape and a mix of visual symbols. It was shaped by the people who have come together and worked on it- a process that promoted conversation, built confidence, and gave people the sense being a part of something. In its final home we hope it will continue to promote conversation and spur curiosity of the past for the future generation.
1. 2.Open University (2018) ‘Multidisciplinary study: the value and benefits’ available at https://www.open.edu/openlearn/education-development/multidisciplinary-study-the-value-and-benefits/ 3. 4. Corfield, P. ( 2008) ‘All people are living histories – which is why History matters’, institute of historical research, London
5. Evans, R.J. (1997). In Defence of History.
6. Cohen, A. p (1982) Belonging, identity and Social organisation in British Rural Culture, Manchester, Manchester University Press
7. Jenkins, K, (1991) Rethinking History, London, Routledge
An overview of the mural:
Geological formations, prehistory, ancient kingdoms and viking raids
Norman conquest, Medieval age, Tudors, Pilchards trade
Civil war, Edgcumbe house, quarrying, boatbuilding, Lighthouses, Gardens
Forts, Smuggling in Cawsand, Crossing the Tamar, Penlee
Industry and trade in Millbrook ,
war years, community traditions revived
Mount Edgcumbe today
Go to www.awenekstudio.org for examples of more community projects