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Posted 15.01.20

FutureLab Shanghai 2019: Learning Through Making

By Sarah Packer

Let's Communicate had participants collaborating and being playful with simple materials.

In November 2019, Plymouth College of Art was invited to showcase the different ways of learning through making at the first edition of the FutureLab Art and Design Education Expo at the West Bund Art Centre in Shanghai, China. 

The FutureLab Expo showcased the latest teaching and creation trends in the field of art and design, and revealed the multidimensional and open-ended relationship between teaching and learning. The seven-day event consisted of three sections — exhibitions, on-site workshops and thematic forums, which formed an effective dialogue on the present and future of art and design education.

Staff from our college constructed an immersive art school experience, allowing local students, teachers and the public to explore art in a space where the focus was on the process of making rather than the finished outcome. 

“The workshops from Plymouth College of Art stood out [at the event] as they embodied an artistic spirit of freedom, happiness and effortlessness.” — Art Market Journal (English translation)

The workshops ranged from creating homes with recycled materials; exploring the cultural and social patterns of food and coming to the table through lino printing; challenging communication norms and perceptions using everyday tools and collaborative drawing; creating miniature sculptures through reflective activities; and recording experience with words, marks and drawings to create a ‘honeycomb of learning’ brought together through communal stitching.

We invited two of our MA graduates, Caroline Wilkins (MA Printmaking) and Florence Newsome (MA Creative Education: Making Learning), and artist Selby Thomas to join us in Shanghai and lead workshops based on their practice.  

“I deeply realised that art education is not just about children learning a skill, it's about  children’s creativity, communication, initiative, investment, cooperation, emotion, and trust between people, as well as family, environment, city, psychology and so on. Art education is so important for children’s growth.” — Workshop participant

Caroline Wilkins’, who worked with us on our 2019 Tate Exchange project and at the Impact 10 Print Conference, Spain in 2018, said: “FutureLab Shanghai was an amazing experience and confirmed for me the power of art to connect people and make change possible. The highlight of the trip was using everyday activities and materials to connect to people in a direct way and to give them the space to explore their creativity. By the end of the week, every wall and surface was covered in the work our participants had made and it looked fantastic.”

Workshops were also led by Dr Stephen Felmingham, (Head of School for Critical + Cultural Studies) and Dr Natalia Eernstman, (Senior Lecturer MA Creative Education: Making Learning). Principal, Professor Andrew Brewerton also spoke at FutureLab's International Symposium on Art Education championing creative education and the importance of learning through making. 

Coming To The Table

Natalia Eernstman described working with her former students: “They [Caroline and Florence] both did brilliantly, delivering workshops to people from all ages with skill and endless enthusiasm. It is amazing to see students grow over the course of the MA and then be able to collaborate on projects like this, where we become co-creators of a complex and prestigious event.” 

“Create in the dark, dialogue with the material, independent thinking and perception, communication and expression with peers.” — Workshop participant 

Over the course of the week, the results of the workshops transformed the space into a ‘living’ art school, offering visitors a dynamic picture of the potential of creative education.

Selby Thomas highlighted the impact of Plymouth College of Art's workshops: "Encouraged to explore inner experiences, and working with simple materials allowed participants to develop confidence and this invited dialogue and conversation. The inclusiveness really enabled a fresh understanding of art as a way of using materials to make thinking come alive." 

Bringing an immersive art school experience to Shanghai

Dr Stephen Felmingham said of the event: “FutureLab at the West Bund Art Centre was a remarkable event for the college. In the company of major universities from around the world, the project brought making and thinking to a Chinese audience with a gesture of warmth, hospitality and a profound connection to materials that came straight from our studios. Participants were genuinely moved by their interactions with the team and the workshops - students found a new approach to art practice, parents created with their children and teachers left inspired with new ideas for the classroom based on a simple premise of 'connect with your materials and with each other'.” 

Photos and film by Sarah Packer, BA (Hons) Photography alumna