Learning and skills development

UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK invited everyone to get involved – from film-makers and world-builders to school pupils of every age

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Learning and skills development have been embedded in UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK from the very start. UNBOXED commissioned ten teams to make work that brought together science, technology, engineering and maths with the arts. They also had to include emerging artists, scientists and technicians within their teams.

All ten of the UNBOXED projects have employed creatives at the start of their careers but some have gone even further in their commitment to invest in skills development.

“We need more innovation and we need fresh new ideas,” said Lauryn Thomas, a project guardian for Dreamachine. “And to do that, it means bringing young people into projects and employing them.”

Unearthing hidden stories

StoryTrails, an immersive storytelling experience exploring the hidden histories of 15 UK towns and cities, puts emerging creatives in the spotlight. Some 50 next-generation creatives were recruited by StoryFutures Academy, which led on the project, to make augmented reality (AR) trails, develop virtual reality (VR) experiences and build immersive installations.

Two women using iphone to experience augmented reality

As well as empowering young creatives to make pioneering and high-profile new work, the StoryTrails team have been driven by a desire to increase diversity in the screen industries. Recruiting the 50 next-generation creatives was a conscious decision to do something about that. “StoryTrails represents a direct engagement with changing the face of the industry to reflect the diversity of talent across the UK,” said historian and broadcaster David Olusoga, StoryTrails’ executive producer.

“When I first heard about StoryTrails and the work of StoryFutures Academy, it felt like a dream come true,” said DJ McDowall, an artist and self-described ‘mischief-maker’ who developed the AR StoryTrail in her hometown of Dumfries as one of the project’s 50 young creatives.

 “StoryTrails has allowed me to learn from the pioneers – the real deal, the top of the tree, the forerunners in innovation in the worlds of TV, film, immersive theatre, gaming and extended reality.”

To the Moon and back

The team behind Tour de Moon, a cosmic adventure that toured England in May and June, takes a radically inclusive approach to participation. The entire project has been co-created with hundreds of young creatives aged 18–25, enlisted via an open call and invited to realise their own Moon-inspired ideas. “We just want people who will enjoy the challenge of being involved in something truly unique,” said Tour de Moon’s Ayanna Blair-Ford during the call-out.

Hundreds took up the invitation: Tour de Moon offered more than £1 million through 850 bursaries to nightlife artists, performers, scientists, digital makers, writers and other young and emerging creatives, ranging in value from £100 to £25,000. Among them are Rosie Bowden, Caitlin Fairlamb and Rowan Miller – known collectively as Girl Next Door, a new all-female theatre group based in Newcastle.

“We believe that regional theatre stories can be some of the most universal,” said Girl Next Door, which used its bursary to create a new work for Tour de Moon called Superstition. “Festivals like Tour de Moon are fantastic for the north-east theatre ecology and communities like it.”

Other young creatives have used their bursaries to create new artworks informed by challenging and urgent issues – such as filmmaker and bursary recipient Alexis Maxwell, whose film Madness and the Moon was inspired by mental healthcare in the UK.

“I wanted to look at a future where mental illness is accepted and celebrated,” said Alexis. “I got to speak to people who would never consider themselves artists or creators, but they got fired up thinking about all the different ways art could tell their stories.”

Building new worlds

GALWAD: A story from our future also places young people at the centre of its creative process – appropriate for a commission that was inspired by the Well-being of Future Generations Act, a ground-breaking piece of Welsh legislation with young people at its heart.

A group of performers around a table discussing their performance

The GALWAD Young Company is made up of 12 young people aged 18-26, recruited from across Wales through an accessible, open and informal process. ​The Young Company were charged with exploring the core themes and values of GALWAD, a story set 30 years in an imagined future – working across live events, creative technologies, film, digital media, community engagement and journalism. At the same time, they received tailor-made support and training designed to help them in their future creative endeavours. ​

“It’s hard to find the words,” said Buddug Roberts, a 21-year-old writer from Tregarth and a member of the Young Company. “I feel so lucky to have been a part of this amazing and ambitious project, encompassing such important themes and messages. I’m so grateful for all of the new skills, lessons and friendships that I’ll take away with me.” The endeavour is such a success that the group plan to continue collaborating as a network – and are already looking for more opportunities to work together.

The Young Company, though, wasn’t the only pioneering participation initiative run by the GALWAD team. The future world that formed the setting for the GALWAD story, which unfolded live online and on television across seven consecutive days, was dreamt up with the help of 120 members of the public from across Wales – recruited via an open call and led by Minority Report production designer Alex McDowell.

“It’s important that a group of us has come together, of all ages,” said one of the World Builders. “It’s so important to have the different perspectives – especially from younger people. For me, it really highlights the hope.”

UNBOXED skills development

In addition to developing skills through working with the teams, UNBOXED is running an Ambassadors programme designed to support young and emerging creatives aged 18-30 to further develop their experience, knowledge, skills, confidence and networks – giving them the best chance of succeeding in their chosen careers.

The 11 UNBOXED Ambassadors are working on everything from scriptwriting and marketing to architecture and virtual reality for a variety of UNBOXED commissions – and are now looking to take the next steps in their work.

Prithvi Sachithanandam, one of the UNBOXED Ambassadors, previously trained in chemical engineering – but his experiences working as a comms intern on PoliNations “opened up my eyes to working in arts and culture, [and] in the creative sector in general”. So much so, in fact, that Prithvi is currently considering a career change to marketing, inspired by his time with PoliNations this summer.

For King Ali, meanwhile, a football coach from Barking who was part of Tour de Moon’s nine-piece touring Arkestra, the experience on UNBOXED proved truly transformative. “It changed my whole outlook on life.”

And it’s this kind of transformation that UNBOXED has sought to deliver to everyone who took part in it and engaged with it – from communities of every type right across the UK.

“I’m more motivated than ever to engage with communities and encourage them into spaces they might not normally visit,” said Raphaella Philcox, a trainee design assistant on PoliNations and an UNBOXED Ambassador. “When we achieve this, we can have more inspiring events for all – cultivating a happier society.”

1.7m children, young people and members of community groups have taken part in the UNBOXED Learning and Participation programme.

In and out of schools

As well as inspiring, inviting and empowering emerging young creatives by inviting them to play a part in the 10 projects, UNBOXED has placed learning at the heart of its endeavour with an extensive programme for schools and colleges.

A group of children walking the Our Place in Space trail

The UNBOXED Learning Programme has been designed for 4-19-year-olds by educators working with the technicians and artists from the projects, with the aim of inspiring collective creativity and engagement in learning, develop collaborative skills and insight into STEM careers. The programme involves cross-curricular activities combining STEM and the arts through school trips, lesson plans, assemblies and workshops.

Some of the highlights from the Learning Programme are:

  • About Us, a spectacular multimedia show exploring 13.8 billion years of history, inviting school pupils aged 4–18 to write a poem and/or create an animation project on the theme of ‘connectivity and the universe’. The team is now creating a series of free educational videos for GCSE students inspired by poems commissioned for About Us, with each video exploring a different aspect of the project.
  • Our Place in Space a scale model of the solar system, over more than 8km, that young people will soon be able to visit at Ulster Transport Museum. It has just launched a Minecraft Education Adventure, enabling pupils to journey through the solar system, stopping off at each of the planets and exploring historical events back on Earth.
  • Dandelion a ground-breaking programme involving growing cube - metre-squared vertical farms designed especially for the project. Almost 90,000 children from 468 schools got their hands dirty and got growing this year.
  • SEE MONSTER a North Sea rig transformed into an art installation. It welcomed hundreds of children on board and continues to welcome those who couldn’t make it to Weston-super-Mare through its 360 tour and learning resources.
  • GALWAD has resources for schools on its website and has delivered a full week of live lessons that invited pupils to consider a question central to their story: ‘If we can’t imagine a positive future, how are we going to build one?’

One particularly innovative project is Dreamachine’s Life’s Big Questions, an interactive series of five questions that can be answered by classes in one part of the UK and compared to the answers of classes in other parts. These intriguing questions – including ‘Can I believe everything I see?’, ‘How do I know time is passing?’ and ‘Are people the same all over the world?’ – explore how the brain and senses work together to help you understand the world. Teachers can find Life’s Big Questions and other resources at Dreamachine schools.

Sarah Jenkins, Year 4 teacher, Expressive Arts and Eco Lead at Raglan Primary School, said: “We champion opportunities for our pupils to learn in creative environments.  The UNBOXED Learning Programme’s learning resources allowed us to delve into key topics such as climate change and allow our pupils to sit back and understand what it means for them while still allowing them to express their creativity.  It’s an ideal combination of taking a real-life issue and considering how creativity can be a solution to the problem at hand – the kids loved it.”