Liz Waters worked in the RA Education Department when the Outreach Programme launched in 1989. She served as Consultant Programme Director for the RA Outreach Programme through August 2012.
When I started working at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1984, it was clear that the unique creative identity of the organisation resulted from the exciting mix between the artist members, the practical artistic learning in the RA Schools and the rich and varied exhibition programme.
While the public circulated through the galleries learning about a range of art and artistic movements from a cultural and historical context, downstairs at the back of Burlington House young artists at the RA Schools and Royal Academicians were immersed in their own creative processes and products.
Around this time, new critical and contextual dimensions within GCSE Art and Design and the increased importance of project work and process in GCSE and A-Level exam portfolios led to more and more demands from teachers in secondary schools for experiences that combined looking and understanding with making artwork.
The situation came to a head in late 1987 during the Education Programme for the Royal Academy's Henry Moore exhibition. We were inundated with school groups and bookings for life drawing and sculpture workshops in conjunction with the exhibition and had to disappoint many who wanted to participate.
Given restrictions of workshop space on the Academy premises we decided to pilot a project taking Henry Moore themed life drawing workshops, led by RA Schools Post Graduate Peter Feroze, out to schools themselves. Here was a chance to share the unique Royal Academy mix of resources - the artist's creative processes centred around drawing from life and gallery education inspired by Henry Moore.
The pilot project was such an immediate success that it was decided to roll out a programme of 100 workshops to schools all over the UK. The link with RA exhibitions continued through workshops in conjunction with The Art of Photography and Frans Hals exhibitions during the programme's first year but it soon became clear that the core Life Drawing Adventure workshop was the most popular and valuable complement to regular art lessons in schools. We never imagined back then that it would continue to be so for 20 years.
During the programme's first year Peter Feroze was joined by fellow RA Schools graduate Paul Roberts-Holmes.
Shortly after the current core teaching team of Charlotte Steel,
and Paul Brandford
came on board and it is their diverse artistic approaches and energies combined with those of the dedicated team of actor and dancer models that have carried the programme forward so successfully to the present day.
From the beginning Outreach developed a creative culture of its own within the broader culture of the RA. Over the course of 20 years, the original body of ideas and teaching approaches were shared, taken apart, developed, changed, evolved, and refined but the open nature of the workshop process and the live element of the artist's and model's performance has remained unchanged.
During the last 20 years just as we encourage in the workshops, we have tried to ‘keep the sketch of the programme open.’ In terms of project management and direction there have been no precedents to fall back on and each situation has presented a fresh challenge -
- The first time secondary schools had naked models in the school gym
- The first exhibition of children's art in main galleries at the RA
- The first RA catalogue focusing on a contemporary education programme rather than a professional artist
- The first full size posters in the London Underground of children's drawings
- The first press releases describing a workshop process rather than works of art
- The first time sponsor bank managers came to watch or participate in workshops near their local branch
- The first debates provoked by Outreach on how to teach drawing in schools
- The first two day workshops
- The first teachers workshops
- The first workshops for business executives
- The first primary workshops
One foot in and one foot out, Outreach has taken the essence of the RA out of Piccadilly and across the length and breadth of the UK. On route the programme itself has been affected by the experiences of presenting these ideas in different communities, contexts, environments and has allowed these to feedback into the development of workshop content as well as programme policy.
In so many ways all of the 60,000 participating students and teachers have contributed to the richness and longevity of Outreach.
Consultant Programme Director
Messages from the previous managament team:
Liz Waters : Outreach Co-Founder
When we were preparing for our first year of Outreach Programme in 1989, we were united in our objectives to ‘heighten the perceptions of the young participants’ and to make ‘suspense and a sense of enthusiasm’ vital ingredients of the workshop experience. Twenty years later I can see the same spirit in the artist and model teams as they dedicate their considerable energies to transforming a regular school day into an environment where the unexpected can happen, where their rich, almost theatrical performance lifts participants out of everyday thinking, transforms them as individuals and deepens their experience of drawing.
Taking part in many workshops myself I have always been struck by the simplicity and directness of the process, a naked human figure, a blank piece of paper and raw sticks of burnt wood. It looks simple, and yet the challenges presented through the various tasks test personal limits and boundaries powerfully. I always found the drawing processes an immediate way of getting back in touch with myself, my ideas and the way I think, opening up a world of possibilities about all sorts of subjects just from studying the human form. It has also been equally moving to see young people grappling with the same issues, and to look in awe at the honesty and depth of the resulting drawings and written material. No two workshops are ever the same but the building of confidence across the group and the sense of flow and creative energy binding 30 diverse participants together around an inspiring source is a magical ingredient for me.
What is it about the programme that has sustained its longevity? What attracts schools back to the programme - each year there are a percentage who have been clients for 20 years - since the first workshops? For me its the universality of the subject matter - drawing and creativity, but also the fresh and surprising way in which it is delivered in the workshops. Its a live and an ‘alive’ experience - the artists have the courage to be themselves, to teach from their own passion and practice and with the models, to work as a great team, not afraid to deviate from the script and to improvise in relation to the needs of each group. Its a highly dynamic form of coaching that both pulls and pushes the individuals towards their artistic goals.
We have been lucky that Outreach has had a unique spirit and brand identity from the outset that has been infectious to RA staff, sponsors, teachers, students and supporters from many different aspects of life. Emanating from the RA but integrating itself in the nationwide community has led to some fascinating and very rich mixes of culture and at times a lot of humour and craziness. There are many unique stories to tell that have all contributed to the ethos of the programme. Its easy to forget the reality of the long journeys to and from London to the schools in different parts of the UK that is so much a part of the Outreach experience, and the value the schools and students put on a visit from the Royal Academy of Arts to their classroom, the warm welcome of the local teacher and the fascination of the local press.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone we have worked with over the years for their extraordinary dedication and support. In beginning it felt as if we were very much going against the tide, making waves not just by taking a nude figure into schools and dedicating a whole day to art, but also by suggesting that drawing could be connected to broader thinking, feeling and creative processes that cut across other subjects in the curriculum. Now debates about the importance of the visual arts in enriching the creative and cultural development of young people are mainstream and I like to think that the Outreach programme has contributed in its own quiet way to this important paradigm shift.
Peter Moolan-Feroze: Outreach Co-Founder
I spent seven years drawing and painting from the artist’s life model at The Slade School of Art and after at the Royal Academy Schools. During that time I became fascinated by differing mental approaches to the subject, such as between having a clear idea or concept to follow through or allowing for a more emergent process in which subsequent ideas and feelings could bring about unexpected or even dramatic changes. Both had their value. Any approach seemed to suggest a philosophical outlook, supported by the fact that artists often wrote down their ideas as well as sketching them and wrote letters about their subjects and themes and created movements and manifestos that encourage discussion and debate.
The original idea for Outreach was to share more of how artists’ thought and deliberated on ideas and behaviours with school students while they actually drew from the model. The aim was to help them to find more mental openness and freedom within a discipline of drawing and to alleviate some of the restrictions that can be self-imposed. So rather than the artist moving from student to student giving quiet advice, up to 30 students drew from the model on the floor while subliminally absorbing aspects of a monologue pitched into the air by the visiting artist. This approach also generated more opportunities for open discussion of the ideas, quotes and stories about artists past and present. In this sense the workshop was about drawing but also about how we think, feel, make and behave. It was about creativity.
After the programme had been running for around 10 years, two business executives who had seen the Lessons in Life exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts urged us to take a similar programme around the nature of thinking and creativity into the business community. With the agreement of the RA we set up an independent organisation called Creative Knowledge with the aim of providing creativity workshops for business using drawing and painting as effective tools to help individuals and teams visualise their brands, values, spirit, improve communication and accelerate the achievement of their goals. Parallels are drawn between artists’ and executives’ thinking processes to help improve individual and group performance at work and to enable them to understand more about the nature of creativity, and how to create the climate for innovation at work.
My work with business has made me even more aware of the need for a bridge to help young people leaving school to be more aware of the reality of creativity in business, how teams work together to create innovative ideas and improvements and how individuals develop their personal potential at work. Sketching and drawing are great vehicles for unearthing subconscious ideas that do not necessarily come out in discussion around the office table. Outreach promotes the students interest in these at an early age in order to encourage the kind of flexible thinking in young people that it’s valuable to take forward in life.
Paula Kitt: Creative Development Manager
I began working for the RA Outreach Programme 20 years ago as a life model. In those days I was a struggling actress and life modelling for schools, art colleges and artists was one of many jobs that I undertook whilst ‘resting’. However my work with the Outreach Programme was by far and wide the more interesting. I was fascinated by the process that was used within the workshops. I likened it, at the time, to the best rehearsal an actor could ever have. I saw how the artist-teachers put as much emphasis on the drawing as journey, as they did on the end result. I found as a result that the work produced was infinitely more interesting. I observed the transformation of countless school groups who began the day tentative and nervous, hardly unable to look me in the eye, and by the end of it were producing dynamic and courageous drawings. It was both moving and inspiring to see this happen and I felt proud to be part of the process, though somewhat envious also. In my experience as an actor, no one had ever offered me the opportunity to be as creative as this, and not surprisingly a short while afterwards, I gave up acting.
This decision was fortunately made easier for me by being offered a very exciting opportunity. I became Co-ordinator of the Outreach Programme and from then on a much more secure and creative phase of my life opened up. Although I missed the front line activity of the Programme, working ‘back stage’ was different but equally rewarding. Outreach also encouraged a strong interest in my own creative development. Although school art was never a strong subject for me, on those occasions when I visited workshops, I found myself joining in. This was quite a revelation. Whilst at secondary school in the 70’s I had struggled to make objects ‘look like they were supposed to’ and had always failed. In the context of an Outreach workshop I found myself getting involved in the process of drawing in a way that I had never encountered before. Immersed in this very different approach, I stopped striving to make things look identical to what I could see in front of me. These experiences encouraged me to carry on drawing at home, and to this day I still draw, have staged exhibitions and have sold my own work.
These days in my role as Creative Development Manager, I see very clearly how the basic principles of the RA Outreach Programme have had a deep impact both on approach to creativity at work and in life.