Youth Forum: democratic participation through the arts

We have just completed our second interim report of the Serpentine World without Walls programme. This featured research into the first stage of Youth Forum, a programme conducted with Westminster Academy high school students. The artists commissioned to run the programme are Barby Asante and Teresa Cisneros.


We report that:

In this project, young people were encouraged to draw on their own experiences, resources of knowledge and skill to develop ideas, to plan, to make and to show and share artefacts they had made. If the ‘discipline of form’ provided a framework and required the patient development of craft skills, it also allowed the young people to draw substantially on, and to contribute to, their ‘funds of knowledge’ (Moll, 1990).

Observation, discussion with the young people, Education Curators and the commissioned artists gave clear evidence that art-making activity was greatly valued by the young people. Levels of concentration (or distraction from some) were indicators of levels of engagement and involvement in the project. Overall, a palpable sense of purpose and progress was evident in the various 8 studio spaces at the Cockpit when the young people were making things. They garnered opinions from others, negotiated and reflected. The young people generally felt that they permitted to give voice to their ideas, opinions and concerns.


The full interim report is here as a downloadable PDF


learning with Serpentine

We have been conducting an evaluation of learning in the Serpentine’s World without Walls programme. We have just reported on our interim results from an examination of two projects. One was the first instalment of Changing Play, a project conducted in partnership with the Portman Children’s Centre.

Anton did this first set of research. His investigation of the work that artist Albert Potrony did suggests the following benefits for children:

  • awareness and understanding of a range of materials and objects, manipulative skills in handling large and small materials and objects, and ability to conceptualise them in form and use
  • imaginative development in the interaction with materials, objects and other children, allowing experimentation in applying and combining of materials.
  • linguistic development in the use of words, utterances and in the construction of narratives accompanying play and reflecting on it afterwards is essential in early conceptual development.
  • the richness of children’s narratives incorporated their understanding of social relations and responses to immediate and mediated culture – many instances of children making references to familiar media characters (notably Power Rangers) and to their experience of social and cultural life (home life, rockets, putting people in prison)
  • the ability to ‘read’ materials and objects – to name things in their playworld and to construct complex narratives ­­adapting them to their imaginative purposes – are powerful precursors of literacy development
  • looking at the images the artist had taken of the children in play and then reflecting on them later, interpreting them and making narratives assisted the development of memory
  • continuity and consistency in working regularly with a particular group of children – the original plan was to work both with the Nursery and with a drop-in parent and toddler group, ‘Stay and Play’, but after reflection and discussion with staff this was modified to concentrate on working with the Nursery children
  • particularly apparent was children’s increasing sense of autonomy in the playworlds they created, affording them a clearer sense of their own developing character and personhood for themselves and in relation to others. Children were able to lead adults into and through their imaginative worlds, involving them in their play

There were also benefits for nursery staff and children. You can read our full interim evaluation report  here as a downloadable pdf. worldwithoutwalls_interimresearchreport_final-copy

serpentine project


Pat Thomson and Anton Franks have just been awarded a contract to evaluate the Serpentine’s World Without Walls programme. Louisa Penfold and Nicky Sim will also be working on the project.

The Serpentine programme has three elements: an early years programme where artists work in an early years centre; a primary to secondary transition program operating between a primary and high school; and a youth transitions programme working with an academy secondary school.

The evaluation will examine the learning of children, artists and teachers. It will also develop a “model” of artist-school programmes with a view to thinking about how these can be made more sustainable.