Last week I had my final day of data generation in Manchester. Over the past couple of months I have been fortunate enough to have worked within a fantastic team comprised of an education curator, artists, teachers, children and parents. This time has been such an intense period of development, growth and expansion for my research and all of us on the team. I will spend the next couple of months writing up and theorising my findings before starting the second stage of fieldwork in 2017.
At times it can be strange working with children in education settings. You have this intense period, whether it be a school year, or a series of repeat visits to a museum, or even a single workshop, where a particular group of little humans become the centre of your creative and intellectual being. You see them change and develop in their thinking, communicating and curiosities about the world. Then all of a sudden it is the end of the academic year, or a project finishes or you change jobs and just like that these people who were once at the core of your world are no longer there. Yet the time spent together is always transformative, for better or worse. Somehow these endings always make the ephemeral temporality of life seem so much more acute.
In art museums these encounters are sometimes short-lived but nonetheless present meaningful snapshots into children’s lives. Many of these vignettes are heartwarming, full of tenderness and beautiful complexity. At other times these vignettes are unsettling and disturbing – the inequalities of society seem so much more enraging and unfair when it is a baby or toddler born into a situation they have no control over.
I often think about different children I have worked with over the years across various jobs and projects. I wonder where they may be in their lives now: if they have continued with their schooling, what their passions may be, if their parent’s divorce led them on a completely different trajectory or if their brief experience in a children’s art programme had any sort of enduring legacy throughout their life. I will probably never know the answers. That’s okay, there is something totally fine in that uncertainly. I guess it is this murky grey area of the unknown that so much incredible art, music, literature and thinking comes from.
On my final day working with the children this week one of my little mates brought in this artwork he had made for me. He handed it over with a ‘I will miss you’ and a cuddle. One of the artists saw the moment unfold and said, ‘don’t cry Lou, don’t cry!’ I thought, ‘it’s cool, I am a fully grown adult, I have got this’ while trying to hold back the tears and then bolting for the bathroom.
When you work in this field it is not about the status, or the money, or recognition, or ever expecting any sort of thanks or praise. It is about using everything you have got to try and make more meaningful lives for others. And sometimes these moments suddenly appear when it feels like your heart will burst with the fullness of the world in all its beauty, heartache, uncertainty and impermanence.