Welsh artist Brendan Burns teams up with University of Glamorgan and Beechwood College to benefit autistic students|
SULLY, Wales: One of Wales' most high profile artists is channelling his experience and creativity to benefit autistic students. Painter Brendan Burns has entered into a unique partnership between the University of Glamorgan and Wales' only specialist residential college of further education for young people with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), Beechwood College in Sully.Burns, a lecturer at the university and gold medal winner in fine art at the National Eisteddfod, became involved with Beechwood College through his friendship with its principal, Darren Jackson, himself a former student of Burns'.
When Burns became aware of the University of Glamorgan's Strategic Insight Programme - which provides funding for staff from the university to share skills by taking up placements within outside organisations - he applied for a grant that would allow him and other members of his foundation art programme to take up an "artist in residency" programme at the college.
At the start of this year, the university granted the funding and during February and March, Burns – who has twice been named Welsh Artist of the Year, in 2000 and 2003 – joined forces with his colleagues, lecturers from various disciplines on the programme to share their knowledge and experience with students, in a project called "At the beach" which culminated in an exhibition of the Beechwood College students' work at Glamorgan's Treforest campus.
The "artist in residency" programme has proved hugely successful with the students and further underlines the ethos that governs Beechwood College that everyone can achieve when offered inspirational education.
Brendan says of the exhibition: "The work stands confidently within the foundation art environment and the works that are being produced by the Beechwood College students are so completely honest and direct. My own students experienced a real affinity with those from the college and we must make further opportunities for them to work alongside foundation art students in the future."
For Darren Jackson, such a public collaboration was the key to enabling his students to experience the value of their work, and the very real skills that they have.
"Communicating through art is a gift, a way of sharing an experience with others through a platform that ensures that the initial concept is kept alive by the viewer," he said. "It's one of the reasons that we launched a national art competition this year for young people with autism. The art that has been created through this particular project is pure and rich in energy and emotion, and full o the passion of those we teach. It really has enriched the lives of all involved and has undoubtedly motivated our students to unleash their inner creativity – it's so pleasing for me to see them appreciate that in art, all things are equal."
The benefits of this unique partnership have been such that, even though the official Strategic Insight Programme has ended, Beechwood College students will continue to benefit from their own artist in residence as University of Glamorgan lecturer Cath Brown has volunteered to work in her own time alongside the college's head of art, continuing the excellent progress that has been made with students through this focus on creative disciplines.
Brown, who specialises in ceramics, glasswork and fine art, is also trained in counselling and will be working on a paper on behalf of the college, detailing the real impact that art can have on those with ASD.
For Burns, the whole experience has been what he describes as one of the most "tremendously humbling" of his career and the personal rewards huge.
"The great work that we've begun with Beechwood College has taught some truly valuable lessons to all involved – none more so than myself, in terms of how I perceive art, my role as an artist and the messages we all seek to portray through our work.
"It has led me to challenge my own creativity and the way I impart that to others – in particular my own students – and also the artificial boundaries that we sometimes perceive in terms of who can be creative and who can't – clearly we're all creative in our own unique way and the important thing is how such creativity is channelled.
"The Foundation Art and Design Course at the University of Glamorgan is actually celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and Darren Jackson was a student of mine on this very course a few years go.
"I feel as if we've come full circle as I'm now learning from Darren and his students – and it's a totally rewarding experience I very much hope will continue."
An exhibition of the work created by Beechwood College students during the University of Glamorgan's "artist in residency" programme will be hosted at the Washington Gallery in Penarth from May 19-25.
For more information, visit www.washingtongallery.co.uk
(Source: Western Mail, May 16, 2011)