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Icons and Artefacts

In my office I have a box of icons and artefacts. The contents of this box connect me to powerful people, places and things. My mum’s engagement ring is in the box along with its hand written receipt. There are postcards, concert tickets, thank you letters from clients, photographs, badges, conference swag, all kinds of stuff. I can’t recall ever demoting anything from the box – so I take great care in choosing what goes in there.

Icons and Artefacts

I used to keep many more icons and artefacts. I once had a huge collection of vinyl amassed mainly from the punk and new wave era, with a side order of new romantics and occasional outbursts of rock. I used to keep several guitars too, including this honey blonde Telecaster.


I lost the records and guitars, and much more besides when, as a nineteen year old in the mid 1980s, I adopted a nomadic lifestyle for a while. When I stopped roaming, the collection inside the box started and has been coming together since then.

Why am I telling you this? I have something new for the box…

A letter arrived in the post this week containing two very important pieces of paper, our tickets to the 2016 Learning Awards. The event takes place in London on February 4th – and the Art for Work’s Sake project is shortlisted in the Innovation in Learning category.

Learning Awards 2016 Tickets

I’m excited about the evening, and nervous too. Excited because we might go one step beyond the short list, and nervous because – truthfully – I’m not convinced I did a good enough job presenting to the judging panel on the day. I found myself a little overwhelmed to be up against much bigger organisations. That mind of mine which knows how powerfully art impacts learning and is usually open to possibilities, felt unusually closed – just at the wrong time. In the immediate aftermath of the presentation I was frustrated by what I felt was a missed opportunity – and I’m comfortable writing about this now. The decisions have long been made and there’s no fate to be tempted.

Given what I’ve just written, you might be asking why I want to add these tickets to the box. This is why:

I’ve benefitted hugely from the process of applying. I like flowing, improvisational work, and distilling ideas and getting clear on things can sometimes be a struggle for me. Getting the message across in the awards submission forced me to communicate concisely, clearly. I remember showing the completed submission to Carole shortly before I sent it off and she acknowledged it was some of the clearest work I’ve done. ‘I can read this – and understand why people would want and need to work with you.’

I’m chuffed to bits that the work got shortlisted. I know you’re supposed to say that – and it’s true. I’ve no idea how many entrants there were in our category but I know that there were over 300 submissions in the awards overall. I have a good feeling from this progress, and the journey so far adds to the story of why arts based learning is important, as a set of useful tools we can use and as a way of exploring and challenging behavioural aspects of our work.

Based on my experience I’d encourage you to look for opportunities to put your best work up for recognition. Yes – the process is hard, and time consuming, and frustrating! And for the reasons I’ve just described – it’s worth it too. Here’s to an excellent evening on February 4th.

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