Dean Leivers Dean Leivers

Journal

July 4th, 2024

Image spread from Platform Thirty1’s ‘Black Shale: Shaping Our Cultural Offer’ development day.

June 10th, 2024

Creative Mentoring Refelctions

I initially had a brief stint as a freelance mentor on a project run by Leicester education charity Pedestrian in 2014 after completing a Level 2 training qualification with them as part of a CPD programme. During that time I focussed mainly on working with young people who had a strong interest in photography and developing their own pathways into careers in the creative sector. Fast forward some years to 2024 and I’m currently into my second year of of involvement in The Mighty Creatives ‘Creative Mentoring’ programme which is a service that ”provides one-to-one support, empowering young people who are care-experienced, facing adversity, disadvantage or challenges to discover their sense of self, belonging, and a world of opportunities.”

Screen shot of The Mighty Creatives WebsiteALT

There are obviously a multitude of benefits that arise from the work that I carry out in this role, not just for the young people that I am paired with but it’s a very rewarding experience for me too. I mainly see confidence rise over the weeks I spend with each mentee. A large amount of the young people I’ve been involved with have lives that present very challenging circumstances and as a result display very low confidence and self esteem, in some cases this leads to an unwillingness to communicate fully in our early sessions, quite tricky when you’re trying to find out a bit more about their interests! Over a few sessions together I’ve found that the barriers come down and slowly the mentees open up a bit more, become more talkative and confident during their sessions. I try to give them space to be able to direct the way the sessions will run and the sorts of creative activities they would like to get involved with and I’ve found that this only comes when the young person is given plenty of time and space to think. Sometimes I’ve barely said anything in a two hour session and just allowed the activity to take over, choosing to simply let the young person make and do, rather than bombarding them with chat. This will usually allow them to lead the session more as I simply start to respond to things they feel comfortable talking about, and to the creative things they are making/doing rather than me coaching them through an activity.

Young person creating a drawing of a jack in the boxALT

This more autonomous approach, allowing the young person to be the decision maker, presents to me the most exciting aspect of my mentoring work. Obviously I feel most comfortable working with photographic processes (digital, analogue even stop motion animation and film) but  relative mentoring pushes me out of that comfort zone and really gets me thinking about the wide variety of activities I can do with my mentees. Sometimes through discussions or simply playing with the materials we have in a session another idea will be sparked and I’ll be forced to think about ways we can bring that idea to life. One such experience was the creation of a shadow puppet theatre with a six year old boy I work with in a primary school setting. For a few of our sessions he’d been building 3D structures using wooden blocks and some sheets of A4 card and had noticed that dependent on how the light was falling on the structures different shadow shapes would fall on the table. We developed this by using torch light to strengthen the shadows and take photographs of the results. Whilst he was shining the light on the card from different angles he noticed and became quite excited by the way he could backlight the card and see shadows coming through. This led to a discussion about whether he’d seen a shadow puppet theatre before which he hadn’t (or at least couldn’t remember) and so I showed him a quick example. This idea developed over a series of weeks culminating in the both of us making characters and a basic theatre design for him to act out stories that he’d created.

Example of shadow puppet scene showing a fox and a houseALT

Another instance saw me responding to a young person’s interest in photographing objects reflected in surfaces, so glass or mirrors in this case. This led me to recall a simple way of creating a kaleidoscope that I’d seen another practitioner use in an SEND based workshop. I thought that this would be a perfect activity, so the young person could not only construct but also use the kaleidoscope to take photographs through.

A young persons eyes multiplied when photographed through a kaleidascopeALT

His excitement in this session was infectious and really brought home to me how much we both benefit from the mentoring relationship that we have. I get to develop and push my practice in areas I’d never really considered before and for my mentees I hope they have space to play, experiment and think, away from the more difficult experiences in their lives. It’s been an absolute privilege to work with such an interesting group of young people, and to play a small, hopefully positive, part in their life journey’s so far.

June 4th, 2024

Image spread from a recent shoot for The Mighty Creatives in Leicester. Providing images from their Youth Board event ‘Connect, Create, Converse’ held at De Montfort University campus.

May 13th, 2024

I was asked recently to create a series of images to document the day to day goings on at Mayflower Primary School in Leicester. The school was recently turned upside down due to the discovery of RAAC concrete in large parts of the schools buildings. This ultimately led to the need for an entirely new school to be built on a new site. In the mean time the school had to be split over two sites to ensure that none of the classes were housed in unsafe parts of the building.

My images will be used to document the last few weeks in the old school and the temporary site and will be displayed on the walls of the corridors of the new school building when completed.

April 12th, 2024

An image spread from a recent shoot for Attenborough Arts SENsory Atelier project at Ash Field School in Leicester. This was a wonderful workshop to observe, seeing how simple objects/props and movement could be utilised to create an engaging and immersive session for the participants.

Huge thanks to Bob at Attenborough Arts for the commission.

January 28th, 2024

Images from a recent shoot with Leicester based band ‘Pretty Dirty Rats’ as they recorded their first EP.

January 9th, 2024
May 16th, 2023

As we gear up to visit our next school we’re spending a bit of time looking back and reflecting on our first residency at St Luke’s C of E Primary School in Glossop.

‘Looking In, Looking Out’

April 18th, 2023

‘Looking In, Looking Out’ is a participatory project of artist residencies teaching analogue photography & poetry on 9 school sites, using environmental-stimuli & based in a transparent dome. An innovation for students & residents with low cultural capital, interweaving science, art history, social science, literature & art. It’s a development of the first project (Dependent Origination Funded by Arts Council England) this project is an innovation that bridges formal wellbeing tools (mindfulness) with creative practice, led by two professional Artists; Akshay Sharma (AKA Mr Shay) and myself.

The project used different creative practices to enable students to explore and experience the strength within each one of them. It introduces and spotlights the importance of Recognising (what’s inside and outside ourselves), Recording (mentally or physically taking note) and Responding (taking action).

The workshops will be following the themes of:

- ‘Environmental observation’ (paying close attention to the visual landscape). This then leads into a photographic workshop with Dean using the analogue historical cyanotype process to create images using handmade treated paper, natural found objects and sunlight.

- ‘Environmental listening’ (paying close attention to the soundscape). This leads into a creative writing session with Shay, using sounds from the vicinity as a stimulus for writing poetry, with potential to practice performing it too.

Each participant will create one cyanotype image each and, either an individual poem or a collaborative group poem (dependent on age/ability of year group).

The countdown is now on as we land in our first partner school in just under two weeks time. More updates will follow as we work with the schools but for a more visual overview of the project see the video below.

Project Updates

April 13th, 2023

The last six months have been busy with project work and various commissions the most exciting however was my work on the ‘Creative Communities’ project which was generously funded by The Mighty Creatives. This project was an opportunity to build on the foundations laid in my Arts Council England funded ‘Dependent Origination’ Project.

This form of the project is an innovation that bridges formal wellbeing tools (mindfulness) with creative practice, led by myself and poet/musician Akshay Sharma (AKA Mr Shay). We worked with all 360 students at Folville Junior School in Leicester (12 classes, years 3-6), the vast majority of which met at least one of the funders priority characteristics.

The project used different creative practices to enable students to explore and experience the strength within each one of them. It introduces and spotlights the importance of Recognising (what’s inside and outside of ourselves), Recording (mentally or physically taking note) and Responding (taking action).

Six classes in years 5 and 6 took part in 1 hour weekly mindfulness sessions following the .breathe curriculum (Developed by the Mindfulness in Schools project) over 4 weeks, integrating artistic processes and tools throughout in the form of drop in lunch time art workshops. These sessions were designed to be spaces where participants could “get away” from the busyness of the school day and take some quiet time for themselves to make art work (in this case illustrations) simply for the joy of creating a small piece of work.

We also worked with six classes in years 3 and 4 who took part in 30 minute weekly mindfulness sessions following the Paws B curriculum (also developed by the Mindfulness in Schools Project) over 12 weeks. They also had access to a half a day workshop in a transparent dome on the school grounds experiencing artist-led sessions which built on the ‘recognise, record, respond’ methodology.

Sessions in the dome were made up of two parts:

-‘Environmental observation’ (paying close attention to the visual landscape) leading to a photographic workshop with photographic artist Dean Leivers using the analogue historical cyanotype process to create images using handmade treated paper, natural found objects and sunlight

-‘Environmental listening’ (paying close attention to the soundscape) leading into a creative writing session with creative writer and performer Akshay Sharma, using sounds from the vicinity as a stimulus for writing poetry.

The project also invited parents, carers, and neighbours to the school to see the children’s artwork and poetry on display in an after school sharing event which attracted over 200 visitors. A book was also created to act as a lasting memento for the school to house in its library for current and future staff and students to view and enjoy. A digital version of that booklet can be viewed online here.

The most rewarding highlights of this work have been seeing the pupils sharing their work (Cyanotypes and poems) with staff and parents/carers in the community sharing. Hearing them explain to parents the process and what they did during the workshops was wonderful and to witness parents actively engaging with not just their own child’s work but the work of other children was really pleasing. Getting to run a variety of my mindfulness curriculums with a range of ages has also given me a great insight into the ways that I can further integrate this into my art workshop delivery too, in order to create a workshop offer that covers all of the facets of my career and life interests and drawing from all of the skills I have to offer others.

The huge success from this project though has been the chance to use it as match funded activity to secure further funding from Arts Council England so that myself and Akshay can further develop the workshops and tour the project in eight schools located in Leicestershire and Derbyshire starting in early May. There’ll be more updates on the progress of that project over the next few months.

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