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In With The Old: an intergenerational scene at Milton Keynes Arts Centre

28th Aug 2019

We heard from Sarah Steenhorst, Learning and Participation Coordinator, at Milton Keynes Arts Centre (MKAC) about the Arts Centre’s latest project In With The Old with artist Kitty Finer. Interested in how older generations can still be culturally relevant, Kitty brings together Milton Keynes’ young and old to create a multi-generational body of work.

The project was initiated by the artist Kitty Finer who was invited by the Arts Centre’s former Director, Emma-Jayne Taylor to take part in Common Ground, a twelve month season of meaningful engagement opportunities for artists and communities in Milton Keynes. Kitty was introduced to MKAC by Trustee and artist Oona Grimes, inviting Kitty to contribute to the Arts Centre’s annual Plate Fundraiser in 2017. Impressed by her creative process, Emma-Jayne Taylor invited Kitty to lead a programme at MKAC aimed at local communities and was encouraged to think about who she might want to work with and how it might fit within her practice.

Kitty expressed interest in working on intergenerational projects, inspired by the making skills of her grandmother and her mother. Kitty has previously run craft workshops in care homes in different parts of the UK and had been surprised to discover that the amazing works that were produced were often thrown away, so making work with older people to be exhibited and appreciated was an important element in this project.

From the start Kitty presented MKAC with a detailed project plan which included the idea of the production of a clothing brand and a shop front to sell it through. The creation of the shop front in the Arts Centre gallery was one of the first things that the young people worked with Kitty on. The ambition was always that the modest profits would be ploughed back into the Arts Centre to support the charity’s aims of offering free artist-led workshops to local communities. There was always the ambition to make a clothing brand but what it would be was developed with the participants over the course of the project.

MY KIND, a new MK based fashion label launches at the Arts Centre’s summer party on 31 August. The five different t-shirts that have been produced for the label have been designed by MK College students (15+) and are inspired by drawings created by elderly residents living in Pritchard Court retirement housing. The older participants have been proud to see the printed t-shirts that they’ve helped to create, and some have already given them to their friends and families.

MKAC commissioned a project in 2016 with Pritchard Court, which saw residents learning skills in clay with artist Lydia Hardwick, and chose to build upon this relationship. The close proximity also meant that the staff could walk round to work with the residents in situ and the residents could also participate at events at MKAC. The older participants have since expressed interest in being involved with more of the Arts Centre’s projects, and will be returning on Saturday 31 August to support the Arts Centre’s party and launch of MK KIND. For some of these residents, their visits to the MKAC and work with Kitty and MKAC team has already enhanced their quality of life.

As part of the Arts Centre’s safeguarding strategy, the young people did not directly work with the older people, whilst MKAC came to understand the needs of the different groups; it was important that they got to know the participants from each group and their capabilities, and also what their sensory, physical or intellectual needs might be. The two groups will come together for the first time to celebrate the project at the launch event. There is the ambition that now the intergenerational activity has been trialled and good relationships built with these two groups, that they could be brought to work together in the future. MKAC would also like to extend the offer to other retirement homes, care homes and schools to collaborate with future resident artists, now that a model has been established, and there has been evident success with this project.

MKAC has recently begun developing a Youth Forum where they are encouraging local young people to take ownership of the culture and arts scene of what Milton Keynes should be. Some of the Youth Forum members have expressed interest in continuing to run the shop after the project has ended and are working out how they can best take the project forward. (The limited edition t-shirts will be on sale in the shop and online until mid-September.)

The Youth Forum has been designed so that the young participants can dictate what is that they want to do. It enables them to be able to interact with art, craft and culture in a way that they might not able to otherwise outside of school. They are offered placements, internships, volunteer opportunities, and access to studio space for those who might want to be artists or designers in the future. As there are high levels of youth homelessness in Milton Keynes, MKAC are reaching out to the YMCA and youth homelessness charities, as well as to local colleges, to open up the opportunity to learn about working in the arts and learn new creative skills, to a broad group of people.

The project has also been captured in a video documentation. The film captures the workshops with the older folk, creative family workshops, and a song that was made during one of the workshops. This will be launched during the summer party when the participants will be present. The video will be offered to local retirement homes to show the video to their residents and inspire them about the power of arts activity.

In With The Old by Kitty Finer has been commissioned by Milton Keynes Arts Centre and supported by Arts Council England and The Grocers’ Charity.

The limited edition MY KIND t-shirts are available via until 30 September.

Image: Ian and Kitty drawing at Pritchard Court, courtesy Milton Keynes Arts Centre.

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