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Crafting change carefully

3 July 2017 No Comment

Ardra Balachandran

Most of us are sure to remember the little Camlin water colour boxes from our school time. We would fill up pictures with deep patches of colour mostly without knowing that water colour isn’t a medium to be treated that way; it is meant to have a dreamy effect. But with an odd art and craft period once a week (and may be an additional set of crayons), all this was too much detail.

Cut to 2017 and the emphasis is still on pen, paper, and the problems you solve with them. There is barely enough time to finish the syllabus through the academic year, where is the time for art and craft? With the growing tribe of alternative schools, it is true that there is a shift in favour of experiential learning; but even they largely depend on technology to bridge the gaps that exist in regular schools. Making one’s hands, heart, and soul (rather than just ears) integral to the learning process of our children is an idea that is still alien to us and that is the space wherein The Craft Caravan envisages making an innovative intervention.

Childrens-wood-working-workshops

The Craft Caravan (TCC) was founded in 2014 by Aparna Vinod, a Bangalore-based communication professional. A staunch disbeliever of the dominant thought that only a child who ‘draws well’ need be encouraged to practise art and craft, Aparna vouches that creativity is all about thinking differently. It enables you to find solutions for problems (not just of syllabus, but of life) with a different approach. Every child deserves the opportunity to practise and develop this life skill.

Modern parents do understand the need for creativity in children’s lives; that it helps them to be well rounded individuals. Yet the space and time we allocate to develop it is miniscule. The culture of sending children for craft during their summer vacation (and may be, weekends) is indicative of our relegation of craft (and developing creativity) to hobby tables. At TCC, craft isn’t looked upon as something that should be pursued in this systemic format. The moment you call it a hobby, you restrict the time quotient; it stops being continuous. It is a practice that gives lifelong benefits and one that should be imbibed as a long-term process.

TCC conducts craft workshops for children in various activity centres in Bangalore. It is ensured that this is not a one-time experience; the entire session becomes a learning that is useful for the life ahead. Whether it is applying measurements in a woodworking program, or understanding the intricate patterns of a rangoli, the lessons are for life. Besides, they also engage children creatively at birthday parties with art and craft activities that culminate in them creating their own return gifts and memories for a lifetime.

The Craft Caravan methodology places a lot of emphasis on recording observations. It doesn’t matter what they take back home is written, drawn, or handmade. This data collection is integral to one’s understanding of the world; to know that there is a story in everything we see.

With schemes like Annual Craft Plan and Looking Glass, they also work with schools to forge craft into learning so that the syllabus is covered in a more effective way. While learning about the handicraft of Ajrak from Gujarat, there are chemistry lessons pertaining to organic dyes involved. When you analyze an intricate Jaamdani pattern, there are several maths lessons that are covered. There is no end to the inventive ways in which craft can be deployed into making learning an experiential affair.

art-work There is no fixed set of materials that TCC puts to use. It is always an assortment – from wood and clay to different types of paper, glass, and fabrics – all carefully picked based on the nature of the workshop/participant group. Naturally so, because every material responds differently and thus the experience each one gives is totally unique. Availability of diverse mediums also enables participants to think out of the box and express themselves in various ways.

The Craft Caravan, which started off working with children, soon figured that adults can also benefit from craft in terms of activity pleasure and learning outcomes. The first such employee engagement program by TCC was done for a group of men working in an advertising agency. One would think that craft and grownup men won’t go well together. The only thing that needs to be said is that the session was planned for an hour and a half, and it went on for four hours with each participant having an experience of a lifetime. Whether the objective is to build leadership or develop teams, TCC tailor-makes programs to suit precise organizational requirements.

Another interesting project run by TCC is Little City Trails. It is a city exploration program that sensitizes children to the heritage and history of the city that they call home. These trails cover various facets of Bangalore under the umbrellas ‘The Colonial Bangalore’, ‘Gardens of Bangalore’, and ‘Historical Bangalore’. Every participating child gets a kit with stickers and badges, a DIY paper model and a map specific to the journey undertaken to make it interactive and interesting for them. It is also a parent-child engagement program, at the end of which, both parties go home with a lot of observations, enlightenment, and a sense of ownership for their city.

While the caravan is stationed in Bangalore at the moment, it is an idea that deserves to travel across our country. Education being the single most significant sector that needs an overhaul, as a solution for most problems we face as a country, it is high time we took learning beyond books and classrooms. Taking a cue from The Craft Caravan may be just the right thing to do during these times!

In conversation with…

Aparna Vinod, the Founder of The Craft Caravan

krishna Tell us about how the idea of The Craft Caravan germinated.
I grew up with a penchant for history and reading and used to collect all sorts of things from lottery tickets to tamarind seeds. Neighbours who were into stitching and crochet got me hooked on to colours as well. But for most part of my career, I have been into corporate communication. It was when I chose to be a stay-at-home mom for my daughter that I relived my childhood and started exploring art and craft. Soon friends started dropping off their kids at my place for some ‘fun engagement’. In August 2014, TCC journey started formally.

You have mentioned on your website that craft brings the mind, heart, and hands together. So does it require an arty bent of mind?
Yes, when you are engaged in creating something all of your senses come together. We are all thinking, emoting beings and the sense of craft lies therein. So all of us have it intrinsically in us to use our hands and create things. It is this genetic skill that has taken us ahead as a species by creating tools, warheads, and what not! It is just that when life catches up, most of us don’t hone this skill.

What are your key challenges as an edupreneur focused on art?
Fixing the gap of not being a trained artist is a challenge; formal training still being a market expectation. To address this and also because art itself is such a large spectrum, I keep updating myself through learning. Last year, I went and learnt pottery and rediscovered the child in me. But I do believe that no institute can fill in on the passion quotient.

The second key challenge is, of course, the way our education system is structured. Art is not a mandatory subject and is looked upon as a hobby that can be developed on the side. So it is difficult to put forth our concept of art as a means to bridge the existing gaps to make learning more exciting (because this needs dedicated time allocation). But we are trying to break through that by engaging in ‘a little more than the syllabus’.

radha What’s your vision for The Craft Caravan?
TCC wants all children to have the opportunity of experiential leaning. So the most important vision is to reach more children in a sustainable format. This involves focussed, year-long activities in chosen schools wherein craft is effectively incorporated into the syllabus aiding the process of core learning. We also want to extend ourselves to more places – small towns, rural regions, government schools – wherever students do not get exposure as a natural opportunity. It is especially possible with our format because it is method-based and does not call for large investment or infrastructure. We also want to help parents overcome the prejudice that ‘craft isn’t beneficial for real life’.

The author is a freelance media professional based in Kochi. A post graduate in Mass Communication from the University of Hyderabad and an M.Phil. in Gender Studies, she writes on topics ranging from gender and education to food and entertainment. She can be reached at ardramaanasam@gmail.com.

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