Where every girl is an artist

Posted on 4th Jun 2020 in School News, Single-sex education, Which London School?

Margaret Frazier, Headmistress of Marymount London, shares a philosophy of self-expression and creativity

The great late Pablo Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once she grows up.”

At Marymount, a proudly IB school where the arts are front and centre, we create an environment where every girl is an artist. We place a premium on the self-expression and creativity that the arts encourage and do so on a practical level by ensuring their place in our timetable. For example, each student in our Middle Years Program (ages 11-15) takes visual arts, design, drama, music, dance; they do not have to choose among them! There is an interdisciplinary approach to science with our new STEAM Hub, a place where science, technology, engineering, arts, and math come together in a symphony of real world problem solving through risk taking.

As a school that has celebrated the International Baccalaureate curriculum since 1979, our interdisciplinary approach is not a new point of emphasis. In fact, the IB Learner Profile sets out the very principles of our common humanity with its declared attributes of being knowledgeable, inquirers, communicators, risk-takers, reflective, open-minded, principled, and balanced thinkers who seek to make a difference in the world. Our fidelity to these attributes allows us to explore the connections between history, philosophy, theatre, and dance.

We know the arts – in all its forms – provide a space for the critical life skills and future success: resilience, adaptability, listening, accepting constructive criticism, time management, collaboration, ability to “think outside the box”, and ability to make your own box. One of our visual arts teachers said, “I encourage my students to be risk takers, to be brave, courageous, confident in their art, key skills that will be used throughout life.” I think this is just what Picasso would give us credit for!

In addition to interdisciplinary content and skill building, the arts at Marymount provide a showcase for public performance, enjoyment, and joy. Rachel McMahon, our art and design teacher, believes that “without art, our world would be a very dull place, lacking imagination, diversity, and personality. It stimulates discussion, reflects new ideas, and can be enjoyed purely for pleasure. It is a universal language.” We gather at Assembly, share in music assemblies regularly, encourage “pop-up” art shows, all with the hope of inspiring more artists.

The student voice and experience as a performer, visual artist, designer, actress, set designer, lighting tech, dancer, writer, and more are at the heart of what we believe. “It is an incredibly emotive and powerful journey the students go on, where they develop understanding and also relate to their own existence,” says our Head of Performing Arts, Ms. Helen Szymczak, a veteran teacher who is well-regarded in the ISTA (International Schools Theatre Association) world. The arts allow for personal expression and development in a way that often is not immediately present in other academic subjects. Described by one of our Grade 11 artists, she sums up my best hope as Headmistress when she says, “When creating a piece of artwork or working on critical investigation of another artist’s work, I find myself relaxed and focused. After each art class, I am full of energy, having been given the opportunity to exercise my skills in imagination. I find the analysis of artwork and the learning journey from being inspired by another artist’s work making processes very informative as I become more knowledgeable about the world, both past and present”.

We are offered the wonderful freedom with our MYP program to have more girls explore their interests, talents, and yet-to-be discovered joy of the arts by the way of our curriculum. They have access to so many areas that overlap purposefully with history, literature, science, religious studies, and more. Making time in the daily/weekly schedule gives these subjects the priority we think they deserve. I am saddened when I interview potential students for our Grade 6 when they express to me how frustrated they are in the limited art offerings at their prep schools. They are clamoring for more arts!

In his impassioned support of the arts and their place in our schools, Sir Ken Robinson stands out as a champion and a truth teller. He continues to speak and write about why it is essential to cultivate creativity in education, work, and life. His most recent book, Out of our Minds, he urges us to consider that, “We have powerful imaginations and unlimited powers of creativity. We may not be able to predict the future, but we can help to shape it. Now more than ever, we need to exercise these unique creative powers that make us human in the first place.”

I am proud that Marymount girls are in a transformational environment where they can unleash their imaginations and exercise their unique creative superpowers. They are curious, collaborative, confident problem solvers who seek beauty and justice in their pursuit of the arts. Quite naturally, they are artists as students, and we are more successful as a school because we allow them to be who they are.

Picasso was not only right, he was urging us to take on this important responsibility as educators and parents.Let’s make a commitment to help our students be artists as they grow up. The world needs them now more than ever.

This article first appeared in the 2020/21 edition of Which London School? & the South-East, which you can view in full here: