Last of Hamilton Bequest on show at Kelvingrove

Last of Hamilton Bequest on show at Kelvingrove

The last of the 92-year Hamilton Bequest of oil paintings to Glasgow Museums has gone on show at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.

TAITMAIL  The pit and the panjandrums

TAITMAIL The pit and the panjandrums

Both our national opera houses are in trouble this week, in quite different ways. One of the issues might have huge repercussions, the other smaller ones.

Dancing into the classroom

Dancing into the classroom

Diane Parkes on a DanceXchange initiative that is taking dance into Birmingham classrooms

Antarctic Copperfield star of Dickens show

Antarctic Copperfield star of Dickens show

This battered copy of Charles Dickens’s novel David Copperfieldi s what kept half of Captain Scott’s team entertained as they wintered in an ice cave while their leader led the expedition for the South Pole in 1912.

Worthing’s theatres and museum to cut free from council

Worthing’s theatres and museum to cut free from council

Worthing’s three theatres and museum, currently owned by Worthing Borough Council, are to go it alone.

Arts worth more to UK economy than agriculture

Figures released today by Arts Council England show that the arts and culture have grown by £390m in a single year, overtaking agriculture as a contributor to the UK economy.

Bristol ‘our most cultured city’

Bristol ‘our most cultured city’

Bristol has come top of a list of 20 best UK cities for arts and culture, with London only fourth.

Liz Stevenson takes over at Keswick

Liz Stevenson takes over at Keswick

Theatre by the Lake in Keswick has appointed Liz Stevenson as their new artistic director to work with executive director James Cobbold.

Dukes loses artistic director post in shake-up

Dukes loses artistic director post in shake-up

The Dukes in Lancaster is losing its artistic director, Sarah Punshon, as a result of cuts in its local authority funding.

ACE’s £3m more for diversity

ACE’s £3m more for diversity

Arts Council England has committed another £3m to encourage organisations run by BAME and disabled people.

Music agent joins diversity struggle

Music agent joins diversity struggle

A classical music agency has set up a foundation to support diversity and inclusivity in the arts.

Michelangelo comes to Hampshire

Michelangelo comes to Hampshire

The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo’s painted masterpiece, is to come to Winchester this summer in a photographic project under licence from the Vatican.

Morris’s Cotswolds ‘heaven on earth’ to get £6m upgrade

Morris’s Cotswolds ‘heaven on earth’ to get £6m upgrade

Kelmscott Manor, the inspirational Cotswolds retreat of William Morris and his family, has opened for its last season before the start of a £6m project to secure its future.

THE WORD  Can the arts help bridge Britain's divides?

THE WORD Can the arts help bridge Britain's divides?

Jill Rutter, director of strategy and relationships at the think tank British Future, is co-author of its new report Crossing Divides: How arts and heritage can bring us together.

Blake – by himself

Blake – by himself

This is believed to be the only self-portrait by the poet, artist and visionary William Blake (1757-1827), which will be seen in public in the UK for the first time in a Tate Britain exhibition this autumn.

THE ART OF PHOTOJOURNALISM Image of the month

THE ART OF PHOTOJOURNALISM Image of the month

Three Queens, Westminster Hall, February 1952, by Ron Case.

Campaign to fight mental illness crisis among musicians

Campaign to fight mental illness crisis among musicians

Two-thirds of our musicians, three times more than the general public, suffer from depression and need help, according to Help Musicians UK, amounting to a crisis.

GOOD PRACTICE GUIDE	The growing challenge of creative ambition

GOOD PRACTICE GUIDE The growing challenge of creative ambition

Moya Maxwell, executive director of Shobana Jeyasingh Dance since September 2018 having come from the Royal Institute of British Architects, on the joys and hardships of managing a small arts company

THE WORD  Looking in the mirror of art

THE WORD Looking in the mirror of art

Jacqui O’Hanlon, RSC’s director of education, reflects on the 14-18 NOW legacy creative skills programme, Make Art Not War

 Students decide to ‘Make Art Not War’

Students decide to ‘Make Art Not War’

Thousands of 16-18-year-olds have responded to the challenge “What does peace mean to you” with works of art.

TAITMAIL   Arts in print – a critical juncture

TAITMAIL Arts in print – a critical juncture

By Patrick Kelly

A tweet from a frustrated music critic announces the shrinking of arts coverage in the venerable Glasgow daily, the Herald.

Manchester – for the Greater Good?

Manchester – for the Greater Good?

Patrick Kelly takes a look at Greater Manchester’s first cultural strategy.

Robin gets another string….

Robin gets another string….

Robin Hood, the Grade II listed statue outside Nottingham Castle, is to get a new bow after it was vandalised.

MY STORY Enter the unexpected – Judith Dimant goes Wayward

MY STORY Enter the unexpected – Judith Dimant goes Wayward

Wayward is a new production company specialising in new work from unexpected sources. Its first production opens at the Barbican Theatre on March 28, an adaptation by the Irish playwright Enda Walsh of Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter, starring Cillian Murphy. Wayward’s founder and producer is Judith Dimant

MY STORY Empathy Day’s literacy challenge

he first ever National Empathy Day is on June 13,
created by EmpathyLab, a new organisation started by Miranda McKearney OBE who founded The Reading Agency to confront the social issues created by low literacy and to enhance the role of the public library in the community.
She ran it for 12 years but has now launched EmpathyLab
to explore how empathy, literature and social action
working together can improve the lives of 4-to-11 year-olds, and build stronger communities.

What will happen on Empathy Day?

The DAY highlights empathy’s importance in our divided world, and the power of stories to develop it. There is a #ReadforEmpathy social media campaign – everyone sharing books that help us understand other people better. Plus a free downloadable Empathy Reading Guide, with 21 “must read” books for 4-11 year olds.

Flagship events around the country feature authors talking about the power of empathy and sharing with children how they create empathetic characters. They include media presenters Gemma Cairney and Katie Thisleton, and children’s authors Cathy Cassidy, Jo Cotterill, Elizabeth Laird, Alan MacDonald, Ross Montgomery and Tamsyn Murray.

What is EmpathyLab and what are its aims?

EmpathyLab’s mission is to harness the power of stories to bring about an empathy revolution in homes, schools and communities. We’re a start-up, aiming to create a new national children’s empathy programme.

With hate crimes and cyber-bullying on the rise, we want to make the world a better place by equipping our children with stronger empathy skills. In three years’ time we want thousands more 4-11 year olds to understand the importance of empathy, and be putting it into action.

What influenced you to start EmpathyLab?

I “retired” from The Reading Agency to go trekking and spend less time on the 7.48 to Waterloo. But I also wanted to explore the fascinating research showing that reading fiction builds real-life empathy.

Four colleagues, who have now become EmpathyLab’s founders, were as fascinated as me. In 2014 we started reading, and meeting, and searching out experts who could tell us more. As well as learning more about how reading builds empathy, we heard from psychologists that empathy is an especially key strength from the basket of social and emotional competencies children need to thrive. They welcomed strategies to develop it using literature. We tested our initial ideas at South Bank Centre Think-In, and got a major thumbs up, especially from teachers who said they were increasingly worried about the impact of social media on children’s ability to empathise.

How do literature and the concept of empathy work together?

An exciting body of neuroscience research is proving that reading builds our understanding of how other people
feel and think - what psychologists call “theory of mind”. Scientists say that our brains react to fictional worlds
as if they were real, and the empathic emotions we feel
for characters wires our brains to have the same sort of sensitivity towards real people. This has major implications for how society uses books with children, because it means that they can build their reading and empathy skills at the same time.

We produce tools which help children take a different pathway through a text, focusing more on characters and their dilemmas and feelings than on the plot, and using lots of drama and immersive activities so they can really feel, and name, the emotions of the characters.

You have a group of EmpathyLab pioneer primary schools. Where are they and how are they experimenting?

We’re working with 14 very different schools across the country, from Sheffield to the New Forest. With them, working individually and as a group, we’re testing our approach and sharing the learning from having a sharper empathy focus.

EmpathyLab provides input from psychology and literacy academics; a conceptual framework and creative ideas and resources. We work with headteachers on strategy and many are changing the school development plan to embed an empathy focus. Teachers and parents are introduced to the psychology of empathy and the research showing how reading is empathy-boosting. Then children are taught the meaning of empathy
in assemblies and circle time, and teachers give a new empathy focus to reading and writing. Pupil-led activities include Empathy BookSpotters, with teams recommending great empathy texts; Empathy Awards where the whole school votes for the most empathic book character, and Empathy Detectives, a club investigating issues like homelessness through stories. Parents might attend an Empathy Reading Café.

You have produced an evaluation of what they have done to date. What does it say and how can their findings influence other schools across the country?

EmpathyLab’s experimental, pro-bono work with the pioneer schools has yielded stronger results than we anticipated. The report is at www.empathylab.uk/ schools. Embedding EmpathyLab’s approach into
the School Development Plan and subtly refocusing teaching and whole school activities can impact positively on: children’s pleasure in reading and their literacy and empathy skills; teachers and parents’ skills and understanding of the child; schools’ community connections. It can build pupils’ understanding of social issues and fuel their desire to put empathy into action.

This was EmpathyLab’s first major “proof of concept” step. Our partners tell us that a more systematic, funded programme has enormous potential to build children’s empathy skills, wellbeing, literacy and social activism. Our approach of combining stories, empathy and social action gives schools a framework for achieving different priorities simultaneously. Vitally, in can be fused into normal school activities, so it is not a bolt on, or yet one more thing to do.

What will your pioneer schools be doing on Empathy Day?

EmpathyLab’s pioneer schools will be running wonderfully creative whole school empathy-focused events.

In Great Yarmouth children at Moorlands Primary Academy are focusing on refugees, working with author Elizabeth Laird whose book Welcome to Nowhere was researched in Syrian refugee camps. Then the children want to mount a sleep-out to raise money for the Mandala Trust in Syria.

At Shef eld’s Beck Primary School children are voting on Empathy Awards for book characters showing exceptional empathy; their choices will be announced by visiting authors Cathy Cassidy and Alan MacDonald.

St Michael’s in Rochdale is also presenting Empathy Awards. CBBC presenter Katie Thisleton will visit
to talk to the children about empathy, and ask
for their ideas in answering letters from
children who write to Katie about their problems. The letters and Katie’s answers
will be published in Dear Katie in 2018.

How did the role of libraries in our communities change after you started the Reading Agency?

Libraries really embraced their role in promoting reading, offering a lively, social mix of reading groups, author events and other creative, community based activities. The Reading Agency contributed, with other

charities and researchers, to a growing understanding of the importance of children enjoying reading if they are to become fluent readers. The charity worked with national library organisations and individual local authorities to help libraries join forces to run big reading for pleasure programmes across the UK library network. The biggest of these was the Summer Reading Challenge, which has become a huge magnet for primary aged children, with hundreds of thousands taking part each year. It is libraries’ biggest and most successful shared marketing programme. Research shows its impact on children’s reading enjoyment, frequency and range.

How have they changed since you left in 2013?

Libraries have been entrepreneurial in developing their national role, focusing on universal offers to the public. They have strengthened their health and digital roles, with powerful developments such as Books on Prescription, coding clubs and Makerspaces. Together, they also focus on particular needs – for instance they have recently launched an Autism Friendly Libraries strategy.

Locally, libraries are under major pressure from budget cuts, and work to maximise capacity by working with partners like Children’s Centres.

How is EmpathyLab working with libraries?

We’re at the very start of the relationship. After several workshops with national library bodies, it was clear that there was a real appetite for this work, and for Empathy Day. We’re very excited to be taking our first formal steps.

We’re delighted that seven library services are testing activities for #EmpathyDay this year - Essex, St Helens, Sheffield, Libraries Unlimited (Devon), North Tyneside, Hampshire and Sandwell. These include empathy book displays, green screen selfies with recommended empathy books and events. Essex is running an after- school story challenge focusing on the different perspectives of squabbling crayons in the book The day the crayons quit.

Are schools using public libraries enough, and are libraries making satisfactory contact with schools?  

The picture is enormously varied, so it’s not easy to answer this. So much depends on staf ng capacity, and sadly there are fewer specialist children’s librarians as library cuts come into effect. In many areas there is strong partnership working during the Summer Reading Challenge, in others, the schools library service plays an important linking role.

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