Project Pandemic 2020

Project Pandemic: Why project work in senior school is so important. 

At Bradfield, all year 11 students work on a project alongside their HSC and vocational courses. Since 2016, we’ve had a partnership with Vivid Sydney to stage an event for Vivid Ideas. This provides a public platform for senior school students to find different ways of working with the HSC curriculum. With a real world client, this event provides opportunities for students to create work that transcends the classroom from creative responses to social justice and cultural capital. 

Each year there is a theme for the event: 

2016 Creative Careers and Creativity in Education

2017 Creative Careers and Creativity in Education

2018 The New Creatives: Hidden in Plain View

2019 The New Creatives: Urban Codes

2020 Future Sydney 2050

In 2020 students looked at Sydney’s future state: We asked students how they might envision an optimistic and inclusive future for Sydney. Using trans-disciplinary thinking, the idea behind the Future Sydney exhibition was to challenge traditional thinking to show us a vision of our city. For instance, how would an art student tackle a science problem or a music student imagine town planning? How might a dancer envision transport, or a fashion student teamed with a legal studies student to plan better aged-care? 

Project 2020 started with great optimism working towards our Vivid Ideas event that was to be held in June. Coming out of a harsh summer haunted by devastating bushfires, students began with future thinking and design thinking workshops with small groups working together to brainstorm a vision of Future Sydney. Overwhelmingly, groups wanted clean air, greenery, and a more inclusive city with an environmental conscience. ‘I just want to be able to breathe.’ ‘Our buildings need to be green.’ ‘We need more plants.’ ‘Our communities need to celebrate artists.’ There was also a large number who didn't see their future here: ‘I want to leave Sydney as soon as I can.’

We then held a Future Forum series with panellists such as urban strategist and architect Tony Leung, artist/forager Diego Bonetto, town planner Gabrielle Coleman  OZHarvest Marketing Manager Eliza Van Der Sman and tech entrepreneur Dr Tim Parsons. Students watched a screening of the film 2040, and were inspired as they heard from people working in industries who were already making a difference with tangible solutions.

Project groups formed including ‘Concrete Jungle’ who sought to include more greenery in our city’s buildings, and ‘Potting Around’ who wanted to reinforce the importance of empowering individuals to become responsible for contributing to a sustainable future. ‘Tic Toc Bad’, an animation, explored the dangers of social media while ‘Solar Bikes’, using solar powered transport, wanted to motivate the audience to think in a more ecological way, as well as reflect on their current habits. Musicians were composing songs  about self-judgement, and hopeful visions of artistic communities.

And then, within a few weeks, Future Sydney turned into Project Pandemic. Hopes were dashed when Vivid Sydney was cancelled and the inspiration and optimism were replaced with anxiety and despair. And we knew we had to keep the project afloat. COVID 19 meant a physical exhibition was unlikely and so we all had to envision the possibility of a virtual exhibition. Students worked from home, isolated in bedrooms and studies, connecting via video conference and social media channels. They kept working, still in their groups, researching, prototyping and trying to make sense of the new world in which they found themselves. They had to navigate all the positives and challenges of working in groups but now in a digital and online realm and without the promise of the Vivid event.

After 6 project weeks at home, students returned to the college to regroup and consider what had changed. Students grappled with the fact that their audience would be forever changed by the pandemic, and many of the ideas they had explored earlier in the year had been formulated in a different world. Some groups, such as those working with sustainable solutions, continued with their work. For others, it was impossible to continue with their projects in this new context which presented the perfect vehicle for problem solving and creative thinking. They brainstormed their original concepts and worked on how to tweak their projects to suit their new audience and context. In terms of project work, this was where some of the most meaningful learning lay, providing the opportunity for students to develop skills such as agility, flexibility and resilience.

The podcast group had originally decided to create a speculative fiction podcast imagining life in 2050. Their final product evolved into a sophisticated and poignant podcast, ‘The Invisible War’ which envisages a city forever living with isolation. There was a quiet resignation in the tone of the podcast, reflecting the changed perspectives of the group. What if lockdowns were to continue and become the new normal? One student said of their work on the podcast, ‘Speculative narrative isn’t a part of the standard English curriculum but this project has given me a new perspective… I am thinking of ways to incorporate speculative narrative in other work that I have to do for English.’

English students produced a podcast using speculative fiction as a genre. The emergence of the pandemic saw a shift in tone to cater for the changing context of the audience.

A team ‘Future Beyond COVID’ shifted their project to explore the impact and influence of the pandemic on future fashion, art and design. The experience they had of living through a pandemic was something they decided needed to be considered as the new normal. The group created a range of fashion garments from jewellery hats and pants inspired by perspex screens in supermarkets. Alex Thompson designed a jacket with patchwork arms made from recycled face masks (see left). Angelo Wood said he had learned to sew through working on the project which was helping with his fashion course. 

‘A Journey Through’ used Japanese physical theatre, contemporary dance, voice over, cinematography, and original music composition to represent the devastation occurring all around us in Sydney, from the hellish fires to the global impact of the corona-virus pandemic. This project expressed a vision that Sydney's community can join together, heal, and ultimately create a brighter future. 

The web design group who were previously creating a small website about the event were suddenly providing the main vehicle for the virtual exhibition. They created a website from scratch and increased the capacity significantly to showcase each project.

The Future Sydney project may in fact become a time-capsule of the COVID 19 time and a creative archive to explore and process an unknown future Sydney. This is real world learning. It requires students to rise above themselves, work collaboratively, to be prepared for a change in direction and to find their place in an uncertain and volatile environment. What the students of Project 2020 lost was the kudos of being part of Sydney’s premier creative festival. What they gained was incredible insight into their ways of learning, their personal self development and into the world of work.