An exchange between the Sacred Heart of Mary Girls' School, Upminster/England (Teacher: Patricia Christy) and the Istituto Statale d'Arte 'Giovanni Sello', Udine/Italy (Teacher: Carmen Romeo dal Bo).
Students from the Sacred Heart of Mary Girls' School in Upminster, Essex, took part in a cultural exchange with the Istituto Statale D'Arte 'Giovanni Sello' in Udine, Friuli Venezia, during 1998 to 1999. The project was partially funded by The Central Bureau for Educational Exchanges, Socrates Lingua, and therefore had to be language based, linking the language subject with another subject from the curriculum.
The English students who took part were studying one or more of the Advanced Level subjects of Art, Art and Design Textiles and Italian and they corresponded with the Italian Textiles and Graphics students, who were all learning English, throughout the exchange period.
During a preliminary visit to Udine in February 1998, the teachers from Upminster also visited the Venice Carnival, so as Udine is not far from Venice it was decided that this could be the theme for our joint project. Under the title "United By Differences" we were to experience each others' cultures and styles of textiles and art education. The students from each school, who are 17-18 years old, would study the theme of Carnival, designing and making costumes, to be worn at the 1999 Venice Carnival.
At the end of October 1998 our students visited Udine for two weeks, where they stayed with the girls they had been corresponding with. They were overwhelmed by the hospitality of the Italian families and had a wonderful time. We had a very full programme, which included two visits to experience the sights and museums of Venice.
Upminster students during the Art Workshop in Udine
However it was not all sightseeing, as workshops are one of the requirements of a Socrates Lingua Exchange. We had a very interesting talk by one of the organisers of the Venice Carnival. In contrast I spoke about the Nottinghill Carnival, illustrated by a video and photographs. Our students spent some time joining in the lessons at the school and experiencing their design techniques. They also had art and printing workshops in which they learned how to do monoprinting and lithographs, which were new techniques for them.
Right: Amy with her lithograph
Discussions took place about our costume designs and our different approaches to the project. We had previously agreed that the costumes should be in pairs of opposites, a tradition commonly used in Venetian Carnival costumes. The Italians had chosen to do Fire and Ice, Sun and Moon, Joy and Sadness for which they had produced impressive design boards which were exhibited in the foyer of the school.
Design for the SUN costume (right) and for the MOON costume (below)
We showed them our designs for Spring and Autumn, Winter and Summer, Sunrise Over Venice and Sunset Over London, with samples of the techniques being used.
The Italians, whom we were expecting in March, changed their plans at short notice to arrive in January, three weeks before the carnival, which created some problems for the textiles students, in getting the costumes finished on time whilst at the same time entertaining their guests.
When they arrived it was wonderful to see how the friendships had developed since their early correspondence a year ago.
above: Student from Udine making masks during workshop in Upminster, below: Corinne from Udine making hand-made paper
Of course London was one of the main attractions to them as our school is less than an hour from the West End. In between excursions we had workshops on the making of hand-made paper which was then used to make carnival masks. They learned a variety of heating and dyeing techniques for transforming paper, plastics and metals into decorative materials for embellishing their masks, which were displayed before the end of their visit.
No wonder that the language skills of all the students improved tremendously. When we first met the Italians a year before they were very hesitant about speaking English, but by the end of their visit to Upminster they were quite fluent and had even picked up some technical vocabulary during the workshops.
Our students also found their Italian greatly improved, even those who had not studied Italian for over a year were able to converse with their friends. They had also quickly adapted to the change in cultural and family life with their host families, proving that they were indeed 'united in their differences'.
Italian Student decorating a mask made during the workshop in Upminster
The morning of our big day we left early for Venice by coach with temperatures below freezing and forecasts of snow. Fortunately the girls had padded their costumes and I had made them fleece lined cloaks. But by the time we reached the Rialto Bridge the sun was trying to shine, so off came the cloaks and the show could begin.
right: Udine students in their Fire and Ice costumes
Suddenly, we were surrounded by interested onlookers, all clamouring to photograph the girls. At first the girls were rather nervous and not sure what to do. However they soon gained confidence and posed like supermodels. There is no procession at the Venice Carnival, the participants just stroll around and pose for the public.
The Upminster girls posing for the public
By the time we reached St. Mark's Square the sun was shining and a little warmer. The girls had really got into the swing of things and enjoyed being the centre of attention. In the afternoon we progressed past the Duomo and the Doges' Palace to the waterfront, where we continued to be surrounded by photographers, both amateur and professional alike, and also television cameras.
Upminster students at the waterfront - from left to right:
Zoe Lavey as 'Sunset over London', Christy Marns as 'Rose of Summer', Amy Bee as 'Winter', Beverley Laws as the 'Bluebell of Spring', Serena Fuller as 'Autumn' and Frances Johnston as 'Sunrise over Venice'
We were amazed at the attention we received, as there were many other beautiful costumes around us. So it continued all afternoon by the end of which the girls were very tired but happy at their success.
The costumes had been a great success and all the hard work in making them was a valuable experience never to be forgotten.
Patricia Christy with her A-Level pupils in their Venice carnival costumes - from left to right:
Beverley Laws as 'Spring', Frances Johnston as 'Sunrise over Venice', Zoe Lavey as 'Sunset over London', Christy Marns as 'Summer', Serena Fuller as 'Autumn' and Amy Bee as 'Winter'
After the return to Upminster the success did not end: We were invited to show the costumes at several exhibitions, there have been articles in national and international magazines on our project, as well as our local papers. Little did we realise at the beginning how important and successful the project was to become, making all our hard work worthwhile.