Many issues in schools just seem intractable, no matter what is tried no real and lasting impact is achieved. Sometimes it is literacy or engagement, job-readyness, further education or just higher standards. A Sunshine Coast school has decided some of its issues needed some creative thinking. They formed a partnership with Griffith University artist and researcher, Mike Epworth to rethink their approach to these issues.

Mr Epworth has designed and is delivering a curriculum that engages projects around forestry and horticulture, graphic art, sport and basic literacy. It also picks up elite arts students and delivers a G.U.E.S.T.S program that could see successful students gain direct entry to Queensland College of Art (Griffith University) degree programs.

As an artist in residence Mr Epworth uses a technique called social design. At its most simple it applies the problem-solving practice of artists to areas of life beyond arts and crafts; creating solutions that may be more effective and lead to better outcomes for students.

Mr Epworth’s social design template is the Jimmy Possom chair, an Australian design classic from the town of Deloraine in northern Tasmania. The chairs were constructed from salvaged local materials from the 1890s to the 1940s, employed a combination traditional European and Indigenous joinery techniques and are strong, beautiful chairs for people with little money.

“It’s depression-era stuff, people needing to be extremely creative in order to fulfill pretty basic needs. But through that creativity they establish deeper connections to each other, their community and their history,” said Mr Epworth.

Outside the context of being a chair they involve a distinct problem solving process: they address a need, employ advanced skills, are inexpensive, connect the product to place and people, involve sustainable resources and becomes objects of pride for individuals and community.

Mr Epworth has spent the last 30 years resurrecting this tradition, which has led to a translation of the design and construction process into a social design structure.

“It probably sounds complex, but it’s really not. As an artist in residence I’m not hired to simply develop art practice skills, the school already has great art teachers. I’m here to improve engagement, literacy, job readiness for some, or a connection to higher education for others all through creative projects,” said Mr Epworth.

“Sometimes it’s as simple as exposure to new possibilities.”

Griffith design students will engage via the Southbank project which focuses on mapping the 8 Southbank cultural institutions to determine the differences in regard perceived and actual outreach educational programs aimed at regional high school students.

“I noticed this part of the Sunshine Coast had little connection to the arts and our big institutions in particular. They’re all in one place at Southbank. So we’ve developed a mapping program where the kids learn to explore the centre, design maps that young people understand, learn about mapping generally and make a connection to Griffith’s art school and the possibility of attending.”

Griffith Enterprise assisted Mr Epworth in tying all of his projects together into a legal form that Government and the school was able to contract with. This enabled the project to access significant government funding and come up with the most flexible solutions for the school’s needs.

The program is up and running and will continue into 2017.