Museum Education Summer School Underway in Lori, Armenia (Ronan Brindley, Manchester Art Gallery)

Written by Ronan Brindley, Head of Learning, Manchester Art Gallery (ITP UK Partner Representative: Manchester)

I arrive late Monday night and am picked up by Hayk Mkrtchyan (ITP 2014/Senior Fellow 2017) at Zvartnots airport.  It is so nice to see a friendly face when you arrive late. He whisks me back to his and Marine Mkrtchyan’s (ITP 2014) apartment for a delicious late night meal of chicken, lavash bread, salad and beans, washed down by a cold Armenian white wine.

On Tuesday morning, it’s straight to work, adding flesh to the bones of the summer school. This culminates in a trip to Ester Hakobyan’s (Director of the DVV International Country Office) house in a district overlooking Yerevan. Her organisation is supporting the summer school and we – Ester, Hayk, Marine, Davit Poghosyan (ITP 2015), Astghik Marabyan (ITP 2017), Anahit Minasyan (ITP Yerevan 2016 participant) and I – all sit down to work with ‘light’ refreshments.  Armenian hospitality is again amazing and Ester achieves another high (mulberries, sour cherries, sweet cherries, apricots, cheese pastries and Armenian coffee).

Project team - light snack

The project team enjoys a ‘light snack’

Hayk and I work late into the evening and then we’re up for an 8am Wednesday departure for the SMART Education Center in the province of Lori.

Setting out from Yerevan - mountain view

Setting out from Yerevan this morning

The countryside is beautiful as we travel through mountain passes and past lush, green plains, villages and communities.

Travelling through mountain paths

Travelling through mountain paths

The three-hour journey takes us past Spitak which was tragically the epicentre of the 1988 earthquake which claimed 24,000 lives in the region.

Passing a Yazidi cemetery

Passing a Yazidi cemetery

We arrive at the SMART Center with an hour to spare before the summer school starts.  The SMART Center has been set up by the charity Children of Armenia Fund (COAF) to provide health care, education, skills and sustainability for the local rural communities, working via the region’s children.  It’s a new building and I’ll share images of it with you tomorrow (I don’t have any yet that will do it justice!)

The Director, Shahane Halajyan, gives us and the 20 delegates a tour and the summer school begins.  Hayk opens with the background on how the ITP created the context for the summer school and supported the initiative and I continue, setting the tone for us as a peer group, willing to share ideas and create new ways of connecting our cultural organisations with communities. Everybody pitches in and soon we have questions flying back and forth about how we define communities, how we collaborate, where there is a risk of ‘just being a venue’ and how we know when our partnerships are having an impact. I push the idea of letting go of power and am met with some smiles, some nods and some frowns.

It’s all been a bit of blur and I’m writing this fresh from the discussion and after giving two presentations…  But it’s been great! And I’ll be back with more.