Blow Your Mind
November 28, 2014 by louis
This guest blog post is from Shaun Higgins, a performer and youth worker who worked with us to develop Blow Your Mind, a brain-themed experiential event created in participation with young people from South London.
When Guerilla Science asked me to develop Blow Your Mind I couldn’t refuse the offer. Having been a youth worker for most of my career, as well as a performer and experience designer, this was the perfect opportunity for me to roll all my professional interests into one.
Blow Your Mind was developed in partnership with the Urban Academy in Southwark, a post-16 school run by charity Kids Company to support some of South London’s most marginalised young people. Produced with the young people themselves, the project set out to create an transform the Urban Academy into an otherworldly fusion of neuroscience, magic and illusions.
However, the long journey to the final event began with some difficult questions. Although I felt confident in engaging with the Urban Academy’s young people, I quickly realised that I didn’t have the words to describe to them what a Guerilla Science experience was, or the many possibilities of what it could be.
Although ‘science’ in name was of interest to some, others saw no real connections with their lives. And for some it was simply a name to remind them of boring times spent at school. To reach out to as many of the Urban Academy’s contingent as possible, we had to find a means of expressing what our event might be and connect this to what it could mean for them.
After working closely with a small but dedicated project group over many months, we settled on what we considered to be a winning formula. First up, a brain-nutritious lunch and mood-enhancing (non-alcoholic) cocktails, followed by an indoor festival experience where the secret workings of the brain would be revealed by actors, magicians and neuroscientists.
We aimed to appeal to every possible sense, tapping into the audience’s curiosity about the brain that was based on their everyday experiences – and it worked. Although some of the team were still unsure exactly what they were going to experience on the day, the post-event evaluation told us that, for many, science no longer quite felt like science any more and the way they thought about their own brains had changed too. The canteen, now a Brain Wave Cocktail Bar; the maths room, transformed into a Chamber of Illusions; and the art room, now a Memory Maze, had done their job.
Having worked almost every week at Urban Academy over the past six months, its homely, heartfelt nature drew me there as much as the project, and I know I’ll miss the company of the young people and staff – especially that of Maths teacher Cathy Hough and Wade Wallace from Urban Wisdom action-group, who both became our in-house champions.
When the event was over and the young people made their way out of the door, clutching onto their goodbye-gifts of brain candy and stepped back into the world, I like to think that things felt subtly but significantly different to how they’d been before.