Connecting artists and teachers

The Arts Active Trust were one of four organisations awarded funding to create an Arts & Education Network through Arts Council Wales and Welsh Government’s Creative Learning Through The Arts initiative. Proper Design was chosen by Arts Active Trust to deliver A2:Connect for South Central Wales.

A2:Connect connects teachers and artists. Bringing the arts into classrooms.

Paving the cowpaths

Based at Cardiff’s St Davids Hall, Arts Active deliver education, community and audience engagement projects. They had years of experience connecting teachers and schools with artists and it was this experience that we drew on in our approach to A2:Connect.

A2:Connect, we spotted that what artists are offering and teachers are seeking are very similar: we called them both Opportunities. Opportunities, whether they’re posted by teachers or artists, all have timeframes, target keystages, artforms, date ranges and the like – enough common data that they can be considered the same thing.

While the data structure of A2:Connect is fundamentally simple (the concept of an Opportunity with a number of data points on that Opportunity), the main challenge was building a user interface that was flexible enough to handle both the wide variations in what an opportunity represents and also the wide variation in digital literacy amongst teachers and artist.

A2:Connect allows both teachers and artists to post Opportunities, search and view Opportunities, and get in touch with each other about those opportunities.

A2:Connect is the result of the first (of four) years’ development funding from the Arts Council, and launched at an arts and education event in Chapter Arts Centre in February 2018. The photo below features Arts Active’s Dave Baxter doing his best impersonation of Steve Jobs.

A2:Connect was our first large-scale project on the MERN stack – Mongo, Express, React (+ Redux), and Node.

In the past, we would have built a site like this on WordPress, as our go-to solution for database-driven sites. However, in this case, in developing the brief with Arts Active, we realised that all users needed admin-type functionality – and that, given the complexity of the data being entered, the WordPress admin interface wasn’t appropriate to open up to the world.

While WordPress is a great CMS for things that look like websites, we’ve found in previous projects that it starts to become difficult to work with when you push it too far beyond what it’s designed to do.

In using React and Redux on the front end, we were also able to design a more compelling UI that encouraged interaction, by allowing more subtle flows through the application without triggering page loads on every action.