Report – Opening Keynote

Posted on: Wednesday 07 July 2021 1:14am by Lorna Partington Walsh


  • Art and creativity gives every young person, irrespective of background, the potential to express themselves and find their place in the world.
  • If teachers, parents, and professionals do not include young people in the conversation and key decisions, we are failing them.
  • Young people need role models in the arts if they are given the best chance to reach their creative potential.
  • Media for young people are indispensable to parents, teachers and the young audience itself to ensure the young people can learn and develop.
  • Artists and creatives can engage with Andria’s Artists in Residence programme via the website:

Sue Nott officially launched CMC 2021 and introduced Global Teacher Award winner Andria Zafirakou, who presented an inspirational keynote titled ‘Power of Potential: Learning Together’.

Andria explained she won the teaching prize in 2018 ($1million over 10 years) out of 30,000 applicants from 175 countries. Initially uncomfortable about the accolade, she decided to own the title so that she could make a difference for young people.

She talked about the influences on her own life and the power of children’s media to have lasting effect on young people. Her role model was Tony Hart.

But she has also  been consistently inspired by her students. She shared three stories of young people whose lives were changed by art:

  • The first child had significant special educational needs, and his parents had no expectation that he would attain any GCSEs. When Andria spotted his drawing talent, she encouraged him to draw more, and he went on to attain a D-grade at GCSE. Andria enabled him to continue studying art, and he ultimately achieved an A-grade at A-level. More importantly, he literally found his voice, having been selectively mute in the beginning. Andria learned that she had no right to have ever underestimated his potential.
  • The second child created a stunning but disturbing picture in a GCSE exam. Concerned, Andria talked to her and discovered she was upset by a marriage arrangement that would squash her dream of pursuing medicine. Andria was able to respond to this cry for help, and a few years ago, the girl (now a young woman) qualified as a doctor. Andria learned that young people use art to express themselves, and we must listen.
  • The third child had a range of special educational needs that made him difficult to teach. In one class, he produced a portrait that impressed the whole class so much that they all cheered. Andria saw how important art and creativity is for helping kids like him feel they fit in.

Andria continues to be inspired by her students. During the Black Lives Matter movement, her students sent her artwork they had created to express their feelings about events. This reminded her how important art and creativity is for healing, and that young people can use the language of art in powerful ways.

She expressed frustration that the Government continues to insist that ‘Arts subjects are not strategic priorities’ and is cutting university arts funding. Andria believes arts are especially vital to young people’s wellbeing and called for teachers and creatives to work together to protect the place of arts in school and beyond. One way of doing so is collaborating with her Artists in Residence project that she established with funding from the teaching prize. She is determined to introduce young people to role models who will inspire them to pursue careers or personal interests in the creative sector.

What do young people need? 

Andria listed what she considers to be the key priorities for young people going forward:

  • Aspiration and identification – the chance to meet role models and identify with artists/creatives
  • Imagination and creativity – the ability to create freely
  • Connection and talking – opportunities to interact physically and talk/communicate in person, including questioning teachers about things and issues of interest to them.
  • Joy/play – the chance to have fun and create lasting memories
  • Kindness

One of Andria’s former students recently appeared in the ‘Great Pottery Throwdown’ and is now an artist in her own right, proving what young people can achieve with the right support.

Andria concluded with a call for CMC delegates to pull together to make ‘impossible’ a thing of the past for young people, and she warned that if this doesn’t happen, we are risking young people’s future.

The session concluded with a presentation by CMC Changemaker and young musician, Keedron Bryant, whose YouTube song “I Just Want to Live” went viral, and  became an anthem for the Black Lives Matter movement.

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Lorna Partington Walsh

About the author

Lorna Partington Walsh


Lorna is a writer/editor who is supporting CMC 2020 by managing the session blogging and helping build the online conference platform. A CMC old-hand, she was involved in the conference's early years, prior to her move to California in 2008. When she returned to the UK in 2019, where else… Read more