The organiser’s view

Jane Sillis, engage interview at Turner Contemporary

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Jane Sillis

Director, engage,
 National Association for Gallery Education

The idea for a touring exhibition of art by children and young people began in 2012 through discussions with colleagues in the arts and education sectors, particularly members of the Art and Design Expert Subject Advisory Group (ESAG), which highlighted the need for teachers and parents to see examples of excellent artwork by young artists, in order to raise the aspirations of children, young people and adults.

Self portrait by Jody Goodfellow
Self portrait by Jody Goodfellow

This is central to the concerns that engage, the National Association for Gallery Education, has around the urgent need to demonstrate to politicians and funders the importance of continuing to provide children and young people with the opportunity to study art, craft and design in school and to engage with art and professional artists both in school, college, community and cultural settings.

It is also in accordance with the report by the Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Value, Enriching Britain: Culture, Creativity and Growth, which recommends that government and the cultural and creative industries take a coherent approach that guarantees equal access to all to cultural education, and the opportunity to live a cultural life.

After all, the creative and cultural industries are critical to the UK’s economy – the Confederation of British Industries in 2013 reports that the creative industries contribute 6% to Britain’s GDP and employ over 2 million people. That number has continued to rise.

RedTIE performance (JM photography)Generation ART: Young Artists on Tour was developed with a group of venues and arts organisations in England, who responded to an open call to take part in the project.  All of our partners, Turner Contemporary, Margate, New Walk Museum and Art Gallery, Soft Touch Arts, The Spark Arts for Children, Leicester and Quay Arts, on the Isle of Wight, have a strong track record for delivering inspiring programmes with children and young people and audiences new to the visual arts.

They are all also located in areas where less people tend to engage with the arts and culture, and where there is a lack of touring exhibitions, particularly for young people.

We wanted to involve children and young people not only as exhibiting artists, but also as curators, promoters and programmers, and to offer activities that encouraged new visitors to step over gallery thresholds.

Through Generation ART we want to encourage teachers and parents to recognise the potential that children and young people have to create high quality art, as well as the role of visual arts organisations and artists, in introducing young people to professional arts practice. These are urgent concerns given the pressures on art and design as a subject in English state schools, and on the arts and cultural sector, since the decrease in public investment due to austerity, as cited in the NSEAD Survey Report 2015-16.

This is sad, in a country which rightly celebrates its impressive profile and individuality in the art world with luminaries such as Grayson Perry, Tracy Emin and Steve McQueen.

We are proud of what we have achieved. Generation ART has grown from an idea to a touring exhibition experienced by over 203,000 visitors of all ages, and has engaged at least 1,300 children and young people in creative activities – probably double that number through unsupervised creative work spaces.

Alongside inspirational teachers, nothing beats contact with art and artists to nurture a desire to study and work in the creative sector. My teacher parents and the professional artists I met at school and college, inspired me to do so.

For the UK’s creative sector to thrive, it is critical that a diversity of young people know about the potential to study and work within this vibrant industry and are supported to do so.

So what role can visual arts organisations and artists have supporting young artists?

engage knows that teachers and young people benefit positively from contact with art and artists, through research programmes such as enquire, 2004-11, which was the contemporary art element of the Strategic Commissioning Programme for Museum and Gallery Education supported by the Department for Education and the Department for Culture Media and Sport, through Arts Council England.

Using an action research model, clusters of schools, artists and visual arts organisations worked with researchers to explore what young people gain from engaging with art and artists. More than 12,000 young people, 224 schools, 40 cultural organisations, 268 artists and 152 gallery educators took part.

What difference does contact with art and artists make for young people?

Research from the project showed that participants developed conceptual and practical skills which helped them to make art and to understand artworks, young people learnt to take risks and to experiment, they learnt to reflect, to appraise their own and each others work, they became used to working in groups and with adults and they understood the role which artists take in society. Many young people who took part in enquire went on to study art at college and university.

A second Strategic Commissioning Programme, supported by the Museums Libraries and Archives Council, Watch this Space 2004-11 provided support for non-participating schools to work with artists and visual arts organisations, and for artists new to working with schools to gain experience of working with a school and a gallery. There were placements for artists in schools, teachers worked with galleries, teachers, artists and gallery educators received professional development, teaching materials were shared, young peoples work was exhibited and learning from the programme was shared.

Independent evaluation found that the schools that participated in Watch this Space became more confident about working with art, artists and cultural organisations and made more informed choices about whom they worked with.

Isn’t it a challenge to do something different?

The barriers that schools had perceived which had prevented them from working with artists and arts organisations were overcome by working in partnership. For example in undertaking risk assessments and or organising transport for visits. Galleries improved the quality and appropriateness of the activities they provided for schools.

Teachers became more aware of visual art and artists, the benefits of working with artists and the potential to carry out cross-curricular work.

Impressive work was seen where, as a result of this programme, close partnerships had been established between teachers and gallery educators.

(Ian Middleton, Formerly Her Majesty’s Inspector, and Specialist National Advisor for Art and Design, Ofsted)

engage was keen to build on what had been learnt through enquire and Watch this Space and to continue to encourage partnerships with schools, artists and visual arts organisations.

Projects like the annual Children’s Art Week, and Generation ART are recognised as key in actively delivering this mission.

The awe inspiring artworks exhibited in Generation ART as well as the sum of its parts, illustrate why art education matters and why it is so vital for young people to exhibit and for national spaces to promote the next generation of artists.

(Sophie Leach, Assistant General Secretary of NSEAD and editor, AD magazine)

With projects like these engage continues to assertively make the case for art, craft and design education in schools, to support visual arts organisations and artists to work with teachers, schools, community organisations, and young people, and inspire learning and education staff to deliver high quality activities, through sharing best practice, research, professional development and leadership.

Mellor School pupils at Generation ART launch, Leicester