Supporting Young Arts and Heritage Leaders on developing leadership, commissioning public artworks and working with artists.
From September last year, sixty Young Arts and Heritage Leaders from Ramsgate Arts Primary School (RAPS) and St Laurence Junior Academy have been participating in a weekly session, exploring the heritage of their town and responding creatively.
These sessions have been delivered by a team consisting of two Turner Contemporary Navigators, Jo Ursell and Lucy Pettet, experienced in arts learning in schools, as well as Artists and Heritage Researchers interviewed and appointed by the children themselves.
Here, through the story of one day out at Tate Modern, documented by Pioneering Places Ramsgate Project Manager, Josephine Martin of Turner Contemporary, we present nine tips for supporting Young Leaders … and tips the Young Arts and Heritage Leaders received from Tate’s Senior Curator, Mark Godfrey, in commissioning public artworks.
1: Develop a sense of belonging
It was important throughout the project that we took the children across thresholds which they may not have crossed before, and even ones they may have been reluctant to cross.
When children are limited to particular environments, it reinforces their exclusion from certain places. We wanted to ensure that they felt they belonged not only in Turner Contemporary which they had now become familiar with, but in the country’s largest gallery, London’s Tate Modern, in a city many of them had never visited before.
2: Facilitate children’s leadership
From previous projects, we have learned that to best facilitate children’s leadership, they need to be given the opportunity to cross these thresholds with a sense of purpose and power. Their role needs to be clear and preparation needs to have been made for the task they are participating in.
For these reasons, the children were visiting Tate Modern, not only to visit the exhibitions, but to meet with senior curatorial staff to discuss their upcoming commission of a new public artwork for Ramsgate.
3: It’s about the journey, not the destination. Provide support throughout
The delivery team accompanied the children on the journey and delivered a number of activities on the train to focus them on the gallery experience ahead.
On the train, all children were given a card and asked to discuss in pairs and then record their response to the question “how can art make you feel?”
Throughout the project the children have become used to investigating ideas together through discussion, and were able to hold thoughtful and reflective conversations about their emotional response to art. These cards were then collected and images of a selection of artworks by Franz West which the children were going to see were given out.
4: Prepare for the practical challenges of artistic opportunities
The children were asked to consider how big the Franz West artworks might be, where they might be, what they could be made of, how they would feel. Gracie said they would “smell like ice cream”, and Kamsavy said “they were slides”.
Most of the RAPS children said the artworks would be very small, except for Petra who said they would be ‘MASSIVE’. The St Laurence children thought they would be found outside.
The children have spent some time researching in preparation for an outdoor public art commission in Ramsgate, where our Young Arts and Heritage Leaders will be directly commissioning the artist, so their thinking could be informed by this. During this discussion, the team gave out a selection of coloured squares of foil and invited the children to create their own small scale sculptures.
A lot of them asked how they could do this without glue or tape, and were asked to think about how they might work that out.
A number of them pooled resources to make models together. Maddie and Remy created an entire board game, using their Franz West print-out as the board. Charlie made an abstract work, Megan made a flower, Beth and Lucy made elves.
5: Support awareness of space, place and heritage
When we arrived in London, the children walked from Blackfriars to Tate Modern and were visibly excited by the panorama from the bridge. For many of them, this was their first time in London.
On arrival at the gallery they were greeted by Frank, who is a member of Tate staff and also a Pioneering Places Heritage Researcher and who would be their main guide for the day. The children were clearly overwhelmed to be in the building, with a number of them commenting on the size of the space and how it made them feel.
Their background in spacial awareness which has been developed over the project was reflected in some of their responses to being present in the building, with a heightened awareness of the physical structure, asking questions about its purpose, utility and history.
Freddie wanted to know “who brought all the artworks into the building and how?”. Jayden wanted to know “what all the noises were?”, (Frank explained they were echoes because of the shape of the room). Bleu asked “if Father Christmas had to go right down the huge chimney”.
6: Allow space to explore, engage, understand and emote
The first artworks the children visited were the Franz West outdoor sculptures they had seen pictures of. Their reaction on going outside and being confronted with the scale of the work was complete exhilaration; it had a very powerful impact on them. A number of ‘wows’ went up from the crowd. When Petra was reminded that she was one of the only ones who had thought the artworks were going to be big, she replied, “not big, MASSIVE”.
Frank talked to them about the artist and the work, and the children wanted to ask him about how the sculptures were made. They were interested in the surfaces, the joins. He also talked to them about the building, is previous history as a power station and as oil tanks.
The children re-entered the building and split into smaller groups to rotate around 3 exhibitions showing 3D and digital work. One of the groups was so engrossed with Rebecca Horn’s work involving an upside down suspended piano that they didn’t want to leave it and so decided to spend all their time in that one room engaging with the work.
7: Encourage questions about how and why decisions are made
The children broke for lunch outside on the grass and then headed back to Franz West to meet with Senior Curator Mark Godfrey. He talked to them about why he had chosen the West works they were sitting amongst, and the children discussed with him his choices of where he had placed them and why.
The Young Arts and Heritage Leaders had a number of questions for Mark.
Lacey asked him “if he could be an artwork, what would he be?”
Thinking about their own forthcoming decision about commissioning an artist, Reggie asked “what do you think is better, a famous artist who might attract more people, or one who isn’t famous who might listen to us more?”
Lucas asked “what questions should we ask the artist who is going to make our artwork when we meet them?“
They also asked his advice on what they should consider when commissioning an artist. He advised them to have faith in their own ideas about art, but always be ready to back this up with good reason and research. He also told them that one reason he wanted to place the West artworks outside is that they look good with their surroundings, they are playful and make him feel happy when he sees them and this is something they might want to consider, ideas which very much chime with themes already coming strongly from the children.
8: Encourage free expression
Following their Q&A the Young Arts and Heritage Leaders then moved back inside the gallery and split into groups of five. Each group was given a card containing one of the words or phrases they had previously come up with on the train as their response to how art makes them feel.
They were invited to move about the galleries in self-led groups, until they found an artwork which they agreed related to their card. After 30 minutes of noisy and excited debate and movement, everyone regrouped and formed 2 larger groups and toured all the artworks which had been selected, with the children who had chosen them revealing their word and their reasons for choosing it.
Aironas explained he had chosen a reflective sculptural work by Anish Kapoor as ‘Creative’ as “it turns you upside down and changes you“.
Luci talked about why the movement in a Barbara Hepworth abstract form made her feel “Smooth as the Waves’.
Everyone enjoyed the reason why one group had chosen a piece to express their word ‘Free’ … “because it’s on a wall by itself, free from any other artworks”.
9: Recognise the value of each and every contribution
The energy, enthusiasm and the level at which the Young Arts and Heritage Leaders were able to engage, analyse and articulate was particularly impressive.
The support of the teachers, Teaching Assistants, and volunteers who were responsible for the children must also be acknowledged, as they spent all day counting and recounting heads, navigating toilets, managing behaviour and carrying medical kits. The results were an enriching and fulfilling day which has left the children wanting to return, eager to commission their artwork from a position of greater knowledge and wanting to keep crossing thresholds, taking friends and family with them.