Children's Art Week: Any Excuse To Get Creative With The Kids
It’s the launch of Children’s Art Week and, as the sort of person who feels that every week should be Children’s Art Week, I’ll take any opportunity to celebrate. There are so many good reasons to run this week, the challenge is deciding where to start.
Exploring art with children opens up boundless possibilities for them, unlocking imaginative processes and scaffolding narratives that, particularly with the very youngest, may have been just out of reach before. I love listening to the musings of little ones as they gaze at a work for the first time.
Like adults, children are just as capable of speculating about the Mona Lisa’s famous, enigmatic smile – often with more comical considerations – or pondering what Whistler’s ethereal women in white are wondering. Frequently, they’ll retell a traditional tale, echoing the rhythms of storytelling; recently, I observed as a landscape with a hint of woodland prompted recollections of the Gruffalo. And strange, startling abstracts can curl and morph for kids into the recognisable and familiar, in just the sort of way our ancestors named the constellations.
And yet, sometimes, the thought of taking children to an art gallery can seem very daunting. For me, Children’s Art Week represents an opportunity to fling wide the gallery doors and say ‘Come on in!’
The week is a UK-wide initiative run by Engage, the National Association for Gallery Education, with a focus on opening up art to children and families. Once again, this year, schools, galleries, museums and community groups were invited to devise and register visual arts events specifically for children and families, inviting them to enjoy fun, creative activities, including, perhaps, some things for the first time.
Accessibility is the key word here. And the week has proved successful before.
In 2018, more than 14,000 children, young people and adults took part in events across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. But what was really interesting was this: event organisers reported that 58% of participants attending their activity were first-time visitors to their venue, and 30% of participants were audiences who were completely new to the arts.
This really matters. It means that when galleries reach out, new, family audiences reach back.
This week, I want to highlight the work of one particular gallery, The Hepworth Wakefield, which, from its opening in 2011, has sought to welcome children and to make sculpture, not always the most legible of artforms, engaging and interesting for younger audiences.
Named after one of the most iconic twentieth-century British sculptors, Wakefield-born Barbara Hepworth, the award-winning gallery sits on the banks of the River Calder, with permanent galleries exploring Hepworth’s work, and a range of temporary exhibits by modern and contemporary artists.
Their focus for Children’s Art Week is on a rich variety of ways that children can experience sculpture, with a clear desire to ensure that their free programme of activities is as accessible as possible to everyone. With outside picnic space and children’s play area, I would suggest that this gallery and this week are a good time and place to begin taking little ones gallery-visiting.
With free activities for families every weekend and every school holiday, The Hepworth Wakefield is always a welcoming space for families to explore, play and create artwork together. Three ‘Explore & Draw stations’ across the gallery are available to use every day, designed for all ages and linking to the exhibitions, with related activities, objects and books. Visitors are encouraged to draw in the galleries, look in new ways at the artworks, feel objects and materials connected to exhibitions, or sit and read together.
This week, The Hepworth Wakefield is also running drop-in workshops designed to encourage families to get ‘hands on’, creating their own art inspired by the work Barbara Hepworth and other artists, including her contemporary Henry Moore, currently on display. Additional SEND workshops allow families to explore the space at their own pace through creative and sensory sessions.
‘Art Pods’ are available on Saturday 15 June, 11am – 4pm, with SEND-friendly sessions that day, and ‘Sculpt and Play’ sessions will run on Sunday, 16 Jun 2019, 11am – 4pm.
This summer, I am running a project exploring the health and mental health benefits of arts participation for children – more on that another day – and as a result, I am keenly aware of the need for opportunities like these for children to experience the arts, and why it matters. Moreover, bearing in mind the hugely significant role that creative industries play in our economy, it seems sensible that galleries seek to encourage our youngsters to ‘have a go’ – this week and, like at The Hepworth Wakefield, every week.
Children’s Art Week is run by Engage, the National Association for Gallery Education, and supported in 2019 by the Arts Society and The D’Oyly Carte Charitable Trust.
The Hepworth Wakefield is open daily, 10am - 5pm. Entry is FREE and you can find out more about their family programme at: https://hepworthwakefield.org/whats-on/
You can find out more about activities running across the country, selecting ‘Yorkshire’ for region-specific sessions at: https://engage.org/happenings/childrens-art-week/childrens-art-week-events/
Rosie Goodwin is a freelance arts education consultant and events manager. Based in the North York Moors, she runs MakeMore Arts, working across Yorkshire with museums and heritage organisations, schools and community groups.