Kids Curate

A group of school students sketching in the contemporary gallery

How school students developed an exhibition from The Jerwood Collection.

Jerwood Schools was an exciting project which involved pupils aged 5 to 16 from 3 local schools. The students worked with the Harley Gallery to create a unique presentation of the renowned Jerwood Collection of modern and contemporary British Art. Their exhibition was entitled ‘A Voyage of Discovery’ and it was open to the public between February and May 2022. It received wonderful feedback from members of the public with one group of visitors reflecting:

“Very very good exhibition. They eyes of a child are so enlightening! This is good to get youngsters into art and is a credit to all involved”

So, how did the students do it?

In regular workshops, the young people were guided through the process by Harley Gallery’s Education Team, Exhibition Consultant Selina Skipwith and Exhibition Designers Real Studios.

They began with the choice of artwork. The students were given the whole Jerwood Collection of just under 300 works to select from. The high-profile collection includes artists such as Maggi Hambling, Henry Moore and Paula Rego. The GCSE Art & Design Students from Shirebrook Academy immediately chose Mayflower, All Flowers, by Yinka Shonibare. This became the hero image of the exhibition.

Following on from this initial choice, the two participating Primary Schools (Sparkenhill Academy and Sir Edmund Hillary Primary) decided on the works they wanted to display. Each child had the opportunity to feed into the decision-making process by selecting their favourite works through ‘dot voting’ – using stickers to make choices. Through two rounds of voting, the Primary School students selected 18 pieces of art to exhibit. The GCSE pupils added this collection with 20 pieces of artwork which they felt took them on a kind of ‘journey’, linking to discussions which had taken place when the hero image was selected.

Once the artwork had been selected, students developed interpretation for the exhibition. Pupils from the primary schools were invited to explore their selections by imagining that they had jumped into the pictures. They were asked to describe what they had seen, smelt, heard and touched during imaginary journeys! In another session, they were asked to take ‘mental photographs’ of their chosen artworks and to list the features they could recall. Finally, they took part in group story telling sessions, which saw them consider what could be happening in the piece of art or why the artist had captured this scene. All of the responses from these workshops were captured and the children’s words were turned into the labels displayed in the exhibition. Meanwhile, the secondary school students were each tasked with writing short pieces of text examining their chosen paintings and explaining the aspects which interested them the most and how the pieces made them feel. You can read some of the exhibition labels below.

‘Mayflower, All Flowers’ by Yinka Shonibare, Print and collage, 2020

Class 2T, Sir Edmund Hillary Infant School

This picture tells the story of the flags on the ship. They are fancy, colourful and patterned and are what makes the ship go faster. The ship looks like it is from the olden days and the different patterns on the flags tell people about different places. The ship is on the ocean on a sunny day on a Friday in Spring. We think it might be near the Isle of Wight.

‘Family’ by F. E. McWilliam, Pen and ink drawing, 1956

Chosen by Class 1B, Sir Edmund Hillary Infant School

The main subjects are a tall family: a mummy and daddy, or maybe a grandma and grandad, with a baby. We think that the artist imagined this scene by thinking about their family and it reminds us of our families at home. It is special because it is about a family cuddling each other.
It makes us feel happy because they are all together, loving and protecting each other.

‘Portrait Of Mother’ by Ruskin Spear, Oil painting, 1935

Selected by Brandon, Shirebrook Academy

If I was looking at this elderly woman sitting alone in her chair in real life, I would wonder about the changes she had seen over her life and how many times she has had to adapt to her changing circumstances. For me the painting describes the power of time. Despite our best efforts time changes us and we have to adapt to new situations.

Once they had come up with their own interpretations of the artwork, the students involved also had say over how the exhibition would look and be experienced by the visitors. Just before Christmas 2021, The GCSE students from Shirebrook Academy came to the Harley Gallery for a whole day workshop with Exhibition Consultant Selina Skipwith. They were asked to think about the visitors coming to see the exhibition. What did they want their visitors to experience and what did they hope to communicate to them? Linking in to the theme of going on a journey, they decided to set out the exhibition with a clear start, middle and end. Using gallery floorplans and to-scale printouts of the chosen artworks, the students were challenged with arranging the pieces into three groups (with our three gallery spaces respectively reflecting the idea of the start of a journey, the mid point of a voyage when a person reaches a cross-roads, and the concept of arriving at a final destination).

Once this was done, the students thought about how best to design each gallery space so that it would communicate their chosen theme and message. They worked with our gallery staff and an external freelance design firm, Real Studios. For instance, the choice of wallpaper and the inclusion of beanbags in the final room (pictured below) reflected the students’ brief that this room be full of vibrant wacky colours to reflect a dreamlike happy space, and that people should be able to relax in this room. All of these decisions were referred back to the students, and they had regular communication with the designers. The students also wrote the information panels for each of the spaces.

‘like nothing we’ve ever shown before. The students gave us an exhibition that had an ambitions design and took the visitor on an adventure into their imaginations. We’re so proud of what these children and young people achieved.’

Lisa Gee – Gallery Directory