Curating the Classroom

31 January 2019


In our latest blog, Collection Assistant, Emii Alrai, reports from the recent Arts Council Collection Curators’ Day, Curating the Classroom. The event, which featured presentations from a range of UK arts organisations, including Hepworth Wakefield, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery and Art UK, to explore an array of innovative approaches to arts education projects.


Curating The Classroom brought together a range of arts engagement specialists, teachers and gallery professionals to discuss the intricacies, legacies and challenges of arts education at a time when arts education is consistently cut in the school curriculum. The day kicked off with a welcome from Natalie Walton, Arts Council Collection’s Learning and Outreach Manager, who asked the audience to reflect on a personal and pivotal experience with art. This would become a thread throughout the day, returned to by each presentation.

Natalie’s introduction was followed by a keynote presentation led by Nicola Freeman, Director of Learning and Engagement, and Victoria Boome, Senior Learning Manager, at The Hepworth Wakefield. Nicola introduced the School Prints campaign, an initiative inspired by the 1940s scheme to make art accessible. Brenda and Derek Rawnsley made printed reproductions of works from their collection to increase access and understanding. The Hepworth Wakefield commissioned 6 artists - Martin Creed, Jeremy Deller, Anthea Hamilton, Haroon Mirza, Helen Marten and Rose Wylie - to create limited edition prints. These prints were then reproduced and distributed to 6 partner pilot schools across Wakefield to enhance the curriculum, supported by a dedicated CPD programme for teachers.


Victoria Boome also introduced The Hepworth Wakefield’s collaboration with a local partner school, Cathedral Academy, and its feeder primary schools. Using the School Prints as a catalyst, gallery staff and artists supported the school to develop an Arts Ambassadors programme, with 10 students having the opportunity to work with the gallery to develop an exhibition, presenting their work alongside the School Prints. The Ambassadors took ownership of the exhibition advising on interpretation, layout (including hanging the works at child-height), writing the labels and hosting the private view. The Ambassadors also visited the feeder primary schools to support the artists’ delivery of the School Prints workshops.


At the curators day an Arts Ambassador from Cathedral Academy read an inspiring text she had written about her experience of the project: “Art should be part of learning because it pushes you past what you can see.” She also reflected on how a lack of arts education in schools forces students to “abandon their dreams and go back to their monotonous routine”.

The Arts Council Collection : Curating the Classroom
The Arts Council Collection : Curating the Classroom

Jon Sleigh from Birmingham Museums and Galleries and Lezli Howarth from Chandos Primary School discussed their recent collaboration using work from the Arts Council Collection as their starting point. The project involved Chandos Primary securing the long-term loan of an ACC artwork, which would influence and inform various areas of the curriculum. Lezli stated that the project took a year to develop, and required substantial community and teacher involvement and ‘eventually a piece of artwork installed on a wall in Chandos’. From a shortlist of works, the whole school community voted, a process which led to the selection of Michael Ayrton’s painting, Entrance to a Wood (1945). The work was installed at Chandos Primary  in October for a four-year loan.

Through sustained CPD, teachers developed a range of lessons around the painting. Lezli explained how wonderful the experience had been for the children and for parents. A series of very popular printing workshops enabled parents and children to work together, sharing skills and building confidence. Jon described how, through sustained engagement, the art work has become an important part of the school and a source of pride. Jon feels that this model could be extended to further support art activity and education in primary schools.

Laura Woodfield, Learning and Engagement Manager at Art UK, described an ambitious three-year project to digitise and create a comprehensive record of all publicly-owned sculpture in the UK. The project aims to transform and educate the public about the UK’s sculptural heritage and to make collections more accessible. An associated engagement programme has enabled museums and galleries to lend sculptures to schools across the UK for one day. It is hoped that 125 loans will take place from June 2018 to May 2020. The first project saw Point X (1965) by Philip King be loaned from the Arts Council Collection to Pinders Primary School in Wakefield for one day. Year 3 acted as ambassadors, visiting Longside Gallery, meeting staff, and learning about the Collection. The Year 3s selected Point X for their school. They also helped introduce the work to other students and  to run sculpture-related activities. Subsequent projects have included a collaboration with the Government Art Collection, whereby David Batchelor’s Walldella VI went on loan to a primary school in Peckham: Batchelor visited the school and worked with teachers and students. Art UK are hoping to continue regional partnerships through ACC and Yorkshire Sculpture International as a means to continue sculptural engagement with schools in the surrounding areas.

The Arts Council Collection : Curating the Classroom
The Arts Council Collection : Curating the Classroom

Following an interesting video shown by the National Gallery on their long term engagement project Take One Picture, Natalie Walton (Arts Council Collection) and Mandy Barrett (Gomersal Primary School) reflected on their recent collaboration. The collaboration was driven by a desire to introduce pupils to the range of opportunities available in the art world. To introduce pupils to the profession, a trip was organised to Longside Gallery, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, for a guided tour of the Arts Council Collection’s touring exhibition, Kaleidoscope, and an introduction to the Collection. Pupils were invited to interview staff and see the inner workings of a large arts organisation. Prior to the visit, Gomersal Primary students had worked with Mandy to co-produce learning resources for Kaleidoscope. They went on to establish the Gomersal Primary Arts Council (GPAC) to raise funds to improve the Art Department, and to further integrate art across the curriculum. GPAC were invited to Westminster recently to speak to MPs about the diminishing arts curriculum and to explain how they have benefitted from a more creative education. Mandy stated that ‘the curriculum can be really boring if you don’t have creativity there’ and that the support from Arts Council Collection had been phenomenal in broadening opportunities for pupils to engage with art at school.

The Curators' Day concluded with a lively panel discussion bringing together all of the speakers and chaired by Anne-Louise Quinton, a freelance arts education consultant and former teacher. Anne-Louise reflected on the many positive outcomes shared across the day, stating that they solidify the case for increased arts engagement between schools and arts organisations. Some of the questions pondered how arts education involves ‘luck of the draw’ at times, with many children excluded from such rich and invested projects. Others noted the prevailing focus on younger pupils, rather than teenagers. However, the development of sustained engagement projects between schools and arts organisations marks progress: with the hope of increased activity leading to increased funding opportunities. Anne-Louise ended the session by returning to the question of the day, adding a point of reflection for delegates: ‘What was your first experience of art, and how can we continue to provide our students with those first experiences?’.


Find out more about Arts Council Collection Curators' Days.

The Arts Council Collection : Curating the Classroom

The Arts Council Collection is the UK's most widely seen collection of modern and contemporary art.

With more than 8,000 works by over 2,000 artists, it can be seen in exhibitions and public displays across the country and beyond. This website offers unprecedented access to the Collection, and information about each work can be found on this site.