In community learning, for practitioners I’d suggest there comes a moment when the decade you were educated in comes into sharp focus with the present. A dizzying self-realisation and shift of time when you compare a formative decade in your own life to now. That for me came recently working with my amazing colleague Angelica Vanasse at the Walker Gallery.
Together we have written a teachers / educators PHSE pack (personal, social, and health education). It’s a rich document that was a joy to write, covering aspects in young people’s learning such as equality, diversity, empathy and judgement. It carries with it a series of self-guided activities educators can do in the exhibition “Coming out – Sexuality, Gender and Identity ” that use some of the nation’s finest contemporary art as reference points.
As a resource of 2017 / 18, it’s a strong narrative on inclusion and chimes well with the crucial conversations we need to be having in galleries. Developments in youth culture such as trans awareness, non-binary positivity, and the realisation of millennial social changes mean we have a new generation finding their community online and in person. Galleries in my view are the perfect place to realise this – one foot in the past, a responsive present and the chance for audiences to shape its future.
Can we tell everyone’s story? Arguably not. Can we start a positive conversation? Absolutely.
It was during writing the pack with my talented colleague that I started to muse on my own secondary education in the 90’s. This artwork was out there, waiting for me. Yet the opportunity never arrived – the shy teen that I was never found the bridge of accessibility to a positive force of change. Considering identity and inclusion in a safe space using some of the country’s most beloved pieces of art? A treat for adult me never mind the teenage version of myself. It simply didn’t factor for me then that art education could enrich my personal development and identity.
The minefield of identity was challenging enough I found in the 90’s with the rapid shifts in culture. Considering todays sociology and proliferation of media surely its more relevant than ever for young people to be considering subjects like empathy and judgement. These can be daunting and challenging subjects for adults, never mind KS2 students. Should we fear the conversation happening? Not for a second.
My advice as an arts educator would be to -
- Firstly consider what you want or need to discuss with students. Exhibitions can be broken down into smaller topics and you can cheery pick the artworks to support this. Diversity for example can be explored by making personal choices about artworks and making your own storyline in the exhibition
- Secondly consider safeguarding, what do you consider suitable for them to see? Again galleries are great sources for learning as working with staff you can pre select works based on the learning needs of your group
- Thirdly, there is no right or wrong way to see art – let the associations or opinions flow and use that conversation
- Finally and most importantly for me, don’t underestimate students capacity to engage with artworks. A great piece of art and a cool teacher will be remembered for a long time, what learning associations can you make with it?
Educators in this region have access to ground-breaking pieces here from artists such as: Warhol, Sarah Lucas, Grayson Perry, David Hockney, Francis Bacon, Steve McQueen, Maud Sulter, Keith Vaughan, John Walter and Vanley Burke.
I’m hosting a special educators preview of the exhibition, fancy a cuppa and joining me? See artworks in advance of the gallery launch, share best practice on how to use potentially sensitive artworks in learning, and meet other educators at this networking event.
This session is open to a wide range of educators – teachers, HE tutors, Home Educators, Cultural Learning Professionals or artist passionate about gallery learning. The event takes place on Friday 1st December, 4.30pm to 6pm and is free, no booking required.
Feel free to drop me a line or request a pack: Jonathan.Sleigh@birminghammuseums.org.uk
Image: India Gate from the series ‘Exiles’ by Sunil Gupta, 1986-1987. Text with image: Even if you have a lover you should get married and have children. Who would look after you in your old age? © Sunil Gupta courtesy sepiaEYE