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Can Schoolkids Curate Exhibitions?

Could the curators of your next exhibition be in the classrooms of your local schools? The Harley Gallery recently partnered with 3 local schools to create the ultimate school project. Students between the ages of 5 and 16 were invited to curate an exhibition from start to finish. All decisions were made by the students, with the gallery staff there for guidance.

Voyage of Discovery

The process started with asking the school children to pick artworks from the Jerwood Collection for the exhibition. A dot sticker method was used to ensure all students received a vote. The artworks that received the most votes were picked for the shortlist.

With the shortlist selected, gallery staff ran a number of workshops to guide the students through interpreting the artwork. The large range of ages meant that the interpretation exercises needed to be tailored to make them age-appropriate. Primary school children were taken through exercises that asked them to imagine crash landing in the artwork as space explorers and to write a report for mission control about the new planet they discovered. In another workshop, the primary students were asked to engage in storytelling to explain what is happening in the art piece and why the artist had chosen to capture the scene.

The older students were asked to write short text analysing how the artwork made them feel and what they found interesting about the piece. They were coached by the gallery director on how to turn these written analyses into labels. Many of these students were GCSE art students, so we wanted to provide a hands-on experience so they could understand the workings of a gallery.

Exhibition Design

Once they had interpreted all of the pieces, the GCSE students visited the gallery to meet Harley Gallery’s exhibition consultant. The students were invited to consider the journey of the visitor throughout the exhibition. What did they want the visitors to experience? What did they want them to think about? What message did they hope to communicate?

When designing the exhibition, the students decided to create a journey for the Voyage of Discovery and give it a clear beginning, middle, and end. To plan the exhibition, gallery staff provided students with gallery floor plans and to-scale printouts of the artwork.

Gallery staff and external freelance designers helped the students bring their vision to life, but the decision-making was all down to the students. These support roles were to provide advice or implement the installation based on the students’ brief.

The students were also tasked with writing the information panels to communicate the theme and message of each section of the journey. These information panels asked visitors to tap into their life experiences when viewing the artworks. They communicated the different stages of exploring a new path and the challenges one would face along the way.

The Voyages of Discovery exhibition was a raving success. Gallery visitors appreciated the new perspective on art and life. They were able to view things through the eyes of a child as they walked through the gallery.

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