The intention: To raise awareness of art history as a discipline and encourage students to consider applying for the subject at degree level
The locations: New College Nottingham (NCN): An FE college in the centre of the historic Lace Market area and Creative Quarter of Nottingham that offers History of Art A Level and has a widening participation partnership with the Courtauld Institute. Nottingham Contemporary: A new and cutting edge gallery with generous and flexible exhibition space, currently hosting the Arts Council touring exhibition: “Somewhat Abstract”.
The organisers and deliverers: The Courtauld Insitute of Art’s Oak Foundation Young People’s Co-ordinator Meghan Goodeve & Alice Odin and Gallery Educator Helen Higgins, and Dr Lucy Bradnock from the University of Nottingham.
The Schools: NCN, Redhill Academy, and South Wold Academy
We were excited and apprehensive in equal measure: would the students materialise in sufficient numbers to make the event a success for The Courtauld and University of Nottingham staff who had kindly given their time and effort to make this event happen? If students did come, would they enjoy the experience and enhance their understanding and interest in art history? Would lunch appear on time? In the end it all went swimmingly – which all goes to prove that it’s better to be a Tigger than an Eyore, as all things tend to turn out well in the end. Around 50 students and 4 staff attended plus the 3 Courtauld staff members and Dr Lucy Bradnock from the University of Nottingham.
A variety of short talks and student activities kept a lively pace throughout the day and time just flew past. All the students were eager to participate and contributed freely to both open discussions and group activities. Their responses were excellent with mature, thought provoking and original ideas being generated. Perhaps a highlight of the morning session based in the lecture hall of the historic Adams Building at NCN was the curatorial group activity of planning and creating a gallery space to display a self-selected theme from a choice of images from The Courtauld Gallery’s collection. The results were diverse and imaginative, ranging from a focus on sophisticated themes through to actual 3D models of the envisaged gallery space and another focused on thoughts as to the use of lighting and positioning of works that promised an installation work in its own right!
Suddenly it was lunchtime and NCN provided a generous spread of sandwiches and fresh fruit, so generous that there was still plenty left over at the end – even with a room full of hungry teenagers! After lunch the whole group walked the short distance down the road to Nottingham Contemporary, moving from the imposing brick and stone grandeur of Adams to the geometric, cantilevered, utilitarian exterior of the gallery that has been nicknamed by some locals ‘the chicken shed’. Appearances, as we all know can be deceptive and once inside the gallery space students were excited by the size and diverse contents of the current exhibition that ranges through 4 large interconnected spaces. The day continued with activities centred on experiencing works of art face-to-face and evaluating curatorial decisions. The current exhibition Somewhat Abstract displays a wide diversity of art works across all mediums and drawn from a chronological range from early 20th century to contemporary; some easily recognisable: a Francis Bacon Screaming Pope “Head VI”, a Barbara Hepworth abstract sculpture, several Bridget Riley, Frank Auerbachs & Walter Sickerts, a Rachael Whiteread; others less familiar and equally intriguing – something for everyone and everyone found something that excited them. So much so that students were reluctant to leave when the final summary and feedback session were delivered in the cavernous and atmospheric setting of Nottingham Contemporary’s The Space.
By the end of the day all participants appeared tired but also content. Feedback from students revealed that they felt it had all been worthwhile and that they had gained a valuable insight into the challenges, attractions, skill sets and employability offered by art history, while the teachers of the participating schools were very enthusiastic and declared that they would be eager to take part in any future activities. The Courtauld team and Lucy looked exhausted, but they were very positive and felt that their efforts had been well rewarded by the enthusiasm and quality of responses from the students – so well done all and a special thanks to Meghan, Alice, Helen and Lucy for making such a herculean effort to organise and deliver the event – bravo and y’all come back real soon!
(Photos: AP Smith Pictures http://www.apsmithpictures.com/)