Captivating Spaces was a 'Culture Babies' conference at the Whitworh Gallery, Manchester in 2016.
As consultant for Manchester Art Gallery's Family Learning programme from 2014 - 2016, I was invited to talk about our Clore Art Studio family learning space.
CultureBabies conference at The Whitworth
We are proud to have a space in the heart of Manchester Art Gallery, dedicated to Family Learning. Our free, monthly under 5’s sessions (Baby Art Club and Mini Art Club), regularly use the space as a starting point for their journeys of exploration and our ever popular holiday programme for ages 0-11 has found a home in the Clore Art Studio over the past 12 months.
It’s a large space, with changing galleries on either side and is accessible by stairs and lifts. It is open 7 days a week 10-5pm
In 2013, in line with our learning philosophy, we made the decision to move away from the fixed, push-button interactivity, and to focus attention on creating an environment that was open-ended, playful, immersive and supported creative learning.
Trying something new…
It was a challenge to move away from the familiar and some of our regular visitors resisted the changes to a space they felt comfortable and confident in, but the last 10 years of family workshops and activities in the Clore Interactive Gallery had given us extensive experience into how families learn in and interact with our exhibitions and collections. The aim was to use this to create a new Clore Art Studio, a research space where new ideas could be trialled and developed. Referencing Reggio Emillia approach, we wanted the Clore Art Studio to be acknowledged as the ‘third teacher’.
The first Clore Art Studio was inspired by Grayson Perry’s tapestries, we pulled three threads of investigation from them;
The continuous swirling line, vibrant colour palette and the humble, everyday objects.
We wanted to create a space that was open ended and supported creative play, so invited a group of Yr 1 children into the gallery for a week of workshops so we could research how they interacted with various interventions.
It was suggested by an evaluation team from MMU that the Clore Art Studio is in itself a ‘pedagogical masterpiece’ because it plays with a number of dualities including: body/mind; familiar/strange; real/imaginary; private space/public space.
They added that the Clore Art Studio gives, “a sort of permission to play, to feel that there is a space where there are possibilities and where we are not going to tell them what to think and do”.
Shaping the space…
In 2014, The Clore Art Studio was redesigned by myself, Sarah Marsh and Jessica Wild, as practicing artists with complimentary disciplines and as Freelance Artists overseeing the Family Learning programme at Manchester Art Gallery. The redesign of the Clore became embedded in our own creative practices and it’s legacy continues to develop and grow. Both Jess and I see the Clore Art Studio as an ongoing project. As artists we draw on our personal experiences to inspire new ideas and dynamic ways of working, this keeps it interesting for us and innovating for the families that engage with it.
Although the space is primarily for families, over the last 18 months we have had Architects take over the space, MMU students use it as a 3D sketchbook, home schoolers use it as a meeting point, as well as Support Networks for parents.
During October workshops we had a day of live music from Yoga teacher Szilvia and her tibetan singing bowls and giant gong! And most recently we noted that fathers who work in the city are meeting their partners and babies in the Clore Art Studio as a way of spending some quality family time during their lunch breaks!
During the development and planning stages of Pattern, our response to the House Proud exhibition, we worked closely with the curators, discussing ideas, interpretations and generally thinking creatively together, these meetings shaped and honed our ideas and led to a fluid and holistic link between the exhibition and the Clore Art Studio. Families could find connections through materials, textures, colours, shapes and forms. These created a language of meaning for our early years visitors and they were able to connect to the exhibition on a deeper level.
We selected the theme of Pattern from the exhibition as our tool of exploration, breaking it down into 3 themes of Colour, Shape, Repeat and selecting a strong, connecting colour palette and material choice.
Saddled with this information, we asked ourselves the question; How many ways can we explore pattern in this space?
To a creative thinker, this question may seem rather simple, but as the Clore Art Studio is on occasion an un-manned space and we are located in the heart of the gallery, there are a number of challenges; no wet materials, no scissors etc.
These challenges became positive aspects to our planning and supported us to continuously develop and shift our thinking creatively.
With a main focus on ‘Play’, we split the space into 4 key areas:
Inspire, explore, create and develop….
These areas have evolved during its installation, nods to other exhibitions have inspired changes. As Jess and I’s confidence within the space grows, so do our ideas and experimental risks. We have fun with the space, and I think this can be felt when you are in there.
Pattern has been a huge success story for the gallery, our numbers of visitors to the space continues to grow and we have been able to follow this wider-reaching success story on social media platforms such as Instagram. During Pattern we added large vinyl hashtags to the space #MAGfamilies and this has supported the personal touch we are nurturing with our visitors. Recently a group of mums and babies came up from London to use the the Clore Art Studio and we were able to comment on their visit and to personally invite them back to our new space in February.
Our next install is on the horizon, and the Clore Art Studio is now closed for it's makeover. Inspired by upcoming exhibition, The Imitation Game, we are exploring the theme of Transformations through sensory, imaginary and creative play. We are inviting families to explore the space and all the different ways you can transform yourself in it.
We are keeping a similar layout and adding new materials and ideas. The new space opens on Saturday 13 Feb at 10am.
The Clore Art Studio is now at the heart of our Family Learning Programme and has become a promotional tool as well as a learning and playful one. Our sensory based workshop Open Doors, for children with Autism is based in the space and is informing the way we work and widening the access for all families in the gallery.
Here are some quotes from families and professionals about the Clore Art Studio
'It was the interactive aspects of the space that interested me, the ability to shape and change the areas but for the outcome always to remain illusive in terms of depiction.
The division into loosely defined zones helped me in the activities I was looking to create.
This way the space remains 'open' as a visitor spectacle...we cannot 'know' the space or make quick assumptions. In this way it remains a space that invites curious minds.'
Ian Whadcock, Senior Lecturer on the BA(Hons) Illustration with Animation
Manchester School of Art
My baby is able to roam around and explore lots of exciting things
My son is autistic, I have never seen him so happy, drawing free flow and listening to the music, what a fantastic idea.
eye catching, educational, intriguing
'How brilliant to have a space this is primarily directed at children and their creativity'
'A fascinating opportunity to learn more about what my daughter likes to do'
She didn't want to leave
‘Better than Reggio Emillia’ says an Italian parent with 3 children