Bringing art collections to life to engage diverse young audiences

Bringing art collections to life to engage diverse young audiences

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BY: Guest Writer
08 Jul 2024

To continue our celebration of arts and cultural organisations on the blog in July, Gill Simmons, Co-Artistic Director at Trinity Champion Centre, Brave Bold Drama tells us about their partnership with Bristol Museum and Art Gallery and how, through their company’s ‘alter ego’, The Company of International Artists, they have encouraged children and young people to engage with museum and gallery collections whilst also achieving Arts Award Discover. 

The Company of International Artists is a (fictional) top secret global creative agency, with creative agents (children) all over the world who are highly skilled at spotting interesting ideas hiding in art and creating amazing new art themselves.

It’s a multi-faceted project by award-winning theatre and community arts company Brave Bold Drama that began in 2020. Initially developed as a way to bring theatricality and creativity to children living in poverty during the pandemic, the project now includes two playable theatre shows, an international postal subscription service and numerous commissions from museums and art galleries.

The core message of The Company of International Artists is that art history and art making are for everyone, and the flamboyant and eccentric central characters of Agents Kahlo and Dali (played by co-artistic directors Gill Simmons and Paul Lawless) are proving to be a potent way of animating art collections for new audiences.

Art history has for centuries been coded as the preserve of the elite. Brave Bold Drama, a working class and LGBTQI+ led organisation, developed The Company of International Artists as a direct challenge to this attitude, and is unashamedly reclaiming the art world as something for everyone.

Working in partnership

Bristol Museum & Art Gallery have warmly embraced Agents Kahlo and Dali, commissioning two projects that support young people to engage with the building’s incredible art collection.

The first commission was from the museum education department. The team there were already delivering Arts Award Discover in a Day for visiting primary schools, and asked Brave Bold Drama to design a new schema to refresh their programme that museum staff and volunteers would be able to facilitate without the actors needing to be present in person.

The result is a short film featuring the characters of Agents Kahlo and Dali that was shot in a single day when the museum was closed, a facilitator’s pack for the adults, and a simply-worded guidance sheet for the children (or ‘creative agents’) to help them think differently about the artworks in the museum’s art collections.

The film, which can be played and paused as required in the museum’s education room, leads creative agents through a range of activities that meet the Arts Award Discover criteria.

For Part A (Discover) the children investigate at least two different artforms and participate in at least one arts activity. The children are invited to find three different artworks in the museum and art gallery; from oil painting to ceramics to sculpture, taking time to notice what interests them about each artwork, before heading back to the museum’s education room to create new art inspired by the art they’ve investigated.

The children need to find out about at least one artist and their work for Part B (Find out). The names of the artists and the titles of the artworks they are looking at are clearly signposted for the children. This means the children can name the artists and the artwork they have been inspired by, showing they have undertaken simple research about the art. Once back in the education room, supporting adults help the children search for additional artworks by the same artist, or information about the artists themselves, which further fulfils this criteria.

Part C requires the children to share with others what they enjoyed and learnt through the award, and they can share their artwork too. We organise a timed and facilitated discussion between two children (or between a child and a supporting adult) where each child gets to talk about another child’s artwork, and then listen to what other children like about their own artwork.

Giving choice to encourage comparative thinking

The museum team specified they wanted this Arts Award to focus on art inspired by the natural world. Brave Bold Drama were keen to include space for children to be able to make active creative choices about their artistic preferences, so two initial ‘pathways ’ are offered: ‘Amazing Animals’ or ‘Wonderful World’. ‘Amazing Animals’ encourages children to find artwork featuring animals of any kind, real or imagined. ‘Wonderful World’ encourages children to find artwork that features elements of a natural landscape. This element of choice continues throughout creative agents’ journey through the museum as the Arts Award course encourages them to find two or three artworks  connected to their chosen theme or ‘pathway’, in a range of mediums on display. By investigating two or three artworks instead of just one, this encourages children’s comparative and connective thinking.

Having investigated art in the museum galleries, children return to the education room to be shown a video of Agents Kahlo and Dali encouraging them to respond to what they’ve seen by creating their own artwork (Part A), and to find out more about the artists they have been investigating (Part B). The benefit of encouraging the children to compare and contrast artworks in the galleries is clearly seen in the resulting artwork created by the children, as they often create art that is an interesting hybrid of several styles or themes.

A facilitated discussion where the agents team up and talk together about their artwork (Part C) rounds off the creative mission and enables them to complete Arts Award Discover.

Engaging families

The second commission from Bristol Museum & Art Gallery was for the Company of International Artists to produce three more short films (or 'Creative Missions') and accompanying handouts to encourage families to engage more deeply with the art collection.

Significantly, these Creative Missions can be enjoyed and completed even if families are unable to access the museum in person. This was a deliberate choice by both the museum and Brave Bold Drama, as there are many reasons why people may not be able to access a museum and art gallery. These free Creative Missions are a small step towards inviting people to feel part of a cultural building even if they aren’t there in person.

Brave Bold Drama warmly invites anyone interested in doing Arts Award Discover to consider using these free resources to support their delivery. Each Creative Mission has a different theme, invites children to explore three different artworks and supports them to make creative responses to the art they’ve seen by offering a range of creative prompts in different media including drama, creative writing and visual arts. 

You need to be a registered Arts Award centre to facilitate Arts Award courses, but for centres to use these digital resources to support delivery of Arts Award Discover, they would simply need to:

1: Look through the three themed Creative Missions, which include:

Art featuring Travel
Art featuring Nature
Art featuring Families

2: Select at least two different artworks featured in any of these missions that use different creative mediums, and encourage the children to follow the prompts in the creative mission to create a response to the artworks they’ve investigated (Discover Part A).

3: Show the children the films which feature brief snippets of art history and biographical information about the artists, and support the children to undertake further simple research online or in books to find additional artworks or more biographical information about the artists they are investigating (Discover Part B).

4: There is the option to share photos of the children’s finished artwork with the Company of International Artists, so they can be posted on their social media channels, along with some positive and encouraging feedback from Agents Kahlo and Dali. This would contribute towards evidence for Discover Part C (Share). Please note Brave Bold Drama can only share photographs featuring artwork, and children are encouraged to adopt a pseudonym ‘Creative Agent’ name.

Please visit the Company of International Artists website for more information about their wider offer.

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