A Resources special: the arts - A gallery that puts pupils in the frame

8th February 2013 at 00:00
At Eltham College, a space for modern and contemporary art has opened up a world of creative possibilities, writes Elinor Brass

After Gerald Moore attended Eltham College in the 1930s, he went on to train as a doctor, specialising in oral surgery. He became a successful author, opened a wildlife park and set up a car museum at his home in Sussex.

Now in his eighties, Moore has also been a prolific painter all his life. He was eager to leave a legacy for young people, so he funded a purpose-built gallery for modern and contemporary art at his old school.

It is now almost a year since the Gerald Moore Gallery opened at Eltham College in South London. The two-storey glass and brick building beautifully showcases contemporary art exhibitions and provides cross-curricular learning opportunities for Eltham pupils and children who attend other schools in the local community.

The main hall houses temporary exhibitions - for example, pieces from artist in residence Andrew Gillespie - while a large upper gallery shows Moore's own work. Then there is a "college" gallery for smaller temporary exhibitions and a workshop for practical art classes.

We at the gallery wanted to celebrate creativity; to provide time and space for experimentation with materials and ideas; and to encourage creative action and critical thinking. It was important that we presented strong collections, such as the exhibition of Joan Miro lithographs that ends tomorrow. But we also spent time developing a pedagogical framework for the programme.

We worked alongside teachers of design and technology, economics, business studies, English, French, Spanish, geography, history, music and maths to establish some exciting cross- curricular projects.

Last term, the school commissioned and exhibited an installation of precise steel structures by sculptor Laurence Kavanagh, which created a wealth of learning opportunities across the curriculum. Entitled April, and based on the 1957 novel La Jalousie (Jealousy) by Alain Robbe-Grillet, the installation aimed to reflect the measured nature of Robbe-Grillet's writing and to encourage creativity among pupils.

After studying the Gothic literary genre in English, some lower-school pupils used the installation to inspire their own ghost stories. Year 10 GCSE music pupils, on the other hand, found inspiration for a composition that explored Robbe- Grillet's themes of jealousy and obsession. Meanwhile, in a five-week project, maths pupils studied Kavanagh's planning and model-making techniques to learn about the practical uses of scale and ratio.

And, ahead of the opening of the Ships of Stone: The Islands of Mervyn Peake exhibition in March, the geography department and two Year 9 groups have begun looking at how artists are inspired by the land and issues such as global warming. The pupils have found it hugely enjoyable and, as one said, "It has shown a whole new side to geography." All the children are keen to take part in a similar project again.

Bringing out the best in pupils

In fact, the uses for the gallery appear almost endless. Sixth-form art pupils have been offered real-world learning opportunities. Lower-sixth business pupils carried out market research on visitors, art classes and the cafe, gathering accurate data to help stimulate ideas about future concepts and uses for the space. Then there is the community service project, in which lower-sixth pupils have become "teachers" of art to young pupils from a local primary school.

The gallery's location within a school moulds our entire education programme, particularly how we work with other schools. Since September last year, almost 500 young people from local colleges and schools have spent time in the gallery working on various projects. After discussions with other local teachers, we now offer diverse, tailor-made learning opportunities to external teachers and pupils.

Over this academic year, every class will spend a day in the gallery taking part in activities that involve looking at and discussing the current exhibition, but also using the workshop and art materials to make pieces of their own. This programme introduces a new skill, such as printmaking and sculpture, in each workshop. A different practical project is set for each class, and visiting primary school teachers are also learning a new process that they can use to widen art opportunities at their own schools.

One local teacher, who took part in a workshop for gifted and talented GCSE pupils, found the experience invaluable and believed that it had "brought out the best in our pupils".

Most recently, we established a programme of evening classes and events including life drawing, general art skills, art appreciation and new craft courses. We also want to support teachers through the South London Network of Artist Teachers, which has been set up at the school. Participating teachers have told us they find these courses "brilliant and inspiring", which is more than we could ever have wished for when we accepted Moore's donation.

Indeed, the gallery has connected the school even more fully with the local community. And at a time when creative subjects are being marginalised in the curriculum and arts funding has been cut across the board, such an unusual project has never been more important.

Elinor Brass is director of the Gerald Moore Gallery and head of art at Eltham College. Find out more at www.geraldmooregallery.org or www.eltham-college.org.uk

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