Young Gallery for under-18s is in the frame

A new gallery dedicated to the work of children aims to draw a community into the arts. Pauline Diamond reports

Pauline Diamond

At first glance, the Young Gallery looks like any other contemporary art gallery. A clean, white space flooded with natural light and filled with original, modern works of art. In one corner a table is laid out with fruit cocktails and plates of bite-sized nibbles. A price list is discreetly available for potential buyers. So far, so normal.

On closer inspection, though, certain details begin to emerge. Name tags next to the paintings reveal their creators' surprisingly young ages. The fruit cocktails are alcohol-free and the nibbles are Tunnock's teacakes and lollies. Welcome to a new kind of gallery and the first in Scotland dedicated to the work of under-18s.

The gallery is run by Impact Arts, a community arts organisation based in the east end of Glasgow. It is a high-quality, aspirational place where children and their families can celebrate their artistic achievements.

With recent figures suggesting that four in 10 children in the UK have never visited an art gallery, the Young Gallery has been conceived and designed with young people at its heart.

Community artist Liz Shepherd works with primary and secondary schools to help them prepare artworks to exhibit at the gallery.

"We usually find that in the schools we work with about half the class won't have visited a gallery before," she says. "We want to make this gallery feel like a place for kids, a friendly place where they can pop in after school. We want to bring families into galleries and let young people see galleries as welcoming places to explore. We want to open up a new world to young people really."

Today the gallery is buzzing as it is hosting the opening of a new exhibition produced by P6 pupils from local primary St Denis'.

The children spent four weeks working with Liz Shepherd and her team to produce a range of work inspired by the pop artists of the 1960s. "The class was already doing a project on the 1960s, so their teacher asked me to come up with a theme that would fit in with this topic," Ms Shepherd says.

She and the team from Impact Arts ran twice-weekly workshops at St Denis' to help the pupils prepare for the exhibition. Using paint, vinyl, wood and papier mache, they made striking two- and three-dimensional artworks, some featuring their favourite pop stars and actors. The results are impressive, fun, colourful and highly professional.

"One of the aims of the project is to do something that schools are not already doing," says Ms Shepherd. "So we bring in materials that the kids haven't worked with before and introduce them to new techniques and to new artists and styles of art that they haven't encountered in school. We also talk to the kids about being an artist. We want to help them think about art in a new way."

It's not just the pupils who have benefited from the project. Class teacher Yvonne Bec welcomed the opportunity to learn more about art and the chance to develop new skills.

"Art is not my area of expertise," she explains. "I signed up to the project because I liked the idea of an artist bringing their expertise into the classroom. Over the course of the four weeks, I picked up a lot of techniques and skills that I can now use in the classroom and that I'll continue to use with future classes."

St Denis' spent a total of 16 hours in workshops with Impact Arts. "There was no time during the workshops for the class to switch off or to misbehave," says Mrs Bec. "They were just totally absorbed in what they were doing. They are a class of 30 and are quite a high-energy group. They need to be kept busy so this worked brilliantly."

Ms Shepherd split the class into small groups of three and four pupils. "Art isn't much fun if you are struggling on your own and don't feel very good at drawing or colouring," she says. "Working in small groups means the kids can share the tasks and skills involved and they don't have to do something if they don't feel particularly good at it."

But over the course of the four weeks the class noticeably grew in confidence. "It was amazing to see the children develop in confidence as they practised new skills," says Mrs Bec. "Especially the girls. Some of them told me at the beginning that they didn't feel they were very `artistic', so it was great to see their confidence grow. Seeing their work in the gallery will boost that even more."

The kids from St Denis' are certainly making themselves at home in the gallery. Some of their parents have popped in to have a look as have some neighbours and other interested passers-by.

"It feels amazing to see what we made in the gallery," says Talia Webb, 10, as she explains how she and two friends made a multicoloured "op art" piece, using vinyl and wood.

"I have been to a gallery before, but I want to go to others now and do more art now," says Talia's co-creator Carragh Wilson, 11.

As the children head back to school they only have one question for Mrs Bec: "Can we do this again in P7?"

In the picture

The Young Gallery on 112 Sword Street, Dennistoun, Glasgow, is open from 12-5pm, Tuesday to Saturday.

Community artists work with nurseries, primary and secondary schools to produce art to be exhibited at the gallery.

Techniques and materials may include printmaking, model making, large- scale work, photography, sculpture, work on canvas and wood.

Schools are supplied with the required materials.

Proceeds from sales of artwork in the gallery are returned to the schools involved to be spent on art materials.


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Pauline Diamond

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