As part of my role at Fabrica I was sent off to Norwich last week with Ratna, the Gallery Manager, to visit the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Art (SCVA for short), which is located on the University of East Anglia campus. The SCVA is one of Fabrica’s partners on the Time and Place European-funded project. We were going in particular to meet Nell Croose Myhill and Becca Sturgess, who work on the education team at SCVA, and to get an insight into their work.
As neither Ratna or I had been to the SCVA before the first thing we did was investigate the gallery itself – it was completely different from my expectations, and not like the typical ‘white cube’ gallery. The building is large and feels like an aircraft hangar in some ways. But within this huge structure the artworks are displayed in quite an intimate way. Part of the gallery is called the ‘Living Area’, and works are clustered together in smaller groupings so that the space is not too overwhelming.
Over the course of our two-day visit we sat in on two schools workshops and a Young Associates session in the education room, and accompanied volunteer guides as they took smaller school groups on tours of the gallery.
All the volunteer guides have to attend a training course over two terms and pass an exam before they are qualified to work in the gallery. This is a demanding process, especially as they are working voluntarily, but it means that they know the collection really well. The depth of their knowledge was evident when I accompanied a schools tour of the gallery. There were eight ten-year olds in my group, and the guide started by asking the children what they were interested in – this was really good as it immediately involved them and asked them to be active participants in the tour. They answered that they were interested in Art! After some probing the guide ascertained that they wanted to see some paintings, so we headed off to find a work by Francis Bacon. From there we hopped to other works, including contemporary sculpture, ancient artefacts, prints and paintings, either led by the guide or by the children themselves as different artworks caught their attention. The group was small enough that if anyone (guide, teacher, child or me) asked a question everyone had a chance to answer. It was a really enjoyable way of exploring the gallery and I think the children were really engaged because they were directing what we looked at.
The workshops took place in the Education Room, which is a dedicated space below the main exhibition area. The first workshop was a session focusing on the Aztecs – including a handling session of some Aztec artefacts form the collection, followed by making plasticine characters that the children would take back to school. Here are some photos from the sessions.