Sites of Curiosity: Can young people be architects of their own communities?

During 2018’s successful Young Visiting Artists project Modern Art Oxford worked with over 40 young people aged 6-11 in collaboration with Children Heard and Seen, a charity supporting children who are impacted by parental imprisonment. Young Visiting Artists engages young people in projects and experiences to encourage confidence and participation in art galleries. Inspired by key observations of the group over the past year, Sites of Curiosity, the title of the summer project, will take inspiration from the built environment with a focus on mobile architecture. Below Lead Artist Emma Titcombe answers three introductory questions about this summer’s exciting activity.

What are you most excited about at the start of the Sites of Curiosity project? 

It’s exciting to be continuing our work with Children Heard and Seen and this project celebrates our relationship with them, having been developed specifically for their group of young visiting artists. It’s based on a year of research, observing them during the sessions and exploring new ideas such as child-led den building and testing out different art projects based upon exhibitions at Modern Art Oxford. The project looks at how they learn and develops an idea that celebrates the way they play that wraps around them like an ‘architectural blanket.’  Building ‘spaces’ are great for encouraging children’s imaginations and reinforces their sense of self. It’s been said that, ‘The den is the child’s sense of self being born.’ We all have memories of play and we’re looking forward to starting a dialogue with the public about this through the young people’s work. 

What do you hope that the young people will learn and experience throughout the project? 

A project like this is so important as it enables young people to be treated as professional creatives.  We have a junior comms branch whereby the young artists are up in the galleries interviewing the public and taking photos for our communications department. There are young people working on projects looking at safe spaces for visitors with ASD from our work experience programme and we’ve even had work showcased by John Lewis last year. The Mobile Architecture project is really interesting as it will give young people hands on experience of what it’s like to work on a professional project and a chance to really explore actual 3D making projects, scaling up from the size of a sugar cube to creating full working models by looking at really inspiring projects from around the world that are imagining solutions and problem solving community issues such as safe spaces. Can young people be architects of their own community? The answer to that is a resounding, yes.

Why do you think this kind of project is important for young artists? 

There’s nothing more life affirming than young people expressing themselves and gaining confidence. Hopefully its sowing the seed for a future working in the creative industries, being creative in their communities and becoming changemakers.  We’ve had young people at Modern Art Oxford who have taken part in projects and then gone on to study art at school, then art college before embarking on their degrees and settling into their artistic practice. At the start of one project at the gallery I promised a young person that I’d go to their graduation. About 5 years later I received an email and found myself travelling up to Edinburgh University to watch them collect their First. It’s always exciting to watch young artists as their career develops! 

Emma Titcombe is a Social Practice Artist and Founder/Director of Art Doctors. Her projects and residencies focus on creating engagement, events and creative interventions that connect art + people + place, often with a particular emphasis on health and wellbeing and using art as a methodology or pedagogy for community building. Emma is currently working on a new joint commission for The Children’s Hospital at The John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford.

Previous collaborations and projects include: Tate, Modern Art Oxford, MIND, The Ashmolean, BBC Horizon, English Heritage, Open Engagement, The Museum of Oxford, Children’s Social Care, The Highfield Unit, REOC, Creative Partnerships, Arts Emergency, The Early Intervention Service, The Big Draw, The Project Room, Crisis, Lankelly Chase, Central Saint Martins and The Photographers Gallery with funding awards from Arts Council England, The British Council, Oxford Community Foundation, SEEDA, Oxford City Council, European Social Fund and Oxfordshire County Council.

Children Heard and Seen are current recipients of The Queens Award 2019 and The Butler Trust Commendation 2019. The Queens Award is the highest award given to volunteer groups across the UK for exceptional service within their communities, for making a positive impact on the lives of others. It is nationally recognized as the MBE for community work. The Butler Trust recognises, celebrates, develops and disseminates outstanding work and best practice across UK prisons, probation and youth justice systems.

Read more about Children Heard and Seen here.

Discover more about Learning at Modern Art Oxford here.

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