An Invitation to Play

In late October 2013 our Clore Art Studio opened to the public. It was developed with artists Michiko Fujii, Katy McCall and Sarah Marsh and the family learning team here at the Gallery. We are interested in how to create an environment in a central gallery space, where children can be truly creative. We decided to focus on three main themes drawn from our exhibition of Grayson Perry tapestries in the adjoining room: colour, continuous line and domestic objects.

We had lots of conversations about what creativity would look or feel like, what factors help to support it and what our role as artists and educators is in developing it. We often talked about whether the Clore Art Studio is an artwork or a play space and the difference between the two. We all agreed that it would be an experimental process and that we would play, observe, chat to parents and children and tweak things as we went along. It’s been a process of discovery and one I thought might be interesting to share.

We started with a bank canvas, observing how children interacted  with the colourful ribbons, sponges, teapots and lampshades in the space. Most children were happy to get stuck in, arranging, building, sorting and stacking, but we noticed that some parents held back and seemed unsure about what they were supposed to do. When the space was facilitated by volunteers or artists this wasn’t such a problem as they could smile, say hello and make suggestions. We did notice that when it was unsupervised some families passed through, without stopping. It was as if they didn’t understand that this was a hands on space and were unsure about what they were ‘supposed’ to do.

The introduction of film footage of children playing in the space seemed to give people permission to start playing. I observed that people watched the film for 15 or 20 seconds or so and then started to play, without necessarily referring back to it. Likewise the words ‘same, different, stack, wrap’ etc that we scattered around the room, helped provide starting points, for those people who needed it. Perhaps we underestimated how exposed people feel in this central gallery compared to the education studios which are tucked away at the bottom of the building.

Another key factor was the introduction of music. We bought a record player and a selection of records so that children or parents could choose their own music. This seemed to alter the atmosphere, making it more informal. We noticed that families seemed more likely to play when the music was on.

We also decided to introduce different materials and textures, wooden spoons, metal household objects like kettles and big pieces of coloured fabric to create increased sensory variety. We’ve noticed that these new materials have changed the play…wooden spoons have become drumsticks and the fabric has led to more enclosures and den play. The more varied textures have been particularly great for 0-2s who have enjoyed feeling, tapping and sucking these different objects.  

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