Félicie Kertudo tells how she visited the South London Gallery to find out more about how it involves the local community in a range of inclusive projects.
Education and outreach projects hold an increasingly important place on the agenda for art galleries, helping to break boundaries and challenge elitism. South London Gallery (SLG), a contemporary art gallery in Camberwell, is regarded by many as a successful model that we could all learn a lot from. I wanted to find out what it currently does and how its new space that opens next year – the former Peckham Road Fire Station – will further support its community activities.
I met Jack James, Residents’ Programme Manager and Katie Reynolds, Education & Community Co-ordinator, who both have a working ethos of opening up access to the arts and integrating local communities.
The gallery works alongside three different estates on Open Plan, a long-term education project with residents. A flyer found in the gallery offers more information about ‘YOUR WORDS’, a project in which artist Jessie Brennan invites residents to share their experiences and take part in a discussion that ensures everyone has a voice within the gallery.
Schools and children are also at the core of the outreach programme. Every Sunday, children and their families are invited to the ‘The Sunday Spot’, where they enjoy free creative activities led by artists. SLG also developed the ‘Shop of Possibilities’, described as a ‘social space for play’ for residents in a former retail outlet on the neighbouring Sceaux Gardens housing estate.
In August this is to be replaced by ‘Art Block’, a new project providing a space for local children and families to make things, be creative and play.
‘Art Assassins’ is another initiative for young people from the local community. A group of young people with an interest in the arts gather once a week to discuss and put on projects related to the gallery’s exhibition programme. In mid-June, they organised an event called ‘Dot Dot Dot’ with a former artist-in-residence, Alicia Reyes McNamara.
Art Assassins is also working alongside other art organisations in the area, most recently Bosse & Baum, a contemporary art gallery located on Peckham Rye. The inclusivity is total – they don’t leave the local communities at the periphery of the art gallery.
I was surprised by the lack of information available online about the SLG’s outreach programmes. I found it hard to find pictures of its events, but the gallery aims to highlight and celebrate their community projects and learning programme online with a new image-led website. After meeting Jack and Katie I understood that their primary aim is to forge long term relationships and trust, and engaging people in person is key to the success of their projects.
SLG continually develops projects adapted to older people’s needs, focusing on inclusion and access, and is currently working with nearby Southwark Pensioners Centre. It organises private tours of its shows for those interested and hopes that, with the opening of the Fire Station it will have more space to organise such projects..
Next year it will be opening up its archives, which could be a great way to involve local older people, as the archive material mostly relates to the gallery’s surroundings and the history of the adjacent boroughs, Camberwell and Peckham.
SLG is also inclusive for people with disabilities. Katie is currently working on ‘Making Routes’, a two-year project involving disabled and non-disabled artists, giving them the chance to develop their practices in a stimulating environment.
I had the chance to take part in an event called ‘Madhouse’ with Dayo Koleosho, an artist with a learning disability. I arrived a bit early and took the opportunity to visit one of the neighbouring estates, Sceaux Gardens, and the gallery’s garden designed by Gabriel Orozco. I found some information on Sceaux Gardens, as well as invitations for residents to have tea at the gallery.
I went into ‘Madhouse’ with a group of young children with disabilities, who had attended a workshop run by Katie and others before going in to the performance. The show was immersive and playful, but carried a strong message: “Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not able to do something.” It resonated deeply.
These sorts of inclusive projects should not be seen as a marketing tool or an emerging trend in arts management. Cultural organisations should certainly implement some market-directed directives to fulfil a broader goal of inclusivity, but fundraising, consultancy, data-collecting and other marketing tools must be combined to create more cohesive projects.
There is a widening gap between the art world and the other layers in society, but I believe South London Gallery has successfully reduced that gap to a minimum - and other arts organisations could learn a lot from it.
Félicie Kertudo is an arts manager based in London and an alumni of King’s College London. This article is part of a partnership between ArtsProfesional and the College.