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A major UK-wide mass participation art project aims to rekindle the curiosity and imagination of school-age children with the rich offerings of museums, as Jo Paton Htay explains. 

Charles Frederick Tunnicliffe, Green, Gold and Dunn, late 1960s, Nature in Art, Art Funded 2006

Estate of C.F. Tunnicliffe

The Great Escape is a new initiative from Art Fund, inviting museums, galleries and historic houses to host workshops for primary school children, and to contribute to a UK-wide work of art by a generation of young people. The work will be a demonstration of their vision for the biodiversity of our landscape, to be launched with activities for everyone on Earth Day 2023. 

It’s a new programme for us, building on our work helping museums and galleries recover from the impact of the pandemic.

In Art Fund's recent survey, museum directors put schools, young people and their families as the top priority in rebuilding audiences post-pandemic. The Great Escape is just one of our responses to this challenge, creating a high-profile UK-wide project that celebrates museums at the centre of their communities, inspiring the next generation.  

Addressing urgent issues together

Many of us are thinking about biodiversity loss in the UK and the important role that culture can play in supporting positive change. We want The Great Escape to contribute to a big and hopeful vision.

The idea behind it is simple. Young people aged 8-11 are invited to find a work of art or exhibit in a museum, gallery or historic house that features any form of living creature in the UK - bird, badger or butterfly. They are then asked to look at it carefully, learn about its habitat and imagine it escaping from the frame, springing to life and returning to its natural habitat. There will also be activities for organisations without collections, and for free-to-access open sites. 

We’re focusing on nature, studying the creatures that live in our local habitats, making tangible connections to what is within walking distance be that in a collection or art gallery, at school, at home or in a nearby open space. The workshops will take whatever direction museums choose with their programmes and collections.  

Together with a number of museums, we are creating central resources to get everyone started, using storytelling and creativity to explore curriculum topics such as habitats, humanities and the climate crisis, and thinking about how collective action can make change.  

Connecting with primary schools and communities

The project starts in primary schools with workshops in October 2022 and spring 2023 building to a public festival across all participating organisations during Easter and culminating in a UK-wide event over the Earth Day weekend 22-23 April 2023.

The Great Escape will amplify the brilliant work already happening in museums and galleries as demonstrated in Art Fund Museum of the Year which shines a light on the wealth of activity taking place across the UK. The 2022 Museum of the Year shortlist is a clear example of the remarkable ingenuity and creativity of museums' work with young people, imaginatively responding to their interests. 

The Great Escape will focus and enhance museums' learning and engagement work and it will also be a driver for museums to make new connections with primary schools. The lesson and workshop plans can be edited locally, delivered with Art Fund support to engage artists and creative practitioners. 

High profile partners, ambitious scale

We are collaborating with high-profile partners in and outside of the cultural sector – we’ll be announcing more about that soon. The human impact on our planet, and the impact of Covid on our schools, teachers and young people are challenges on a scale that require us all to work together, find common ground to share ideas, expertise and resources. 

Alongside our wider grant-giving programme, The Great Escape aims to expand networks and create partnerships that contribute to the sustainability of what we do. 

Easy and effective participation

We know from our research and sector surveys that time, resource and energy are understandably low, both in schools and museums. This project is designed to enable easy and effective participation, evolving in response to what organisations are doing and what museums have told us is needed.

We are thrilled that so many have already signed up for what will be a hugely exciting way for all of us to combine efforts to celebrate the curiosity and imagination of schoolchildren with the rich and varied offerings of museums. 

If you’ve already signed up, thank you. If you’d like to know more about some exciting announcements coming up at the end of July, please register your interest. You’ll get regular emails and invitations to join our monthly online workshops, as well as share your ideas and suggestions.  

Register your interest here.

Jo Paton Htay is Project Director at Art Fund.

This article, sponsored and contributed by Art Fund, is part of a series sharing information and expertise to support museums and galleries to recover from the pandemic and develop audiences for the future.

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