For lucky young people in London and across the UK, a visit to a local art gallery can often mean a visit to one of the greatest galleries in the world – such as the National Portrait Gallery. The Schools’ Programme at the Gallery, which is supported by Delancey, gets students out of the classroom and face-to-face with portraits representing people past and present. We spoke to Justine McLisky, who is the Head of Young People in the Gallery’s Learning Department, to find out what it’s all about.
First off – can you give us a bit of an overview of National Portrait Gallery’s Schools’ Programme?
The Gallery’s Schools’ Programme considers portraits of people past and present who have contributed to the rich identity of British history, art and culture. Our Key Stage 1 (KS1) – Key Stage 5 (KS5) offer includes gallery tours, practical workshops, resources, study days with guest speakers, and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) opportunities for teachers, including for History, Citizenship, Photography and Art. We work with a pool of teachers and practicing artists to deliver sessions in the gallery spaces and offsite.
The unique nature of our collection – collecting portraits according to the achievement of the sitter portrayed – allows our programmes to tell many stories, including about the impact that key people have had in shaping our nation; the development of portraiture as a genre and its uses through time; and the role that visual language (historic and contemporary) has in communicating issues and ideas. Students and teachers can explore portraiture through a range of ways including as a springboard for lines of enquiry, to support teaching the biography or history of a sitter, exploring skills development, artistic approaches and the relationship between artist and sitter, and to stimulate cross-curricular thinking.
Why do you think that programmes like these are so important to the younger generation?
Our schools programmes foster creative and critical thinking and expression, giving pupils and students the confidence to engage in the world around them. By providing young people with access to arts and heritage, school visits can develop an appreciation of history, art and culture that can last a lifetime. Access to museums and galleries can encourage the artist, curator, gallery-goer and critic of the future. Through critically engaging with our portraits, the stories of the sitters’ lives, and their relevance today, pupils and students question their world and learn about their own identity, British society and their place within it.
Aside from the Young People’s Programmes, what else is going on at the National Portrait Gallery this year?
We have a very exciting exhibition programme planned for 2016. This summer we will host an exhibition of portraits by the American photographer William Eggleston – a pioneer of colour photography, best known for his images of diners, petrol stations and markets in and around Memphis, Tennessee. We’re also very excited about ‘Picasso Portraits’, which opens in October – co-organised with the Museu Picasso, Barcelona, it will be the first major exhibition of portraits by Picasso for twenty years.
What would you say to teachers who are considering introducing classes to the gallery?
We’d tell them that the Gallery provides a welcoming environment for KS1 – KS5 teachers and students. The rich and inspiring gallery environment makes for an enjoyable and engaging learning experience outside of the classroom. We are always keen to hear from teachers about their feedback on programmes or thoughts on new approaches to help shape our offer. We encourage teachers to sign up for our e-bulletins or to follow us on @NPGSchools to find out more and join the conversation.
The gallery also runs a Young People’s Programme dedicated to working with 14 – 21 year olds outside school – can you tell us what can be expected from this programme in 2016?
Our Young People’s Programme engages 14-21 year olds in a range of free artist-led activity on weekends and in school holidays. We develop our programmes with the Gallery’s Youth Forum, a peer-led youth panel who help the Gallery become youth-friendly. We have a packed summer programme planned – young people can drop-in to ‘Pick up a Pencil’ drawing sessions, develop an online guide to portraiture in a five-day intensive course; or participate in artist-led Summer Schools, Taster Sessions, and an evening event just for young people through the ‘BP Portrait Award: Next Generation’ project. Summer events open for bookings from 5 May – see http://www.npg.org.uk/learning/young-people/home.php, follow #BPNextGen or sign up for our regular e-newsletter to stay up to date.
Do you have a personal highlight from your time working at the National Portrait Gallery?
There are many highlights so it’s quite hard to choose! I was really pleased to bring the idea of the first after-hours social event just for young people to the gallery with the ‘BP Portrait Award: Next Generation’ Young People’s Private View. Now in its fourth year, this event features hundreds of young people, artists, competitions, a special menu, mocktails, and a showcase of young musical talent.
And finally – when you’re not at the gallery, where are your other favourite London spots?
Local favourites are soaking up the atmosphere at the Model Market Street Feast pop-up, eating great Vietnamese food in Deptford, and finding vintage treasures at Aladdin’s Cave in Lewisham. Further afield, I love to check out the Barbican for amazing architecture and contemporary art; eat my lunch in the hidden Phoenix Garden in Covent Garden; walk along the canals in Limehouse and Hackney; and listen to live music at various venues or play 7” singles at the Open Decks night at The Barge House in Haggerston.
Thanks to Justine McLisky for helping us to put together this post! For more information about the National Portrait Gallery’s Schools’ and Young People’s Programmes, or about the Gallery in general, head over to their website!