Arts Aloud Interview: Holly Hunter on using the arts to champion children’s rights

Three years ago, the Southbank Centre made a bold decision to use the arts to raise awareness of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; a little-known international treaty that sets a benchmark for the treatment of children in our society.

Arts Aloud spoke to Holly Hunter, Participation Producer for the WHY? What’s Happening for the Young festival, on the key issues to be tackled this year and how families can get involved.

AA: What is the background to the festival?
HH: The festival was the brainchild of artistic director Jude Kelly. She felt that although we might have come a long way from a society where children are seen but not heard, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is still relatively unknown, with far too many rules still not being adhered to. The festival therefore provides an opportunity for policy makers, social workers, families, children of all ages and their schools to immerse themselves in what it means to be a child in today’s society and provide a platform for them to be better represented in relation to political and social issues.

What are the key issues being tackled by this year’s programme?
From a political perspective, the fallout from Brexit and what it means for our children is a big focus for this year, and is likely to feature during MP Stella Creasy’s talk and workshop, devised for 15 to 25 year olds who are keen to find out more about politics.

Virgin Territory tackles the over-sexualisation of our children in the media, whilst interactive performance installation Seen and Not Heard addresses the proliferation of selfie culture in our society. Created and performed by 11-16 year olds, it challenges its peers to consider how their personal information is being accessed, used and shared online.

We hope to explore how global issues impact our children such as the refugee crisis and religious radicalisation and we’ll be hosting a day of talks and workshops for professionals who work with children and young people, supporting them to tackle the growing issue of mental health amongst the young. Specialist contributors include punk poet Brigitte Aphrodite, as well as mindfulness expert Dr Tamara Russell and choreographer Jo Rhodes.

The long-term challenge for WHY? What’s Happening for the Young is how we go on to inspire more young change-makers and activists

How involved are children and young people in the actual creation of content?
We’ve hosted a range of ‘think-ins’ to develop this year’s programme, harnessing input from everyone including Year 10 work experience students to our young ambassadors, visiting local schools and of course those who work with children and young people. Alongside work such as Seen and Not Heard and Layla’s Room which have been created through working with young people, other key elements of the programme have been mapped against the UN Convention to ensure all issues and rights are represented. In additional to this, the WHY? Festival Makers, a group of 12 young people aged 15-21, have also curated a unique afternoon of music chosen to celebrate these rights and inspire social change, leading into an evening event featuring performances from BBC Young Musician of the Year Jess Gillam and dance troupe Zoonation.

Outside of the activities for schools and professional forums, how can visiting families get involved?
Families can take part in a range of activities for all ages this weekend, some paid-for and some completely free including creative dance workshops exploring children’s right to freedom of thought and expression; outdoor games which we’re calling ‘The Big Play’ including the creation of a giant human knot and a mass game of ‘it’ as well as a ‘Big Sing’ workshop. We’re also the brilliant Comedy Club for Kids as well as Pram Jam for the very little ones. 

One of the most important outcomes for the festival is for our children to know they have rights, they have a voice…

What does the future hold for the festival and do the outcomes inform other Southbank Centre festivals?
The long-term challenge for WHY? What’s Happening for the Young is how we go on to inspire more young change-makers and activists. The festival is still in its infancy, but I’d like to see content devised to inspire a wider range of age groups, as well as an extended festival with even more opportunities for children or young people to get involved – whether contributing or performing. This year, young people made up 40% of our contributors, last year this was only 30%, so we’ve already seen an improvement. We hope to see all of our young visitors return to enjoy other festivals, particularly those devised with them in mind, such as Imagine or Strive, however, one of the most important outcomes is for our children to know they have rights, they have a voice. We need them to believe that they can make a difference, even on a local level.


WHY? What’s Happening for the Young runs from the 19th to 23rd October at Southbank Centre.
See website for the full programme, opening times and admission prices.

Navigating Anthony Gormley’s Fit with a trail-blazing 3 year old

White Cube probably isn’t at the top of most family’s go-to list of galleries. Tucked away in a courtyard on trendy Bermondsey Street, this Aladdin’s Cave of an exhibition space has made its name presenting innovative contemporary art, recently showcasing work by British artists such as Gilbert and George and Tracie Emin, as well as major retrospectives by other world-class international artists.

Having not seen much by Anthony Gormley since his work on the forth plinth in Trafalgar Square in 2009, I didn’t want to miss the chance to catch this incredible sculptor at such a humbling and intimate space. Taking the form of a labyrinth, Fit definitely sounded like something we’d be able to enjoy together, and to be honest if it didn’t go well, we weren’t far from Borough Market, More London or even Tate Modern if we needed something more playful.

White Cube is such a striking space, my young companion was captivated as soon as we walked inside. Surprisingly lacking in crazy weekend crowds, we breezed in and grabbed some gallery notes from the super-friendly Front of House team, who (in return) grabbed our buggy and tucked it away somewhere safe.

En route to Gormley’s work, we passed an intriguing sculpture by neighbouring artist Virginia Overton, one of her signature pick-up trucks, symbolic of the American working classes and the prevalence of car culture. My young companion quite rightly commented that it looked like it had been ‘turned inside out’. In fact, it must have twisted her brain ever-so-slightly trying to piece it all back together, as I found it almost impossible to prize her away. Good sign. White Cube had already won her over.

We reached the South Galleries and began to navigate through the work. The space had been cleverly configured in order for you to carve your own path, yet every room contained its own maze-like sculpture, each designed to make you consider your relationship not just with the built environment, but with the city or country that you live in, challenging what it means to ‘fit in’ or be excluded.

Yes, there were definitely some tricky sculptures; some that she was keen to sit on and others that she wanted to crawl under, however, the majority of work is of such scale that there was always something new to distract her, as well as plenty more suitable work to meander amongst. At her height, she soon found that the work actually took on an even stronger sense of purpose, crouching down low to peer through spaces and teetering on tiptoes for towering structures. Although I had to work extra hard to keep her from wandering straight through the Sleeping Field (2016), I am sure that she wasn’t the only visitor to feel its incredible draw.

The crowning glory of the exhibition is Passage (2016), a 12 meter long tunnel in the shape of a human silhouette, offering a journey into darkness and the unknown. We queued for (surprisingly) not more than about 10 minutes. With neither of us being firm fans of dark small spaces, this gave us ample time to prepare, discussing our strategy of escape in the event we didn’t enjoy it. With the support of the visitor team and our queueing compadres, we braved it together, walking in hand-in-hand. We did only get to the halfway point before turning back, but certainly far enough to experience the incredible acoustics, and not too far to freak out, or disappear forever.

We left to encouraging smiles, which meant instead of feeling like we had copped out, we were proud of our own memorable interaction and our own unique challenge through exploring Gormley’s work together.

If you’re clever enough to find the exit, before you head for the door, definitely stop off in the North Galleries for a peek at the rest of Virginia Overton’s show. As well as her large-scale mirrored installation room created from a host of reclaimed materials, her cosy (and real-working) wood-burning stove fills the space with warmth and provides a timely point to sit down and take stock. With my little boo in tow, we sat for all of five minutes before it awakened our urge to head off in search of hot chocolate. Now primed to navigate our way through the Saturday-brunching hipsters, that’s exactly what we did.

Fit is at White Cube until 6th November 2016
144-153 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3TQ
Tuesday to Saturday 10am-6pm, Sunday 12-6pm
Admission Free