Affordable Arts Activities for Half Term in London

Half term is fast approaching, and if you’ve been unorganised, don’t panic and throw away a fortune on last minute fun. Whether you’re visiting London, or lucky enough to live here, look to the arts and you’ll always find plenty going on. Here I gift you, Arts Aloud’s definitive list of inspirational activities, without the city price-tag.

Affordable Art

London is currently awash with fabulously free, family friendly art, much of which we have road-tested and given a big thumbs up! On the South Bank, it’s easy to while away a whole morning in the ever-reliable Tate Modern. Soak up the immersive acoustics and flying objects of Philippe Parreno’s Anywhen in the Turbine Hall (Reopens 10th Feb, Sun-Thur 10am-6pm, Sat & Sun 10am-10pm, Free) or interact with the best of new art in The Tanks. Plus don’t miss their BP Family Festival (11th & 12th Feb, Free) offering even more in the way of play, performance, sound and dance. Meanwhile, north Londoners should be privileged that the magnificent Passage/s installation by Do Ho Suh is currently on their doorstep at Victoria Miro, and visitors to artsdepot won’t even need to ward-off little fingers, as artist Yuen-Ying Lam invites interaction with all works in her latest exhibition To Hold and Be Held (12th to 18th Feb, Daily, see website for opening hours). If you made it to our recommendation at the Barbican a few weeks back, you’ll love the current 7-part performance art installation by Sonia Boyce: We move in her way at the ICA (Tues-Sun 11am-6pm, £1 Day Membership). Staying central, it’s your final chance to don some 3D glasses and get lost in the mesmerising digital art of Lucy Raven at Serpentine Gallery (until 12th Feb, Tues-Sun 10am-6pm, Free).

Thrifty Theatre

When is opera ever free? Hardly ever. So make haste and kick-off half term in the East End, with Ulla’s Odyssey at Rich Mix, a nautical adventure which follows fourteen year old Ulla in her attempt to sail the world single-handed (12th Feb, 2pm, Free but ticketed, age 7+). The performance is preceded by an interactive workshop, giving kids a chance to sing and speak out (12.30pm, Free but ticketed). Half term also brings about a rare chance for families to enjoy a ‘taster’ of brand new children’s theatre in Theatre in the Pound at The Cockpit Theatre (14th & 15th Feb, 12-3pm, £1). Performances contain three, 15 minute shows and range from puppetry and opera, to Shakespeare, with a chance to have your say at the end. Alternatively, if you’re looking for theatre in a slightly more historical setting, grab the opportunity to introduce kids to the magical Wilton’s Music Hall. For a short run only, the equally magical (yet slightly more stupendous) Morgan & West’s Utterly Spectacular Magic Show For Kids (and childish grown-ups) promises brain boggling illusion and lots of crazy capers, not forgetting a whole lot of magic! (16th & 17th Feb, 11.45am, tickets from £5, age 5+).

Fabulously Frugal Festivals

What do you mean you’ve never heard of Imagine Children’s Festival? You must have been asleep for the last 3 months, I’ve been writing about it since November. Back at our beloved Southbank Centre, the pinnacle of the children’s arts calendar arrives in the form of a 10 day extravaganza of theatre, dance, literature, spoken word, workshops and installations. Yes, the big-ticket productions are pricey, but more than 50% of the programme is now free, with highlights this year including a free pedal-powered screening of The Little Mermaid with prizes for the best underwater-themed costumes and a free bedtime story in the Clore Ballroom to close each day of the festival. Also on a mission to use the arts to inspire kids, is SMASHfest, a festival dedicated to all things STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths). The festival runs the entire week of half term at The Albany Theatre and Deptford Lounge, and features something every day, from comedy and variety shows, to interactive installations, experiments and film, many of which are ‘pay what you can’, or absolutely free.

Penniless Poetry

If the hustle and bustle of the Imagine Children’s Festival gets too much, then the serenity of the Saison Poetry Library is a brilliant place to escape, offering a chance to rest and peruse Britain’s most comprehensive collection of poetry. Prefer the words to come to you? Well there’s currently an interesting reinvention of work by Philip Larkin, some created entirely from Neon by artist DJ Roberts (Tues-Sun 11am-8pm, Free). For those who enjoy crafting their own poetic prose, Sara Hirsch will be hosting two drop-in workshops (15th Feb, 10.30am-12.30pm and 1-3pm, Free) at the Museum of London, inviting your input into a poem about the Great Fire of London, with a performance of the final draft at 4pm the same day.

**DISCLAIMER**Information and availability correct at time of publishing. Arts Aloud can not take any responsibility for scheduling changes or missed performances. Please check in advance of visit to avoid disappointment. Happy half term xx 

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Arts Aloud Review: The Magic Paintbrush

For their latest outing Springs Dance Company, the contemporary dance company known for their unique yet accessible productions, have taken a Chinese folk tale and not just brought it up to date, but thrown it firmly into the future.

The story is somewhat Orwellian in nature. Set in a time where the finer things in life are gone, and only a culture of relentless work, greed and big business remain, we’re met with an eerily misty set, dominated by scaffolding and bursting with searchlights looking for slackers. Amongst the grey, we find a little girl (Emily Young) who refused to be brought down. Her dance and play echoes of lost times, and leads her into a chance meeting with a magical man (Charles Washington), who gifts her a paint brush, to transform the world she lives in, for her and those around her. Before long we learn that the paintbrush also has a mind of its own, and even when challenged, it is unwavering in its mission to spread only wonder and good.

The choreography by Darren Ellis is most definitely the star of the show here, contributing to brilliant storytelling and working hard to hold the attention of our young viewers, even when the soundtrack and the muted pingu-style dialogue become a bit monotonous. Although the dream sequences give rise to some beautiful shadow puppetry, for little ones, however, the production was ever so slightly let down by the confusing mix of over-simplified dialogue brought together with quite grown up staging, leaving the production lacking in real colour and slightly at odds with its age-billing.

That said, for those visitors fooled by the old-fashioned title, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by this very futuristic production, a story which captures some timelessly important messages for our children; real magic only happens when you focus on what’s important in life, placing value on friendships, shared ideals and the beauty of human kindness.

ArtsAloud enjoyed The Magic Paintbrush at artsdepot on 30th October on a complimentary ticket.
The production is now touring the UK. See website for dates and details of venues near you

5 family-friendly picks for an arty autumn

As the holidays draw to a close, we’ve loved our busy summer of pavilions, summer houses and South American art, but we can’t believe how many things are still sitting on our list, unseen! Where did the weeks go? With just a few days before we all get back on the hamster wheel, let’s get the calendar out and show some commitment!

Here’s 5 good reasons to love the onset of the autumn in the arts…

Neon: The Charged Line at The Grundy Art Gallery
Included as a statement of intent – not just to ensure that at least one of my highlights lie beyond the M25, but also to give myself (and any other Blackpool virgins) a very good reason to visit. Autumn is illumination time in Blackpool and if you loved last winter’s Luminere, combine the lights with this fabulous free exhibition which explores how artists have used neon and celebrates Blackpool’s pioneering role in the history of neon in the UK.
Neon: The Charged Line runs until Saturday 7th January 2017, admission free.
Illuminations scheduled daily until Sunday 6th November 2016. 

London Design Festival 
Last year we were surprised and delighted at how family-friendly the London Design Festival turned out to be and this year’s line up promises to be bigger and better. Showcasing the best efforts of London’s design world, there are over 400 events and installations taking place at venues across the capital including the Barbican, the V&A and various London neighbourhoods. The Green Room, an interactive installation by Glithert (supported by luxury watch maker Panerai) is set to be one of the big-hitters, inviting visitors to pass through the veil of colourful strings, suspended within a busy V&A stairwell. Running concurrently at Somerset House is the London Design Biennale 2016, which will be bringing 40 countries from around the world to London to present installations around the theme of ‘Utopia by Design’.
London Design Festival runs from 17th to 25th September 2016. See website for venue details and to plan your visit

Fun Palaces weekend
Originally the brainchild of theatre director Joan Littlewood and Architect Cedric Price, Fun Palaces were devised to inspire local communities to get together and celebrate art and science in ways that are both locally relevant and promote civic pride. This year’s programme features over 150 Fun Palaces up and down the country – from Wigan to Witham and beyond, and include a host of drop-in workshops, exhibitions, experiments, games and collaborations.
Fun Palaces runs 1st and 2nd October. See website to find participating venues in your local area. 

London Literature Festival 
In my recent interview with Southbank Centre’s Head of Festival Programme, Tamsin Ace we discussed their vision of making more superheroes of authors – enter the London Literature Festival. Taking on the mammoth task of exploring what role writers can play in making sense of the world that we live in, as well as exploring what lies beyond and in the future. There are quite a few family-friendly highlights (depending on the age of your children) but one of the few for a younger audience is the first ever Tongue Fu For Kids.  Set to improvised musical backing, this hour-long show sees leading storytellers and spoken word artists take their turn to use the power of live literature in order to reflect on the future. Past guests include Kate Tempest, Robin Ince and Beardyman.
Tongue Fu For Kids is at the Royal Festival Hall (Spirit Level) on Saturday 8th October at 2pm, admission £8
Suitable for 7 – 10 year olds, Booking advised. 

Picasso Portraits
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” Never has this beautiful quote by the man himself rang truer than when my eldest daughter did a portrait of herself about a year ago. Not only did it look a lot like her, but it bore a striking resemblance to the style of Picasso! I’m sure most families containing enthusiastic scribblers can boast a Jackson Pollock or two, but a Picasso? She of course had no idea who Picasso was at the time, but she does now, I’m pretty confident that the accessibility of Picasso’s cubist era in particular, is sure to strike a chord with other young visitors through jagged edges, wonky eyes, strange shapes and imperfections. Promising over 80 works, including some of his earlier realist pieces drawn from life, this is a rare opportunity to bring kids face to face with one of the world’s most influential artists, and more importantly to let them feel at home in the company of art produced with honesty, expression and emotion.
Picasso Portraits is at the National Portrait Gallery from 6th October 2016 to 5th February 2017. Admission £17 Adults (without donation). Children under 12 are free. See website for opening times and to book tickets

School’s Out: 6 arts activities here for the whole summer

Can you believe we’re a week into the school holidays already? If like us, you’re suffering a severe lack of forward planning and the dates of your desired fun aren’t quite matching up, here’s 6 arts activities that you can enjoy pretty much anytime over the next few weeks and beyond. Perfect for odd days, dog days and down days…

Southbank Centre’s Festival of Love

Belvedere Rd, London SE1 8XX
Until 29th August 2016
Admission Free (Fees apply to specific shows)
Aside from ticketed family shows on offer such as Air Play or nearby London Wonderground’s Jungle Book, there are still plenty of free activities for the drop-in visitor to enjoy. This year Jeppe Hein (creator of the magnificent water installation Appearing Rooms) has devised some artistic reinventions of the park bench. In the spirit of the festival, Modified Social Benches challenges the amount of space that people feel necessary to set between themselves and others when sitting and aims to make the art of sitting a more cosy (or conscious) exercise. As well as his glorious fountains, these unusual benches will be on-site for the whole of the summer, along with the ever-popular riverfront beach and of course the opportunity for little ones to marvel at the world-famous skatepark and spectacular street art that skirts this, one of London’s finest promenades.

Edinburgh Fringe 
Various venues across Edinburgh
5th August to 29th August 2016
See website for details of admission fees
It’s little more than a week to go until the largest arts festival in the world takes over the Scottish capital and this year’s family programme seems bigger, broader and better than ever. But just because you don’t live in Edinburgh or have plans to travel up for the festival, it doesn’t mean that you have to miss out on all that’s on offer. Famed for being a test-bed for new artistic talent, so many of the fantastic shows featuring as part of the programme can be found touring the rest of the UK – either before or after their Edinburgh stint. Check in with your local theatre to see what’s new in August and beyond. Due in London from the end of August, Upswing’s Bedtime Stories, for example, is sure to be one of Edinburgh’s best summer exports!


The BFG Dream Jars Trail 

Various locations across London 
Until 31st August 2016
Admission Free
It wouldn’t be summer without a charity art trail now would it? We never tire of these trails as a fantastic way to explore London, entertain the kids and raise awareness of some very worthy charities. This summer, as Steven Spielberg’s magnificent cinematic production graces our screens, an accompanying Dream Jar Trail is taking over the city – bringing to life the dream stories of well-known celebrities and artists, through the ‘splendiferous’ sculptures contained in every one of the 50 jars. There are 4 different trails to follow, taking in some of the most interesting areas of town and at the end of the summer the jars will be auctioned off to raise money for Save the Children, as well as Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity.

Serpentine Pavilion and Summer Houses
Serpentine Galleries, Kensington Gardens, London W2 3XA
Until 9th October 2016
Admission Free
The annual Serpentine Pavilion arrived in Kensington Gardens last month, this year featuring four magnificent Summer House friends. This year’s commissions contain the work of architects who have yet to build a permanent building here in the UK and visitors can enjoy their unusual offer of shade for the entire summer holiday and long into the autumn. Find out more about our recent visit. The galleries are also hosting a family weekend on 20th August.

The Playground Project
Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, South Shore Road, Gateshead NE8 3BA
Until 30th October 2016
Admission Free
Like most of the UK’s major arts institutions, Baltic is continuing its regular family programme over the holidays but this summer’s must-see exhibition steps outside the comfort zone of these controlled activities. Celebrating a bygone era of children’s playgrounds which until the 1980’s provided an opportunity to explore away from watchful eyes, the centrepiece of The Playground Project is the now (almost) defunked Lozziwurm. Designed in the 1970s by Swiss sculptor Yvan Pestalozzi, this tangle of pipes reinstates the freedoms originally intended by architects and urban designers before an army of risk averse authorities took over, and by doing so poses some serious questions about how far today’s health and safety precautions are stifling our children’s ability to take risks.

London Bridge City Summer Festival 
More London Riverside complex between London Bridge & Tower Bridge
Until 31st October 2016
Admission Free
It might have started under the damp squib of June’s relentless rain, but this free festival is back this year bigger and longer than before. Aside from the grown up activities of an evening, there are plenty of public participation activities such as Massaoke – the live band singalong sensation, a Jitter-Bug competition and a plethora of live new music to enjoy, especially during the Rio Olympics in August. Running concurrently is Revealed 2016, a summer-long series of art installations across the area, which launches with free performances, workshops and music in Potters Fields Park. Don’t miss the family day on Saturday 30th July which includes a host of circus performances and craft activities.

New Switch House turns on a more family-friendly Tate

It’s been 12 long years since Tate Modern trustees agreed a new extension to the building, following unprecedented visitor numbers since its opening in 2000. Finally, new Tate Modern complete with its magnificent Switch House extension (designed by Herzog & de Meuron), opens to the public on Friday, yet Arts Aloud was lucky enough to get a cheeky sneak preview for you yesterday.

“But we all loved old Tate Modern!” I hear you say. Very true. So what should we expect from new Tate Modern? Well it’s even more family friendly for a start – music to my ears. Here’s how:

Even more space 

The new Switch House extension has increased the size of Tate Modern by 60%. More space means less stress for visiting parents, (big tick), but the increased space has also transformed the gallery into a variety of exciting new spaces, all designed to bring about more experiential and performance art (which we know are a firm favourite with fidgety younger visitors).

The Wow factor

Right at the top of the new 10-storey Switch House is a free viewing platform with 360 degree views across London, offering uninterrupted views of The Shard, St Paul’s Cathedral, The Walkie-Talkie building, a huge stretch of The Thames. You name it, it’s in this picture-postcard. A brilliant first lesson in London’s fabulous skyline for budding architects.

The Turbine Hall takes centre-stage

Aside from being the space where those visiting with children can take a breather, the Turbine Hall has always been the main event space. Expect to find even more unusual events and encounters here, such as the choral celebration of Tate Modern by 500 people from over 20 choirs this weekend. The addition of the neighbouring ‘Tanks’ at the base of the Switch House makes for a subterranean wonderland dedicated to live art, installation and film.

Galleries, collections and artist rooms

As well as the usual free collections which have been re-hung across the two sites, there are galleries and artist rooms to die for! Galleries with giant spiders (Level 4 – Louise Bourgeois), galleries with beaches and live parrots (Level 3 – Hélio Oiticica), galleries with suspended walk-through pavilions (Level 2 – Cristina Iglesias) and even galleries with real beds! (Level 2 – Ricardo Basbaum). There is also the new Start Gallery – a dedicated space for families and young people offering an introduction to modern and contemporary art. Personally, I was expecting more from this space in which even well-known favourites such as Henri Matisse felt a bit flat. If you weren’t old enough to do the activities and didn’t have a teacher or guide in tow, i’m pretty sure most children would be in and out in five minutes. It is, however, rescued by a brilliant installation by Olafur Eliasson which better supports Tate’s mission to bring art to life for a wider audience.

Have your say at the Tate Exchange 

Generously, the entire 5th floor of the Switch House has been given over to this ‘open experiment’ which will invite over 50 organisations to participate in Tate Modern’s creative process through events and on-site projects. Organisations will range from charities to universities, healthcare trusts and radio stations but all with a view to using art as a way of addressing wider issues in the world and creating a drop-in space for you to share your two-penneth’s worth.

And if this isn’t enough, the gallery is sticking two additional family ‘stakes’ in the ground! Firstly they are inviting 3000 school children from across the UK to preview on Thursday with Bob and Roberta Smith, then they are allowing children and families to completely take over this weekend (18th and 19th June), with choreographer Aya Kobayashi and sound artist Dan Scott encouraging visitors to explore using unique audio soundtracks. There’s also a range of pick-up activities and daily activities and make & do’s such as Paper Aesthetics; a chance to create your own mini model of the new Switch House building, adding to a growing collection over the course of each day.

Without a doubt, new Tate Modern is absolutely magnificent, an assault on the senses and an emporium of arts fun in the broadest sense. It is worth stressing, however, that although the space is very much now the domain of immersive and experiential art forms, there are still some areas where you will need to exercise caution. In the galleries for example, not all of the exhibits are well-marked by restrictive lines (such as Bourgeois’ giant spider) yet you absolutely can’t walk through or under this piece. Confusingly in the neighbouring gallery the suspended pavilion is fair game. This swap and change between ‘come and play’ and ‘stay away’ can make it a nervy navigation for parents, so check in with every gallery attendant on the rules of engagement before you play.

With such a huge space to navigate and lots of impromptu bits going on, you will also need to plan your visit carefully. Tate’s website is comprehensive, but isn’t great for search, so take some time to peruse the £1 map and if you can pick up the handy opening weekend guide (found in Time Out yesterday) then hold onto it tight! One thing is for sure – whether you randomly potter or mission-tick each gallery, new Tate Modern is sure to be an even bigger day out than it ever was before.

 

New Tate Modern opens to the public on Friday 17th June (10am-10pm) followed by an opening weekend of events and activities. 

Bankside, London SE1 9TG

Admission free, although featured exhibitions carry a charge

See website for details and performance times

To infinity and beyond: Kusama is proving a firm favourite for families

Having driven us dotty with her giant obliteration room in Tate Modern 4 years ago, Yayoi Kusama has chosen to keep things a little more intimate for her latest exhibition which opened last week at the Victoria Miro gallery.

If you’re after colourful paintings abound with eyes, faces and other abstractions, then it’s the Mayfair site you’re after. We were keen, however, to rekindle our romance with pumpkins, having previously fallen in love with their big bronze brothers.

We had to (excitedly) ring the bell to gain entry to the cosy Wharf Road site. Leaving our buggy folded in the small gift shop within Gallery I (where original Kusama ‘souvenirs’ start at £10 for a badge) we headed upstairs starting with the brand new pint-sized and perfectly polished bronze pumpkins. So cute you could just want to collect them up and cuddle them (but please advise against it).

Here we explored the first of three mirrored rooms created especially for this exhibition. For 30 seconds we were treated to infinite black and yellow pumpkins extending from the small space, leaving us desperate to stay for longer and wander the fields and paths that emerged between them.

Back down on the ground floor, a minute in the Chandelier of Grief room provided an odd sensation of falling through the floor, yet my eldest seemed more concerned about our entrapment, than the dazzling lights surrounding us. We steadied ourselves and headed outside into the pretty garden.

The garden – now seemingly extended by the mirrored exterior of Where the Lights in My Heart Go, has been home to Kusama’s Narcissus Garden for some time, yet now this sparkly sensation contributes to throwing light into the holes of infinity room number three, creating a universe of twinkly stars, bursting through a clear night sky.

Our last stop was to follow the staggering staircase up to Gallery II (there is a lift if you need it), home to a host of magnificent infinity nets – canvases which capture the artist’s continued obsession with multiplying dots. Blown away by the detail, my youngest stood uncomfortably close. The gallery attendant was unusually relaxed, but I was keen for her to view it from a greater distance, especially given the work was apparently reminiscent of Kusama’s childhood hallucinations. What better excuse to move her on than to reach the beautifully humble Pumpkin canvas at the end. A fantastic spot to plop down with a scrap of paper or a sketch book and pay homage to Kusama’s lifelong love through her very own work of art.

Although this current exhibition lacks the scale of the original Tate show, its subject and presentation certainly feels right at home in this unpretentious neighbourhood gallery. It’s high impact, it’s bitesize and unbelievably, it’s free – providing a winning combination for visiting families liable to bail at any time. It’s unsurprising that the team at Wharf Road might feel slightly unprepared for the attention they have been receiving from family visitors. Yes, there is no on-site cafe or baby changing facilities, and no step-free access to the upper-tier of Gallery I, but the relaxed expanse of space and friendly team are going out of their way to ensure families enjoy the work of this world class artist, from the infinity rooms and beyond.

Yayoi Kusama is on at all 3 Victoria Miro galleries until 30th July 2016
Open Tues- Saturday 10am-6pm, closed on Sunday, by appointment only on Monday.
Nearest tube Angel or Old Street (note: neither have lift access)
See website for gallery locations
Admission free

Last chance to see: DAS INSTITUT @SerpentineUK

In spite of her morbid obsession with Halloween (meaning the celebration lives on year-round in our house), nothing creeps a pre-schooler out more than a dark room. Add in strange lights and images of weird creatures and you have some of the ingredients which make DAS INSTITUT at Serpentine Sackler Gallery a surprising and exhilarating visit for little ones.

Featuring individual as well as collaborative works by Kerstin Brätsch and Adele Röder, the exhibition is their first major UK show exploring the transformative effects of light on bodies and spaces. As well as the skylights of the gallery being covered with coloured gels, the artworks themselves form a key source of light within the space as projected images, stained glass and neon shapes.

Despite my 6 months of graft, it took my 3-year-old a disappointing amount of time to recognise Breast 2010/2015. If first impressions count, these create a big one, enough for us to spend at least 10 minutes stood in front of them until she realised that their intermittent illumination was not simply controlled as a result of her blinking.

The hieroglyphic nature of Script 2015 housed in the South Tomb of the gallery also proved popular as the slide carousels presented an ever-changing run of unusual illuminated forms, but the centrepiece of the exhibition is by far the incredible hanging paintings and glass panels of Brätsch’s Mylars 2015. Staring down from the ceiling like a strange tribe daring you to enter, the installation is brought together by the neon under-lighting of Röder’s Deep Sleep 2010/2015. It’s a challenging space for any 3-year-old to enter, exciting and imposing all in one go, but fortune favours the brave; a thought I had to hang onto having just sent her into a room of precious art and tempting tubes.

With such a variety of shapes, forms and faces, as well as the anticipation of intermittent lights and slide carousels, DAS INSTITUT has absolutely transformed Serpentine Sackler Gallery. If you’re visiting Kensington Gardens, Princess Diana Memorial Playground or the big Museums over the Easter holidays, it’s definitely worth a look before the lights go out for good on the 15th May.

DAS INSTITUT is at Serpentine Sackler Gallery until 15th May
Serpentine Sackler Gallery, West Carriage Drive, Kensington Gardens, London W2 2AR
Open Tues to Sun 10am-6pm, plus bank holidays
Admission Free