Hello I must be going: Making Arts Aloud a reality.

After 10 long and busy months, I hope my silence has been noted.

Shortly after enjoying the V&A’s spectacular Winnie-The-Pooh: Exploring a Classic, personal events turned my life upside down. Around about the same time I was lucky enough to step onto the other side of the fence, from visitor to host, landing myself a front of house role following the reopening of my beloved Hayward Gallery.

With both of my children now in full-time education, I mourned the loss of my most authentic mouthpiece and most treasured companions. I missed the luxury of exploring endlessly in term-time, in-advance of busy weekends and holiday hoards.

Now, as I look forward to the opening of our incredible autumn show Space Shifters, one which ironically seems to be the most family friendly to date, I feel it is time for me to complete the loop and sign off from Arts Aloud.

It seems almost fitting that I am sat here watching the curatorial team meticulously lay out Yayoi Kusama’s Narcissus Garden. Kusama’s work marked a defining moment for me, following our exploration of her Obliteration Room at Tate Modern in 2012. It wasn’t the first time I had visited a gallery in my new-found role as a mother, indeed, by 18 months old, my eldest daughter was a seasoned gallery visitor. It did, however, mark the realisation that although she had enjoyed the interaction of that ‘break-out’ space, we had missed out on the full extent of Kusama’s retrospective. This seemed ironic given much of the artist’s ‘dotty’ work celebrated the idea of being overwhelmed by a space.

Having worn herself out sticking dots all over the room, my young daughter was left with very little energy to accompany me around the rest of the show. I was hugely disappointed, but perhaps for the staff in Tate Modern, this was the master plan. Somewhere in the midst of our ‘cultured day out’, I had been forced to choose between my toddler’s entertainment and my intellectual stimulation, and so Arts Aloud was born.

In the last 4 years we’ve been to over 100 events at more than 30 different arts venues, publishing reviews of exhibitions, festivals and theatre, including a number of features and theatrical performances on behalf of Londonist.

Having braved many ‘grown up’ exhibitions with both of my children in tow, I learned that children don’t need to be patronised. Each of us usually found some element of wonder in what we saw. We might not all agree, but art is meant to be divisive, and the most important thing is that we were enjoying our visit together. In the absence of any kind of guidance in the space, half of the time, like other families, we are blundering our way around, speed reading and sussing out the rules of engagement as we went, with me trying to play mother, guide and invigilator all at the same time.

Despite some overzealous gallery hosts and misinformed age guidance, time and time again we all agreed that the best place for us to look, learn, appreciate and develop our own views on art, was in the gallery itself, not in some craft-inspired, watered-down alternative that eluded the main event, in the name of making things ‘digestible’.

This experience has left me with one of the most memorable legacies of my existence, and of my babies’ childhood. After 20 years, this journey has also inspired me to return to university to study arts education, with the hope of encouraging and inspiring even more families to enjoy the arts together. In time, who knows? I might event reinvent the role that Arts Aloud plays in their lives.

Until then, thank you for reading. Go forth, be brave and explore! In the words of Anne Tucker, ‘art requires courage’, so make like an artist, expand your horizons and step into the unknown. And if you’re lucky, it might make your children more powerful too.

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

Still to come in May for art-loving families…

May is awash with family-friendly arts festivals; from Udderbelly and London Wonderground, to Brighton Fringe and Dulwich Festival. There’s even another instalment of street art in my local manor of Brockley. Beyond all that’s on offer, however, I bet you had’t even realised that 3 big-hitting treats for art-loving families are due to land before May is out:

1. Brand new Yayoi Kusama at Victoria Miro
The idea for Arts Aloud was born in Kusama’s Obliteration Room at Tate Modern in 2012, meaning this lady’s work will forever hold a very special place in my heart. Promising new paintings with multiplying dots, new infinity mirror rooms and even new pumpkin sculptures, this summer showcase is set to be the artist’s most extensive exhibition at this venue.
Yayoi Kusama at Victoria Miro, 25th May to 30th July
16 Wharf Road, London N1 7RW and 14 St George Street, London W1S 1FE
Admission £TBC

2. The arrival of Goosebumps Kids
Last month Goosebumps Alive arrived at The Vaults in Waterloo, bringing with it live burials, ghost stories and monsters galore. Having been granted permission to create this immersive theatrical world from the book series by R.L Stine, it made sense for the organisers to produce a watered down version in order to scare our kids (and their parents) half witless. The show is designed to be much more lighthearted fun, but is still pitched at 5-11 year olds, requires parental supervision and will not be admitting any younger siblings. It might be an idea to take more than one spare pair of pants 😎
Goosebumps Kids at The Vaults, 15th May to 5th June
Launcelot Street, SE1 7AD
Admission £15 for both children and adults

3. Elytra Filament Pavilion launches V&A’s Engineering Season
Slightly stealing the Serpentine Pavilion’s thunder this summer, is a newly commissioned garden installation by experimental architect Achim Menges, working with Moritz Dörstelmann, structural engineer Jan Knippers and climate engineer Thomas Auer. The Elytra Filament Pavilion marks the start of the first ever Engineering Season at the V&A and will explore the impact of robotic technology on architectural design and engineering. The result should represent a canopy-like structure for visitors to walk beneath and is expected to grow and change according to the patterns of behaviour picked up in the garden by its real-time sensors (so ensure the kids are on their best). There will also be some rare opportunities to witness live construction.
Elytra Filament Pavilion at the V&A, 18th May to 6th November
John Madejski Garden, V&A, Cromwell Rd, London SW7 2RL
Admission Free


Last chance to see: Bronze Pumpkins by Yayoi Kusama

For adults, Halloween now feels like a distant memory, but if your kids, like mine, are still mourning the loss of their carefully crafted pumpkins to the composter, then this one is for you!

Standing proud in the peaceful water garden of Victoria Miro and ready to dwarf your little ones, are three incredible bronze pumpkins by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama.

It’s been two years since Kusama graced this space with her magical Narcissus Garden of shiny mirrored balls, and now, overlooking the remnants of that installation is the largest work she has ever created in this material.

To say that Kusama is a pumpkin enthusiast is an understatement. The fruit has featured heavily in the artist’s work since the seventies, and her love of its hardiness and unpretentious qualities are well represented by this humble installation at a hidden-gem of a London gallery.

Whilst you’re there: Kids will marvel at Wangechi Mutu’s incredible collages on the ground floor. If you head next door (and upstairs) to Gallery II you’ll also be treated to impressive views across London.

The gallery is a short walk from Upper Street, Islington, which is packed to the rafters with family-friendly restaurants and cafes.

You might also like: Little Angel Puppet Theatre – Once a derelict temperance hall, this magical theatre plays host to a range of unique productions suitable for adults and children of all ages.

Bronze Pumpkins by Yayoi Kusama is at Victoria Miro until 19th December 2014, Admission free.