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.