In the first of a series of articles focusing on family fun in the city, we look at just what happens when you intersect young people who have never been to an art gallery before and critically acclaimed ‘Van Gogh: Immersive Experience’ at York St Marys.
York based charity According to McGee has been training up a new cohort of ‘Artonauts’, and a trip to St Mary’s Van Gogh: Immersive Experience has provided the building block upon which the learning curve has been launched.
The project, ‘Art Ambassadors: Time Travel in Acomb’, saw 20 young Acomb children and teenagers who have experienced economic difficulties travel to city centre galleries such as Art of Protest and Arts Barge, and bring newly discovered art skills to a series of creative art sessions that included working with pupils from Westfield Primary and far reaching trips to Westfield and Our Lady Queen of Martyrs schools, all situated in the west of the city. Says charity trustee Alaa Jasim, "City of York Council’s Acomb Ward funded a group of teenagers and younger children to learn new art skills. We thought that liaising with them in the context of their own school was a good start, and trips to city centre independent galleries was a great way to stretch them further. The cherry on the cake was, however, not surprisingly the trip to Van Gogh Experience at St Marys in mid-July. The show itself is an international game changer and the staff gave our group a wonderful welcome. For some it was their first experience at visiting an art happening." The Van Gogh Experience was happy to help out. "It’s been a great opportunity for the young people to see something new," said a member of staff, "and they were very well impressed with what they saw."
One of the young participants, an 11 year old who attends Carr Junior, enjoyed the show so much they went home and picked up their paint set out of school for the first time since she was 6. Ex-Westfield Primary pupil Kwaams reassures any of her peers that the experience is ‘for middle class adults’ (her initial fear). "It is the opposite of boring. You can go and watch projections of Van Gogh’s paintings wash around you. You can try your own skills. Or you can go and do what I did, get a deck chair, and just immerse yourself in it, just how wonderful it is. Once I was there and I realised that it was like nothing I have ever seen before. I wasn’t too fussed about the interactive thing. I just wanted to sit back and experience it."
Readers will no doubt know The Van Gogh: Immersive Experience has been widely celebrated (and has been covered by ourselves HERE but is how this project hammers home just how pertinent it is to young people that is of especial note. At a time when it is increasingly difficult to wrest their hand held digital devices from them, it comes as a timely respite that they can put their iPads in their back pocket and watch the world of the world’s greatest painter tremble, spill, glitter and dance on a scale that is simply unforgettable.
"It was the sheer scale of it that blew them away at first," laughs Alaa, "but a 35 minute experience can’t just rely on size. The fact is, most children are aware of Van Gogh, even it’s just from a few lessons at school. This show takes them by the instincts and leads them into an unforgettable and interactive world where, for a wonderful 35 minutes, Fine Art is the primary pleasure zone. They enter the experience as children and come back out as Artonauts!"
Artwork from ‘Art Ambassadors: Acomb Time Travellers’ is displayed at According to McGee gallery and Fossgate Social until 3 August. A magazine based on the group’s research and designed them is available for perusal at Acomb Explore.York St Mary's