Face Britain

As Face Britain culminates with a unique portrait of HM The Queen projected onto Buckingham Palace – and we prepare for two very special auctions – Children & the Arts CEO Jeremy Newton looks back at a unique and pioneering initiative for the charity.

Face Britain is unlike anything that Children & the Arts has run before. As a charity, we normally work in a very targeted way – focusing on disadvantaged children in particular areas, working with specific schools.

In terms of scale and scope, Face Britain has been totally different. For the first time, we had to think what we could do to engage as many children as possible. It was a fantastic opportunity for us to reach out to huge numbers of children and for us as a charity to nail our colours to the mast.


Big projects take time to plan, and we began talking about Face Britain three years ago. At the time, two important things happened. Firstly, we started to recognise the importance of self-portraiture. We knew that a lot of therapy leaders used self portraits to help children bring out any issues. They are a very potent way for children to express themselves.

Secondly, HRH The Prince of Wales suggested that Children & the Arts as a charity was now ready to take on a much bigger project – one that would focus not only on disadvantaged children, but allow every single child to get involved. We knew that 2012 was going to be a special year – with the Diamond Jubilee and the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games – so we had a target.

Face Britain

The Face Britain homepage

The next stage was to plan the project. Our goal was to give every child the chance to create their own self portrait. By bringing them together, we could create a snapshot of the 2012 generation.

We found a technology partner, Photobox, who came up with a clever solution not only to host and display every uploaded image, but also to turn them into mugs, mouse mats and so on. This added a crucial fundraising element to the project, vital for a charity which relies on donations.

A Royal portrait

The next phase of the project’s evolution came by chance. We began talking to the TV programme, Blue Peter, to ask if they would help us to promote the project to children and teachers. One of the editors had the brilliant idea of not just collecting and displaying the children’s self portraits but knitting them into a single composite image of HM The Queen – each portrait forming a pixel of the larger image.

Both HRH The Prince of Wales and Her Majesty loved the idea, and that is how we decided to close the initiative by projecting the 200,000 self-portraits submitted to Face Britain onto Buckingham Palace. The montage will be displayed from today for three nights until Saturday 21 April.

Lessons learned

This has been a learning process for Children & the Arts and there have been some interesting discoveries along the way. Firstly, we assumed that it wouldn’t be hard to find sponsors for such a high profile, national project.

The reality has been different – and yet we have created a £2 million project with virtually zero income. How? By far the majority of our support has been in kind. While private sector partners have been reluctant to provide sponsorship or grants, they have instead shown their belief in the project by providing huge amounts of pro bono support.

I have also been surprised about the sheer quality of what the children have come up with. Some people had warned us we might get a lot of stick arms and circular heads. In fact, we have the most amazing array of fascinating imagery from around the country and some very high quality work. And the self-portraiture itself has definitely touched a nerve – we think it has been very valuable in terms of arts education.

The other learning for us as a charity is that you can’t do something like this every few months. You need a long lead-in time to plan and execute it properly. However, we are now thinking that we should do a mass participation project – something that involves a large number of young people from around the country – every few years. We’ve already set up a few brainstorming sessions to think about what we might do next.


One of the most exciting things about Face Britain is the legacy. As well as all of the children’s portraits, we’ve been fortunate to have received a large number of self-portraits by celebrities and leading artists.

As a result, we are running two auctions. The first will be held on eBay from 3-13 May, where we will auction self-portraits from celebrities including Cilla Black, Adele, Alan Rickman, Jamie Oliver and many more.

On 9 May, we will also have a very special auction at Christie’s, where we will sell the artists’ self-portraits, including works by Tracey Emin and Maggi Hambling. The two auctions will raise vital funds for the charity’s future. You can see images from the two auctions here.

As for the children’s work, the Face Britain website will stay live until the end of 2012, when it will be bequeathed to the the British Library. We are delighted that it will form part of the library’s Jubilee Archive.

We will also be taking over some elements onto the Children & the Arts website. In particular, the teaching resources that we’ve developed for the project, some of which were created by the National Portrait Gallery. This comprises a very valuable set of classroom materials for teachers, which we will maintain on our site and add to over time.

To find out more about the Face Britain and the charity auctions, please visit the official Face Britain site.

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