I feel like I’m in a magical land and in a movie full of my own art.

Pupil, St Mary’s Primary

Nottingham Contemporary is one of the leading contemporary art centres in the UK.  As a Start partner from 2012 to 2015, they introduced 900 children from 15 schools to contemporary art through an in-depth programme that included visits to the gallery, in-school workshops with Associate Artists and exhibitions of the children’s own work at Nottingham Contemporary.  

All of the schools selected for the Start programme at Nottingham Contemporary are in areas of significant deprivation, serving some of the most disadvantaged children in the city.  The majority of children taking part had never been to Nottingham Contemporary, or any art gallery, before.

Start at Nottingham Contemporary gave the children new, exciting experiences that their schools would not be able to give them without this partnership. 

“[Start] gives them an opportunity to become something different, enjoy something different that we can’t give them in a school environment.” Christopher Husbands, Rise Park Primary School

One focus of the project was to empower children and to encourage them to have confidence in expressing their own ideas and opinions.  Through observing and discussing artworks with Associate Artists, children saw that their responses would be valued and respect for different opinions encouraged. 

Something about the experience of the gallery that gives them space to be and to think and to articulate what they’re thinking”. Mary Prest, Dovecote Primary

Mary describes the experience of one child who ordinarily lacks confidence and rarely contributes in class: “he’s got so much to say since we’ve been in this space and he’s been looking at all these new and interesting things”.

One exhibition, Rights of Nature, proved particularly inspiring for many children with strong messages about protecting the environment.  It showed that through engaging with contemporary art, children were also forming opinions and developing critical and creative thinking skills.

A pupil said, “I have learnt that we have to have power, strength, courage and we have to believe in what we want to. No one can stop us!”  

Seeing their own work on display in the gallery was a powerful culmination to their journey.  Christopher from Rise Park Primary says:

Children love all opportunities to learn outside of the classroom but the experience and pride they have gained, particularly from seeing their work on exhibition at the gallery, has been immeasurable.”

This experience was shared with family and friends.  As well as school visits, the exhibition of children’s work was open to the public over the weekend, attracting close to 1,000 visitors.  For many families it was their first visit to the gallery, introduced proudly by their children who now felt at home there.  Many of these new visitors were surprised to learn that entry to the gallery is free, and gallery assistants took the opportunity to tell them about family activities and encourage them to come back. 

Watch this film to learn more about Start at Nottingham Contemporary: