One of the things I love most about my job is seeing how young children interpret my art-making ideas in our family programs – the endless possibilities of inspiration and imagination.
When the COVID-19 crisis temporarily closed the Art Gallery of NSW and suspended our events and programs, the joy of developing ideas for hands-on workshops was snatched away, but luckily only momentarily. A new opportunity arose, one that would definitely get the creative juices flowing and would also mean some serious fun helping some of the families and communities we already connect with across the state cope with the strange new situation.
Working with my colleagues Jonathan Wilson, the Gallery’s community programs producer, and Jo Hein, one of our senior graphic designers, we set to work developing art packs to send to families supported by organisations such as the Asylum Seekers Centre in Newtown, Youth and Family Connect and WEAVE in Woolloomooloo, and Save the Children.
For the last four years the Gallery has been embedded in communities. We have been working with these centres and organisations, bringing families and children into the Gallery, running weekly art-making workshops led by artists in communities and offering outreach programs, so we were keen to keep this connection alive.
I thought back to the excitement I felt as a child when given brand-new art materials for Christmas and was keen to bring that sense of pleasure and enjoyment to the children who would receive the packs.
Soon a spare bedroom became a makeshift workshop and photography studio, strewn with art materials, as I developed ideas, wrote instructions and took step-by-step photos of the processes, which Jo then turned into beautifully designed activity sheets. We found more helping hands in the Gallery: Faith Chisholm edited the text; Megan Young and Jude Fowler-Smith obtained permission from artists or their representatives to reproduce their work; and Rebecca Allport and Maryanne Marsh from the Gallery Shop supplied beautiful bags for the packs.
My kitchen bench became a production line as I counted out and packed art materials carefully into zip-lock bags – hand sanitiser in regular use – then, at the Gallery, Jonathan and I finished filling the bags with pencils, scissors, glue, paper – all the materials needed for each activity.
For many of the children who would receive the packs, the city is their playground, the place they call home, while for others, the city represents a place they want to be a part of, a new home they’ve just arrived in. Therefore, we hoped our first activity, inspired by the cityscapes of Australian artist Jeffrey Smart, would help them feel connected.
All lined up, the bags took on new meaning, each symbolising a child who would know that someone somewhere was thinking about them and valued their creativity – it was a very a special moment. So, with the bags packed and full of potential, we set about getting them to our partners, big and small.
Jonathan travelled to each of the centres, dropping off the bags for distribution. At each centre, staff were overjoyed to know that the Gallery was invested in supporting the families. The centres and organisations started to send out the packs, in some cases alongside a weekly meal delivery service, and soon children and families from Moree, Bourke, Greater Western Sydney and far down the South Coast in bushfire-ravaged communities were getting creative.
Over the coming days, they sent us the most wonderful photos of children making art in their living rooms, sitting on beanbags or lying on the floor, with the contents of their bags spilling out around them as they became engrossed in their activity.
So far, we have distributed over 200 art packs based on artworks from the Gallery’s collection and hope to send out many more, each one providing serious fun for our artists of the future.
If you have your own art materials at home, you too can enjoy some of the activities that we’ve developed using these online activity sets as your guide.