This autumn, Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP) presents a new exhibition by artist, agitator and former parliamentary candidate, Bob and Roberta Smith, that campaigns for Art for All. Focusing on 100 years of art education, from 1914 to the modern day, Smith invites ideas and responses toward an art curriculum for a digital 21st century.
The exhibition in the Garden Gallery takes visitors on a journey through the history of art education, using key material, selected by Smith, from the National Arts Education Archive (NAEA), which is based at YSP. Established in 1985, the archive documents the development of arts education in the UK since the 19th century and celebrates its 30-year anniversary this year.
Drawn from the vast collections of the NAEA – which Smith explored as a visiting artist earlier in the year – the exhibition documents touchstones and turning points throughout the history of art education, progressing through seven chosen movements. These include The Child Art and Basic Design collections. The original artwork for A.E. Halliwell’s iconic travel posters also feature, along with paintings and prints, produced in the 1920s, by the pupils of Franz Cizek. The Garden Gallery display begins in the 1700s with the book, Reynolds Discourses by influential painter Joshua Reynolds, and culminates with the question ‘How can we build a curricula fit for the 21st century?’, to which visitors are invited to respond.
The exhibition also features an installation of Smith’s hand-painted notices and five sculptures, created by the artist, that depict figures central to the history of art education: Joshua Reynolds, Marian Richardson, Tom Hudson, A.E. Halliwell and Lesley Butterworth. Smith’s 2013 large-scale work Art Makes Children Powerful stands prominently in the open air at YSP. Painted on plywood panels, the work is an evocative statement, both poetic and political, which sends out a positive message to people of all ages about the power and importance of education.
Art for All extends Smith’s Arbroath Template project, an interactive artwork first developed in 2014 which calls for YSP visitors to use a basic 30cm² template to make and share their own art across social media. Visitors can also contribute to the project during Art for All: Pop-up Art School, a week of interactive activities for all ages taking place between 18 and 21 August, the results of which will be included in the exhibition.
Bob and Roberta Smith says: “The NAEA is one of the great repositories of material relating to the development of the arts in the post war era. It’s also a place of hope! To look through the material and understand the competing initiatives and investigations by artists and teachers in that period is to recharge one’s batteries. Art for All celebrates this and asks the question: what must we do now to reinvigorate art education at all levels and once more get kids excited about inventing the future?”
Smith is also taking part in the (R)EVOLUTION conference (16 and 17 October 2015), the centerpiece of the NAEA’s 30-year anniversary celebrations. The conference will trace the archive’s history and significance with presentations from academic, educational, artistic and curatorial perspectives, and a talk and Q&A session with Smith. The conference aims to garner personal and professional expertise from speakers and delegates towards creating a manifesto for the future development of the archive in the 21st century.
Bob and Roberta Smith, aka Patrick Brill, is a British artist and long-term campaigner for access to art education. He considers art an important element in democratic life, his work often taking the form of painted signs and creative, provocative protests with the central message that campaigning can be reimagined as art. Smith argues for more value to be placed on cultural learning, explaining that art is vital to our long-term economy and society. He recently stood against Michael Gove MP in the 2015 General Election in an attempt to move the arts to the centre of the political conversation.
Providing exceptional art for everyone has been YSP’s goal since opening to the public in 1977. Its pioneering learning programme reaches over 48,000 people every year enabling access, understanding and enjoyment of art to a wide range of audiences, particularly those traditionally excluded from the arts due to social, economic, cultural or health inequalities. Art for All acts as a reminder about the importance of arts and cultural learning in schools, museums and galleries and provides an important opportunity for all of us to contribute to this vital issue.