Why we should be challenging the next generation of cultural leaders

KCC2Innovation is the lifeblood of any organisation. In the arts and culture, where every single day our galleries, theatres and museums allow people to discover new worlds and stories, this seems like a given. We’ve cracked innovation, right?

Well, perhaps not.

Ideas are born out of exchange. In order to thrive, innovation depends upon difference and diversity, and the UK’s arts and cultural sector is currently suffering from a dangerous lack of that: in organisations’ audiences, staff and leadership. Potentially life-changing experiences – like watching a play about the Occupy Movement, or visiting a photography exhibition about the post-atomic landscape of Hiroshima – remain experiences that are accessed by too narrow a section of our society. For too many people, ‘culture’ is seen as something that is created somewhere else, by somebody else, and for somebody very different. Nothing, in fact, could be further from the truth. In the words of artist Grayson Perry, ‘life without art would just be a series of emails’.

KCC4This lack of diversity extends to young people. The now celebrated ‘Lates’ at London’s museums, mixing talks, exhibitions and a general party vibe, were introduced by the Science Museum as a response to a proportional lack of 18 to 30 year olds engaging with museums’ collections and work. Careers in the arts and culture are notoriously hard to begin, and so many graduates and young people, bursting with creativity, find themselves turning away from their passions.

KCC3Creativity is everywhere at King’s. Our students energise the university with it. And so there could be no better place, in a location where young people from all over the world encounter each other and all of their difference, to address these questions: what do cultural organisations need to do to remain relevant to Generation Z? How can cultural organisations inspire, transform lives and influence the world over the next decade?

For the last four years King’s Cultural Challenge has set out to answer these questions, through the raw imagination and ambition of King’s students. We’ve worked with some of the world’s most famous cultural organisations – the Southbank Centre, the Royal Opera House, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Roundhouse.

Asking students to dream up and pitch projects that will help these organisations to evolve and adapt, the Challenge has been witness to some wonderfully original ideas. They’ve included flashmob takeovers of London’s streets; disaster-scenario games to upskill young people in museum collection management; and a twist on the loyalty card – the ‘Spectraitors Disloyalty App’. In every case, I’ve been inspired by the ingenuity, courage and passion of students that have taken part, as have our cultural partners. And in the process, we’ve helped King’s students to kick-start their careers in culture through paid internships in these amazing places.

KCC5The Cultural Challenge keeps developing. The 2015 Culture Hack saw us bring together 120 students in a maelstrom of creativity that hit Twitter full in the face. We had such a huge amount of fun that we’re doing it all again – next week in fact. So on the 30 March, we want to go one better, and connect with an even wider range of King’s students from across all disciplines. Remember, diversity is key to innovation.

If you’re a King’s student and want to join the 2016 Culture Hack party, make sure you register now. We’ll be inviting you to work with directors from our cultural partners, win cash prizes, generate ideas for internships and generally celebrate the end of term with pizza and beer. So get involved, and help art to change everything, for everybody.

William Warrener is the Student Engagement Manager for the Cultural Instutite, King’s College London. He can be contacted at william.1.warrener@kcl.ac.uk

KCC 2016

(Words by William Warrener. Photography by David Tett)


My Primary School is at the Museum

My primary school is at the museum is a series of pilot projects that seek to test the hypothesis that there may be beneficial learning and social outcomes for primary school children and their families if their primary school is located in a local museum. The project was conceived by Wendy James, Architect and Partner at Garbers & James Architects. Wendy has written about how the project came about, her motivation and inspiration for the pilots currently running in three locations across the country and how they might change the way we think about primary education in the UK. 

mpsmon1 full --83The gestation period for the idea of My primary school is at the museum has been pretty much nine years.

It was back in 2006/2007 when I was doing some Strategic Planning work around a renowned and much loved UK cathedral that I was brought up short when local parents were concerned at the lack of computer facilities and indoor sports facilities. My brain couldn’t get beyond ‘but you have all this!’ – the most beautifully historic environment imaginable within acres and acres of open outdoor space.

I looked around me thinking, comparisons are odious, but honestly your children have one of the richest and most inspiring surroundings in which to learn in the whole country. Witnessing the building of the cathedral itself back in the 13th century must have been akin to visiting Cape Canaveral to watch the launch of Apollo 11, and a lot more besides.

I instantly felt, here you can learn Physics, Structures, Materials, Science, Geology, Art, Languages (dozens of nationalities visit from all around the world chattering in a panoply of lyrical tongues), Ecology, Biology, Sustainability, Mathematics, Patterns, Citizenship (with a copy of the Magna Carta to hand) Sculpture etc etc….actually, even History! Computers are two- a-penny round the corner, and these days perhaps games outside isn’t the worst idea for health and wellbeing?

MPS frida-30 (1)Anyway, this started my own personal reading around how children learn. I was particularly drawn to articles on the value of haptic learning and also the art of employing ‘Visual Thinking Strategies’. At this point I get ticked off by the teachers, because of course I’m just cherry picking from within my own prejudiced constructs.  But the point is there seems to be a lot of research and literature available extolling the value of learning through real, concrete objects.

Like many others, no doubt, I was moved and inspired by the popular contemporary energy and furthering of thought in Grayson Perry’s work at the British Museum ‘The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman’, and also Edmund de Waal’s writings and concerns at the lack of craft and making teaching in our schools, which he warns could seriously stifle our country’s ability to generate creative thinkers, designers and innovators.  I started to dream of a range of ‘MAKE-ing’ Schools (Museums As Knowledgeable Environments), i.e. substantially more than masses and masses of formless information.

All of this in parallel with my life as a partner in my architectural practice, Garbers & James, specialising in public cultural projects.

I’ve been an architect for over 35 years now, specialising ever more in museums and education. I have always loved museums And, having been raised in a family that was a simple cocktail of Northumbrian and Welsh chapel backdrops, education (for the bairns!) was treasured above all else.  Quite unusually, both of my grandfathers were Primary School teachers……and the end of that part of the story is that I very much love learning too.

I’m a mother of three, so I can claim to also have a certain amount of experience in raising, loving, nurturing and encouraging my brood to flourish and enjoy learning as well.

Time went on; I read and dreamt more and more…

my primary wed 2-8Next up, we have a certain perfect storm brewing in the UK: a ’grave’ shortage of primary school places in some parts of the country, and tremendous pressures in funding for many of our museums. Once you know it and ’tune in’, you’ll find museums are under severe threat, with several closing with alarming regularity. I’m a member of the Museums Association and the weekly updates that drop into my inbox instil a degree of cultural panic.

Could this idea actually turn out to be an ‘Egg Solution’?

Museums are full of treasures that belong to us all; our children are also our very own created treasure; primary schools aren’t big…. (they don’t need specialist laboratories and large playing fields etc. like secondary schools), so:

Why not put the two together?

Museum buildings are often very good quality building fabric. Many could be renovated; remodelled, extended with relative ease.

Some personnel skills and resourcing could perhaps be shared: maybe administration and finance staff; teaching support; heat and light, and so on and so on.

my primary wed 2-4Also, very importantly, primary children bring their families with them: taking and fetching; plays and events. Mothers, fathers, guardians, big brothers and sisters, grandparents- they all turn up at some point in the year… at the museum!  So the museum can also start to try and further capture that potentially captive audience.

So, luckily, I came across the Cultural Institute at King’s College London through some associated lecturing I was doing on a ‘Towards Tomorrow’s Museum’ course, based at Tate Modern whilst I was working there on the major extension project in our capacity as Design Manager and Briefing Project lead.

With  the Institute’s backing and support we slowly started to develop the idea further and design a series of ’Proof of Concept’ pilot studies, also involving research staff from the Department of Education and Professional Studies.

And now those Action Research projects are running!

It’s so thrilling to have one group of children from Hadrian Primary School in a Roman Fort Museum (Arbeia, South Shields); a Nursery group (Kensington Children’s Centre) at Tate Liverpool as a contemporary and modern Art museum, and two classes from St Thomas Community Primary School at the National Waterfront Museum, Swansea with the most wonderful collections relating to local Industrial and Social heritage.  What a wonderful array of subjects, speaking so much about the neighbourhoods in which the children find themselves.

mpsmon1 full --62None of this tells you how very much I have appreciated all the support from numerous individuals at King’s and from the professional Museum community in finding truly visionary partners. The folk who are up for it: the museums came first and they gave me the ideas for schools. But now I see it actually happening and can see the widely varying source material the children have to ’play with’ if the teachers so desire. The families are coming already too.

I still so much believe in this concept; not as a universal panacea, but as an option, a possible new way to think of delivering schools in a local cultural context, making best use of the extraordinary collections that we as a nation own.

I have also come to realise how much this idea comes from not only my own interests and passions in life, but also my profession.

Architects, so often knocked on the basis of subjective visual rants and raves, are people ideally placed to assemble all manner of juxtapositions, layering and complex physical parameters; programming requirements; functional operations and goodness knows what else and come up with a whole solution; something of quality and integrity that can support the user community and hopefully inspire the surrounding communities. A lot of people don’t realise that potential, and in my humble opinion, it should be tapped a lot more. It’s like a science applied with artistic and sculptural expertise that is fundamentally based in humanity.mpsmon1 full --68

So being an architect partly defines the skills I am practised in and I believe they account for the birth of the idea that this project is.

I’m excited to see how the story will continue to unfold.

Wendy James – 22 March 2016


The project was initiated and is coordinated by Wendy James, Architect and Partner at Garbers & James Architects. Garbers & James is an architectural practice specialising in the public cultural sector and Wendy’s extensive experience is particularly focussed towards museums and education.

Educational support and academic advice is being provided by Dr Jen Dewitt, Teaching Fellow, and Dr Heather King, Teaching Associate, both in the Department of Education & Professional Studies at King’s.

Kate Measures from Heritage Insider, will be evaluating the project.

Find out more information about the projects on the s King’website.

(Words by Wendy James. Photography by Jake Ryan and Colin Davison)