Child-led Artistic Exploration
with Lucy Turner
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“These spaces are amazing for young children and people don’t realise that because they’ve got these old fashioned views of what galleries were like, where you have to be quiet and walk and you can’t touch, so why would you think you can take your toddler in there? But actually, they’re full of interesting things, colourful things, textural things, giant things, tiny things, and it’s a brilliant playground for developing language, to go somewhere exciting and then describe what you’re seeing, what you’re doing, the spaces that you’re in. What I’ve wanted to do, is encourage people to realise that these are places for them.”
Lucy Turner, is the Early Years Coordinator at The Whitworth Gallery Manchester. Her renowned work includes the creation of the Early Years Atelier (or children’s art studio), where children are provided with a rich, sensory, hands-on experience of artistic exploration inspired by the Art in the gallery. Artists and musicians are brought in to collaborate. Children and parents have free access to a wonderful space to grow and explore through a child led approach to learning. During lockdown, Lucy has provided weekly activities online for children and parents to take part in at home. This is an epic episode that covers so much!
Lucy’s personal journey and how she got to where she is today.
Museums and cultural organisations are not traditionally seen as sites for play. We dive into how Lucy has challenged this and has actively sought to encourage babies, toddlers, children and parents to play and be inspired at The Whitworth and how this has benefited them.
Why the, “Still Parents”, project is so important to her, to be able to support the lesser seen aspects of parenthood.
How The Whitworth has partnered with other organisations to take this a step further.
The huge physical transformation The Whitworth went through and how this has made the gallery more inviting.
The vision for the Atelier and the role of the Atelierista (studio assistant).
How COVID-19 has affected the gallery and the plans to reopen in September and so much more!
We’re thrilled to have Lucy as a guest on the show and I can’t wait for you to hear about her journey in art and early years education.
“Particularly with young children and contemporary art, there’s something really exciting because they don’t have these preconceptions of what art should be, they just embrace what is.”
In This Episode We Talk About:
1:07 Lucy’s earliest childhood memory / pivotal moment for her during childhood.
2:26 What it was like growing up and living again in Hebden Bridge, a creative community in beautiful countryside.
4:44 Lucy talks about her family, her son (6 years old) and the daughter she lost who would be 4 years old now and how this experience has let her to create Still Parents, a project to support bereaved parents.
‘I have a 6 year old in my arms and a 4 year old in the sky. I’d had this experience and I wanted to do something with it. We do art workshops for people who’ve experienced baby loss. I’ve realised what a huge subject this is and how many people are suffering in silence without the support that they need. I designed these workshops based on what I thought I wanted. It’s amazing to use art to make sense of your grief, to meet other people in a similar position and express your emotion through art.’
10:01 When Lucy’s interest in art began. Why being the youngest of 4 children in the family influenced her choices. How the Yorkshire Sculpture Park was a big part of her initial art appreciation. How Lucy discovered that ideas and conceptual art were her natural talent, rather than technical drawing etc. Her love for video art and performance and the artists that inspired her.
‘Maybe I can do something I enjoy rather than something I feel like I should do.’
13:40 Lucy shares her time at Glasgow School of Art, studying Sculpture and Environmental Art and Manchester Met where she did an MA in Fine Art.
‘Children need that confidence. For someone to believe in them. For someone to tell them they’re good at something.’
16:17 Any resistance/hurdles Lucy experienced in choosing art as her career path.
17:20 Her University experience.
18:18 Which artists inspired her. Why she was drawn to female performance artists and the obscure.
19:11 Her first job as a nursery assistant in her Early 20s.
‘It was the first job I looked forward to in the morning. To know I was going to be playing all day. It’s the best job in the world.’
20:50 Lucy’s role as a Learning Officer at the Laing Art Gallery in 2007 and why this was a good grounding on different audiences within art galleries.
22:45 Her time at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art where she was running schools and colleges programmes with thousands of school visits. This was where Lucy developed Early Years school visits.
28:10 The initial discussion with The Whitworth and Lucy’s interview experience. The realisation that she would be able to work with babies in the gallery too - something new that excited her.
33:30 What Lucy wanted to do at The Whitworth, what their main challenge was and how the re-design of the building helped. How they work with local Sure Start Children’s Centres to support the surrounding community.
35:15 The Whitworth’s partnership with other cultural centres in Manchester to support children and families. How they became trail blazers to inspire other centres across the country to introduce babies into galleries. What Culture Babies is. The way each centre helps: The Whitworth (Still Parents - supporting bereaving parents), Manchester Museum (Muso Baby - supporting those with post natal depression referred by the Sure Start Centres or the NHS) and Manchester Art Gallery (Healthy Child Drop In working with St. Peter’s Sure Start Centre within the space).
‘It’s amazing to think of these buildings as Civic buildings that can be used for other purposes too, not just to come and look at art. They can be used for social reasons and help alleviate pressures elsewhere in the city. We’ve all created these alternative programmes that tackle the side of parenting that you don’t see and that’s hidden away a bit more.’
41:18 The Vision for the Children’s Atelier at The Whitworth and how they wanted to maximise the use of the outdoor space. How the Reggio Emilia inspired approach affected the design. The open-ended playtime summer programmes: two years ago they launched the giant sand pit and last year the Splash Space, water play themed activity which was sponsored by Pentagon Play. 34,000 visitors came over a 6 week period.
47:26 Outdoor Art Club forest school inspired activities held in all weather conditions with mud-painting, loose parts, rain and snow painting.
48:50 Babies: Working with musician, Kathryn Raven a singer-songwriter who wrote original songs for Art Baby.
52:07 Art Baby, Toddlertastic and the setting up of The Atelier.
56:30 The observational role of the Aterlista (or studio assistant), who is there to facilitate not teach and how they use sketch books to document observations. The study Lucy did with Louisa Penfold for the book: Working With Young Children in Museums: Weaving Theory and Practice. (link below), Lucy gives an example of a situation where the child came up with the solution themselves.
01:03:33 How this style of learning has benefited parents. Why the parents are encouraged to play alongside their children.
01:05:11 The sessions the gallery run for nursery practitioners where teachers can come and learn a new skill (e.g. print-making, textiles, photography, animation) which are not necessarily for teaching purposes, more for themselves. There was a big uptake for these sessions and led to lots of visits.
‘Once you’re through the doors of The Whitworth, it’s such an amazing space that you can’t help but want to come back.’
01:07:30 The affect of COVID-19 on the gallery and the changes they’ve made moving forward. How lockdown has them an opportunity to expand the offerings online including the Atelier at Home and Still Parents Zoom Calls where kits are sent out to the group and where someone from SANDS is always participating. This has also helped them realise the nationwide potential to help more people.
01:12:20 A discussion around schools and why art and creativity should be high on priorities, especially with regards to mental health in children. Why Lucy believes that play should be a big part in the return to school.
01:13:35 We were interested to hear whether Lucy still finds time for her own creativity.
‘My work has become my practice’
01:16:13 Lucy’s personal lockdown experience home-schooling.
01:18:18 Lucy’s key mentor during her journey.
01:19:38 Her go-to Early Years Book
01:20:32 If money, time and logistics were no object, what Lucy would create for children.
01:21:35 What universal lesson could be taught to children around the world.
01:22:15 Lucy’s top tip for child-led learning at home.
01:23:58 What she’s most grateful for.
01:24:16 Lucy finishes this sentence: ‘children are…’
01:26:55 Her advice for someone interested in doing something similar.
‘As places to work go it’s just wonderful. it really is good for your soul. I feel like it played a big part in my healing process after I came back after losing Jennifer. It’s an amazing space to be in, it’s good for your wellbeing’ - on working at The Whitworth.
Episode Resource Links:
Follow Lucy on Instagram: @earlyyearswhitworth
Follow Lucy on Twitter: @lucyearlyyears
The Museums Partnership Facebook Page: (Still Parents/Muso Baby/Healthy Child Drop In)
SANDS (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity) :
Yorkshire Sculpture Park:
Artists Lucy mentioned:
Rebecca Horn -
Ana Mendieta -
Edward Hopper -
The Laing Art Gallery:
The BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art:
Sure Start Centre Main Page:
Rusholme Sure Start Children’s Centre:
Working with Young Children in Museums: Weaving Theory and Practice Chapter 22 by Louisa Penfold and Lucy Turner.
The Hundred Languages of Children:
Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg:
Thank you for listening!
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This episode is sponsored by Kit + Kin, award winning nappies - head to and enter the code BABY20 specially created for our listeners to use on the first subscription.
Recorded via Zoom and edited at LBS, Stockport.
Producer: Adders Jeffry
Original Music written by Sadie Pickering, performed by Sadie Pickering, Dan J Logan and Jay Ansill
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