Karen Eslea speaking at the 7th World Chinese Art Education Symposium at The Education University of Hong Kong
On Saturday 8th December, Karen Eslea, Turner Contemporary’s Head of Learning, spoke at the InSEA Asia Regional Congress, Hong Kong, 2018 and 7th World Chinese Art Education Symposium at The Education University of Hong Kong. Speaking to 300 delegates, Eslea used one of Turner Contemporary’s most radical project to date, Art Inspiring Change, to bring to the forefront children rights and the potential unlocked when children are enabled to be leaders.
Eslea highlighted worrying figures for the UK’s young population, stating: ‘In 2016 the UK fell dramatically in global rankings for child rights within a year, from 11th to 156th, and last year, with more countries added to the Index, the UK ranked 172nd out of 183 countries […] That the UK should disregard the views of more than 18% of its population is staggering, particularly given [children’s] potential for creativity and divergent thinking.’
Turner Contemporary’s project Art Inspiring Change, funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and the Art Fund, was an 18 month long project which asked the question, ‘Can the creativity and enthusiasm of children engage and connect a community more deeply to the arts and to the gallery?’ In 2016, seventy children aged 4 to 11 from four primary schools in Margate recruited artists to work with, ran events at Turner Contemporary, inspired adults to connect to the arts, and transformed four neglected sites across the town. The project helped Turner Contemporary to develop an innovative new way of working with children which has the potential to benefit their whole community.
At the conference in Hong Kong, Eslea stated: ‘Young people will actively engage with society when presented with three specific dimensions: […] they must have something to challenge, […] they must feel they have the capacity to make a difference and finally must be able to connect with others to tackle the issue effectively. […] Art Inspiring Change is an example of the positive impact that is created when children are supported to fully participate and lead change through the arts, at the centre of society, in an enabling environment.’
Karen Eslea joined Turner Contemporary in 2001 and worked with Turner Contemporary’s Director, Victoria Pomery, to develop the organisation and new gallery building, which opened on Margate seafront in 2011. With over 25 years’ experience of working in gallery education, Eslea became Head of Learning and Visitor Experience at the gallery in 2014. She established Turner Contemporary’s internationally renowned Learning Programme and championed Children’s Leadership through the arts, enabling children as young as four to lead creative change in their own communities.
‘Picasso once famously said “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” ‘Why ignore these highly creative members of society? […] Why would we want to keep young leaders out of our decisions about where we live, when their leadership is overwhelmingly driven by empathy, creativity and kindness?’ – Karen Eslea
Turner Contemporary are now working on a new project, Pioneering Places, which will see 60 children, aged 7 to 9, from Ramsgate Arts Primary and St Laurence’s Junior Academy leading the project to make Ramsgate a great place to live. Over a period of 6 months, they will explore Ramsgate’s rich history, and respond creatively. They will lead the project until its conclusion in 2020, collaborating on a Child-Led Plan for Ramsgate, and commissioning a major new artwork to be installed near the Harbour.