I’ll be the first UEA student to admit that I’ve never spent much time at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, or any art gallery in fact. I thought them to be a space for individuals much older than myself to walk around with snooty faces in posed thought, critiquing some sculpture that requires a minimum of ten years of Art History studies to understand. The creative sector seemed one of mystery and elitism that had no room for a skilled stick-figure painter like myself. But I was intrigued to develop my own idea of art and challenge this feeling of inadequacy.
The Young Associates programme is an initiative to help young adults interested in curation with their first steps into the industry by developing and holding an exhibition. Weekly meetings focus on a variety of guest speakers that discuss the process of their projects – for example, Davide Lakshmanasamy and Jake Francis on The Clunker – and workshops that encourage the response to different collections and creative pieces. After hearing from a friend about this programme, I decided that this was the action I needed to take in order to know how I felt when I looked at a painting. It seemed rather ludicrous to me that at the age of twenty-two I didn’t know how to emotionally connect to the world around me.
The moment that this weekly encounter changed from entering an environment for professionals with grey hair to one of ease and inspiration was when the group took turns to stroll in between the glass cases and listen to our bodies and minds when we encountered the pieces locked away. For a Politics graduate – and yes, I am the stereotype – this is not the type of activity I would have ever imagined myself doing on a Tuesday evening. But I felt something: detachment. And it was in this detachment that I realised I could be connected to this space, this gallery and this art. If there where not such restrictions in the shape of glass cases that said ‘do not touch’, or a whole range of social injustices that allowed many young people to feel out of place in such settings, then maybe every person would be comfortable to give their opinion of a sculpture, no matter how qualified one considers oneself to be.
Meeting after meeting, the Young Associates kept revisiting this notion of breaking down barriers and encouraging younger visitors to come to the gallery and be confident in the world of art. It was evident that this exhibition needed to focus on the concept of ‘interaction’. As a team we learned new skills, from filming, video editing, interviewing, social media marketing and how to communicate ideas with graphic designers.
There are many more skills to learn on this journey, but what I will take from this experience the most is the thoughtfulness and contemplation with everything that I encounter, from walking amongst the university’s concrete pathways, to climbing the spiral staircases of the Sainsbury Centre. A simple change in lighting, shade of colour or even viewing point can certainly impact how welcome one feels, and in turn one’s response. Now that my mind has been opened to the importance of such detail, it’s hard to not consider oneself familiar and informed in regards to the creative industry. Any inadequacy I had experienced before seems negligible now that I know what art means to me.
I encourage everyone who reads this, regardless of how qualified they believe themselves to be, to attend the Young Associates exhibition on Tuesday 19th March. Nobody deserves to feel shut out of an industry. The team aims to influence others to feel the same way through the careful selection of artists who are to bring a spectrum of brightness and liveliness to the gallery. Some pieces even require the co-operation of the visitors. After all, the collection at the Sainsbury Centre is solely an assortment of home décor. This means that there is no reason that anyone should ever not feel at home.