Lewisham Virtual School

By James Twomey

A two-week exhibition opens later this month featuring original artwork created by young people who are dealing with high anxiety, clinical school phobia and are trying to combat their isolation.

Talk About Art worked with Lewisham Virtual School (LVS) and Youth First to create a 10-week programme aimed at helping children who cannot attend mainstream schools to provide them with a creative outlet and social interaction.

The exhibition, entitled Colours of Me, will run from March 21 until April 4 at Catford library, with work covering the visual representation of individual and group identity issues, and a variety of media are used, including film and animation.

Melanie Jones from Talk About Art devised the project to engage young people in South-east London, regardless of health issues or financial, cultural or social deprivation.

She said: “Talk About Art was launched in 2015 by Sir Ian Mills, chairman of Youth First, out of a growing concern for marginalisation of arts education.

“Our aim is to provide arts experiences where participants feel safe to explore their inner creativity, have confidence to form opinions of the art that surrounds them and express those opinions, to develop an ability to think creatively, outside the box, to find their creative voices.”

Students work on their art

Participants were collected from their homes and given the opportunity to work in Youth First’s Art Studio with two Talk About Art professional artists.

They learned about a variety of artists, including Nikki De Saint Phalle, who had a difficult and traumatic childhood and education.

Melanie said: “Initially there were some issues with engaging the young people.

“They had to be encouraged out into an unfamiliar environment when they seldom leave their bedrooms and build trust with the two artists, Amy Ison and Simon Purins running the project.

“However it was not long before they were requesting longer sessions and engaging with the surroundings.

“As part of the 10 sessions, they learnt about and were inspired by a variety of artists including Frank Auerbach, Henri Matisse, Peter Blake and Leonora Carrington.

“A third of participants have asked their families to take them to art galleries.

“To have work publicly exhibited is a great confidence building experience for any young person, but for the Colours of Me artists it will have the added dimension of showing them to be contributing to the local community through their art.

“They may be dealing with major personal challenges but they can still be valued members of society.

“LVS have expressed interest in repeating the project and we are also exploring ways of rolling the model out to more young people over a wider area.”

Patrick Ward, headteacher of Lewisham Virtual School, said: “Colours of Me is a powerful reminder of how art empowers and inspires young people.”

The exhibition is open from on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8.30am until 5pm, on Tuesday and Thursday 8.30am until 7pm and Saturday 9am until 5pm.

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