engage 38: Visual Literacy
Cite this article
engage 38: Visual Literacy
Editor: Barbara Dougan
Published by engage, London
The publication of an engage Journal on the topic of visual literacy is timely, as engage, together with the Max Reinhardt Charitable Trust and the National Association of Writers in Education announces the hosts of the 2016-17 Max Reinhardt Literacy Awards (MRLA): BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Leeds Art Gallery and York Art Gallery. The awards were conceived and developed by the Max Reinhardt Charitable Trust to encourage visual arts venues to use their collections, displays and buildings to work with schools on projects that would inspire children and young peoples’ literacy and creative writing. As the National Association for Gallery Education, we feel strongly that the awards and the educational resources produced by the venues are a valuable way to facilitate cross-curricular work in schools, and to enable children and young people to connect with the visual arts through writing and literacy.
Through the pilot MRLA programme in 2014-15, three venues worked with creative writers who took inspiration from their collections and displays for work around literacy and creative writing: Manchester Art Gallery, Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge and Falmouth Art Gallery. Resources were produced by Manchester Art Gallery and Kettle’s Yard Gallery. Evaluation of the pilot was impressive, with clear evidence that participants’ confidence and competence as writers grew as a result of engagement in the programme.
Emma Carroll’s article in this issue explores her experience of taking part in the project and how it built on the gallery’s inspiring work with teachers and teacher trainees, in developing tools for others to use. Another contributor to this issue, Claire Collison, was the creative writer at Kettle’s Yard throughout the inaugural MRLA. Her article makes for poignant and inspiring reading in the way that it charts her experience of illness. Collison, as a visual artist who has more recently turned to writing, is an interesting example of someone who models both visual literacy and creative writing skills.
As Barbara Dougan notes in her editorial, digital and social media embrace visual imagery and demand a high degree of visual literacy from users. The explosion of digital and social media coincides with a steep downturn in public investment in the arts, particularly in England since the 2008 recession, and the erosion of art and design education in the state-funded formal education sector in England.
As Kathryn Welford from Yorkshire Sculpture Park explains in her article, which looks at the history of the National Arts Education Archive at the venue, there have been other periods since the archive was established in 1945, when creative education has not had primacy in the state sector. Welford argues that arts organisations and artists are perfectly placed to model how the creativity of children and young people of all abilities can be nurtured, through the arts and through cross-curricular work. engage will continue to champion the importance of creative education for children and young people and the vital role that artists and arts organisations play in supporting this, through programmes such as the Max Reinhardt Literacy Awards, Children’s Art Week, Generation ART and the Alexandra Reinhardt Memorial Award. engage is grateful to the Max Reinhardt Charitable Trust for their support of MRLA and to The Ernest Cook Trust for their additional support for the 2016/17 programme.