We acknowledge the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the Country on which the Art Gallery of New South Wales stands.

Feeling connected

Students from a local school visited the Art Gallery to experience an exhibition co-curated by people from their commmunity about ideas and issues that matter to the community.

In a gallery space, one child looks at framed photographs on a wall while other kneels on the floor writing on paper

Students from Plunkett Street Public School in the Local Rhythms and Actions exhibition with Peter Yanada McKenzie’s photographic series It’s a man’s game. Artwork © Peter Yanada McKenzie

As principal of Plunkett Street Public School in Woolloomooloo, I was lucky enough to accompany the students in Years 3 and 4 to the Art Gallery of New South Wales to visit the Local Rhythms and Actions exhibition.

The students were completing a project-based learning unit of work exploring art within the community of Woolloomooloo and its relationship with the history, culture and people. I had heard that some of the parents and community involved in the exhibition were from our school, so we decided to visit.

As we walked up the hill to the Art Gallery, the students were very excited. The big sandstone building is so impressive and the kids were already having conversations around the large sculptures on display outside.  They were even more impressed that they were greeted at the entrance by Victoria Collings, the Art Gallery’s family programs manager, whom they had all met at community and school events.

A sculpture of a horse with a rider holding up a branch, with a large sandstone building behind

Gilbert Bayes The offerings of peace 1923 in the Art Gallery of New South Wales forecourt

As we walked through the entrance of the Gallery, I could see the kids were connecting more and more with the space. We heard about the new Sol LeWitt artwork that was being painted on the wall of the first large room we entered, and how we could watch it being created over the next week.

Joining us on the excursion as a parent–helper was Sarah Samuels, who was one of the 11 Woolloomooloo residents curating Local Rhythms and Actions. Sarah very kindly introduced the exhibition to the students and told her story about how and why she chose certain artworks for the exhibition.

A group of children sit on the floor watching a person on a wall-mounted screen

Students in the Art Gallery watch a video about the exhibition, featuring Sarah Samuels

Students in the Art Gallery watch a video about the exhibition, featuring Sarah Samuels

Sarah’s enthusiasm and passion for the exhibition was extremely contagious and very quickly the students wandered off to discover the artworks at their own pace. They also had worksheets, which included questions about what they saw in the exibition and how they felt about it. These are some of the things they had to say:

It made me happy and made me think that I could make beautiful art too.

Local people that live in Woolloomooloo gave me a special connection to the artworks.

The art reminded me about my life and what I see in my life.

Made me feel like my landmark is important.

The spray paint one connected to my dad because he used to do spray paint.

‘The spray paint one’ – Reko Rennie’s No sleep till Dreamtime 2014 – was popular with many students, for different reasons. Another student singled it out ‘because it has a lot of shapes and colours and it makes me think about the world and people, because the world is colourful and all the people are different, just like all the squares in the picture’.

Woolloomooloo is historically a very creative community, and our school has some very creative students. Experiencing the exhibition connected the students to the Art Gallery and led them to the belief that one day they too could be a famous artist with their work hanging in the Gallery, or maybe a curator who tells a story through the art they select for display – just like the 11 Woolloomooloo residents involved with Local Rhythms and Actions.

Seven children on the floor of a gallery space writing on paper with an artwork made up of colourful squares on two walls behind them

Students in the exhibition with Reko Rennie’s No sleep till Dreamtime 2014. Artwork © Reko Rennie, courtesy of the artist and Blackartprojects