What goes on at...Engage?

Gallery education organisation, Engage, will curate this June's Children's Art Week. Their director tells us about the organisation and the preparations they're making.

What goes on at...Engage?

Could you first introduce yourself for the reader

I'm Jane Sillis, Director of Engage, the lead advocacy and training organisation for gallery education in the UK. I've worked in a very wide range of arts organisations, from roles in museums and galleries to running arts programmes for homeless people and young people for a housing association. My main area of interest is encouraging children, young people, and adults who haven't taken part in the arts to get involved. I helped set up Engage while I was working at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham in the 1980s and have remained involved ever since, as Vice Chair and becoming Director twelve years ago. Through Engage, I've had the privilege to find out about and campaign for, visual arts and gallery education across the UK and internationally.

What happens at Engage and between Engage and Children's Art Week?

We're a membership organisation supporting more than 800 colleagues involved in education and learning roles across the visual arts, including artists, educators, curators and teachers. We help our members to work with audiences of all ages in particular those new to the arts. We work in four areas: advocacy, training and leadership, research and activities, and sharing practice.

Children's Art Week is an annual event each June, which celebrates children and young people engaging with art and artists throughout the UK. It's a great way to showcase the amazing work of galleries, museums, schools, community organisations and artists.

In what ways can young people get involved with Engage?

There are lots of ways to get involved in Engage. You can become a member – that gives you access to job and training opportunities in the sector, the Engage Journal, Engage Area Groups, brilliant for networking and for finding job and training opportunities, and a discount to attend other events such as the annual Engage conference, this year in Hull at the time of the Turner Prize and Hull 2017.

We also run programmes with organisations across the UK specifically with children and young people. Generation ART is a great example. It's an open submission exhibition of children and young peoples' artwork, which we first toured in 2015-16 to Turner Contemporary, Margate, New Walk Museum and Art Gallery and Soft Touch Arts, Leicester and Quay Arts, Isle of Wight. We're planning to run another programme from 2018-20 in England and Scotland.

Young people got involved in every aspect of Generation ART; selecting work, curating and hanging the exhibition, programming public events, working with artists on commissions, evaluation and speaking about Generation ART at seminars and conferences.


  • Generation ART launch event at Quay Arts, Isle of Wight, March 2016. Photography by Jane Moorhouse.

What projects are you working on at the moment?

Children's Art Week is about to be launched. There are 110 activities taking place across the UK from 10-18 June. Take a look at the Children's Art Week website to find out more and to get involved. This year we've got a focus of activities at Turner Contemporary with Thanet Schools, and in Leicester at New Walk Museum and Art Gallery with a launch event on 10 June at Turner Contemporary and lots of amazing activities. We're focusing on schools that don't normally visit galleries and museums and, with Turner Contemporary, we are producing some resources to support visits and to make links with the National Curriculum.

Children's Art Week is important because we are very concerned that children and young people continue to have the opportunity to experience art both in and out of school. We're aware that state schools in England are increasingly finding it hard to offer as much art, craft and design education in school and that work with artists and cultural visits are difficult to organise. We know how important the creative and cultural industries are to the UK economy and want to encourage young people to think about these as viable areas for study and employment.

What activities are most popular for young people and why?

Children's Art Week is testimony to the really broad range of activities that arts venues in the UK offer. We also want children and young people to enjoy taking part in everything: from stop-frame animation, inspired by female aviators at the National Portrait Gallery, London, to discovering the sensory nature of sculpture at the The Hepworth Gallery, Wakefield.

How do you incorporate different art forms into the work that you do?

Engage is principally about the visual arts, however there are some brilliant cross art form initiatives. There have been some brilliant dance and visual arts initiatives with the National Gallery such as Dancing Museums and Whitechapel Gallery with Siobhan Davies Dance.


  • Generation ART launch event at Turner Contemporary, Margate, June 2015. Photography by Jane Moorhouse.

Could you give an example of a recent project you have run and the impact it had?

I've been really impressed by the impact of programmes such as Generation ART and other programmes for young NEET people in Wales run by Engage Cymru. These young participants have moved on to FE and HE and have been inspired to think about the arts and creative sectors as viable areas for training, education and employment.

The work Engage does seem to focus a lot on leadership. What does it take to be an advocate or leader in the arts? What benefits do things like the Extend Leadership Programme hold?

I'm passionate about encouraging colleagues working in the arts and cultural sectors in education and learning roles to take the lead. We supported some 80 colleagues through the Extend leadership programme. The programme really helps participants to discover their own leadership style, to become confident and feel empowered to lead. Extend alumni have made impressive progress setting up their own businesses and gaining leadership and management roles. They have become powerful ambassadors, ensuring education and learning takes centre stage in arts and cultural organisations. To be a good ambassador and leader you need to feel confident and supported.

What does Engage's future look like?

There are some exciting projects coming up to look up for Engage. Apart from Generation ART, we're developing an exciting project, Making Tracks, placements for NEET young people at visual arts venues with a heritage focus.


  • Generation ART launch event at Turner Contemporary, Margate, June 2015. Photography by Jane Moorhouse.

Do you publish any online resources that young people could use?

We've produced a resource for Generation ART with some great interviews and short films with some of the young exhibitors and the young people who supported programming, evaluation and other aspects of the exhibition. There is some inspiring material here, do take a look.

Within visual arts, we are seeing a shift from consuming it live to consuming it on screens. What effect does this have on your ability to get people to engage in the visual arts?

There is still a huge appetite for consuming the visual arts in the flesh and for meeting artists and others working in the arts. Digital platforms and media make the visual arts much more accessible, especially for audiences who are remote from venues show casing the arts. If anything, sharing and discussing the visual arts on line drives up interest and encourages audiences to experience art first hand at a venue, which is brilliant.

  • Header image courtesy of Children's Art Week.


Bhavesh Jadva

Bhavesh Jadva Voice Team

Former Media Editor on Voice and former Arts Award Editor on AAoV covering film, TV, music and comedy.

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