Children’s show turns on the healing power of imagination

Next week sees the opening of Imagine, the Southbank Centre’s fortnight-long children’s festival of art, design, literature and music, which celebrates its tenth birthday this year.

The festival includes readings by children’s authors and poets, as well as exhibitions created by children themselves.

The branding and exhibition design for the event is created in-house by the Southbank Centre. This year, it has commissioned illustrator Spencer Wilson to create the graphics. Wilson says, ’You’ve got to make something that’s not too twee and not too dark, but also something adults would pick up. Colour-wise, I picked a palette I like, and kept it bright.’

Southbank Centre graphic designer Gaelle Lochner says, ’It’s a place for children to use their imagination. With the graphics, we had to make sure the tone was never too patronising nor too obvious.’

This year, Imagine is collaborating with London-based children’s charity Kids Company, which combines care with art to help children overcome the trauma of abuse and neglect.

Children from Kids Company have created their own exhibitions as part of Imagine – Shoebox Living and My Life Illuminated.

Shoebox Living showcases the work of children aged between eight and ten, who were asked to recreate a room from their home in a shoebox and give it a short description.

Cathy Mager, participation producer at the Southbank Centre, says, ’We felt introducing a major body of artwork made by children for an audience of children would be a powerful addition to the Imagine children’s festival.’

Jane Caldwell, creative director of Kids Company, worked alongside Mager to create the two exhibitions.

Caldwell says, ’Our main concern was to provide a sensory experience. The audience will be very young and some of the experiences of [Kids Company] children are very traumatic, so we need to present their thoughts and creations in an imaginative and fun way.’

My Life Illuminated is an exhibition of light sculptures, projection, poetry and soundscapes made by the children of Kids Company.

Caldwell explains, ’We created a collage of bright colours, the sounds of our children speaking and poetry. It’s a corridor space, so we used lights, acetate and plastic and got the children to own it themselves. Children who’ve experienced difficulties often feel like they’re under a microscope. We want to empower them.’

The exhibition developed from a series of workshops at which children were asked to imagine what their brains looked like, and to draw their own brain scans.

Mager says, ’Kids Company suggested a series of wooden wall sculptures that invite children and families visiting the exhibition to inscribe their own thoughts and so to create an evolving piece of work over the course of the festival that everyone could be part of.’

The centrepiece of the exhibition is an installation of 125 hanging light sculptures, made from tracings of children’s profiles, in which they wrote down their emotions.

Caldwell adds, ’It’s amazing how emotionally literate children are. One boy from a workshop said, “all emotions are about tears”. When you are really sad, angry or happy, you cry. So we created part of the structure out of tear shapes.’

Where to see the exhibitions

  • Since its inception more than a year ago, the Shoebox Living exhibition has visited the Home Office, the Treasury, the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Haunch of Venison and Saatchi galleries. Kids Company then asked 45 leading artists to recreate their own shoebox rooms, which were auctioned off to raise funds
  • Imagine runs from 12-27 February at the Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, London SE1
  • Shoebox Living and My Life Illuminated run from 7 February to 7 March in the foyers, and from 7 February to 6 March at the Spirit Level respectively in the Royal Festival Hall, 10am-11pm, free
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