Can Van Gogh help fight youth violence in Brixton?

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During the October half-term holiday, CHIPS arranged a visit for Brixton young people to Van Gogh House and its sister venue San Mei Gallery, in a ‘first’ for CHIPS and for the Van Gogh team!

Access to arts for all!

“It’s so important to give young people the opportunity to access to places of interest on their doorstep and become submerged in the cultural landscape, instead of feeling disconnected from it”, says CHIPS volunteer Michelle Killington.

Michelle came up with the idea of the visit and helped make it happen after coming across the House and Gallery through her work with another local community organisation, Longfield Hall

Janet Currier, Special Projects Manager at Van Gogh House, explains that they have been developing their education programme over the past year, focusing on primary school children and families. “Our visit with CHIPS was the first time we have worked with teenagers, so we were really excited and curious to see how they would respond!” she says.

The response was a very positive one as the group of young people toured the House with Janet and listened to a talk given by local artist Emily Moore in the Gallery.

“We were all so impressed at how they engaged with Emily and asked about the practicalities of being an artist”, says Janet. Part of what we want to do is to help young people to see that it is possible to make a living through being creative, so having Emily there as a living role model was really important to us.”

Michelle agrees. “The young people really enjoyed speaking with the artist and asked some really interesting questions. The tour from Janet was also fascinating and the group was extremely attentive throughout the visit!” she says.

As with younger children who have visited Van Gogh House, the way the young people engaged with the environment was different to adult visitors, explains Janet. “They were particularly interested in the hidey-holes, the secret histories, and uncovering things”, she explains.

“It was also lovely to see how they projected their own ideas – they had a lot to say about how they would create their perfect bedroom upstairs, for example. They seemed really at home – enough to start making TikTok videos in the kitchen – a first for Van Gogh House?!”

Janet says that though they are a small team at Van Gogh House, they have big ambitions for their education programme. The fact that nearly everyone has heard of Van Gogh makes it a really easy starting point for all kinds of learning and development, she says. “The story of Van Gogh is such a great way in to thinking creatively about many things that are still relevant now – like social justice, social change, migration, mental health and wellbeing.”

 

Looking to the future

Looking ahead, the team’s hope is that as many young people in Brixton as possible will come to know Van Gogh House and San Mei Gallery and feel that these are places they are welcome, and which have something to offer them.

“We would like to be part of an area-wide movement to support young people to have greater access to opportunities in arts and heritage”, Janet says. “How we do this and how we resource this something we now need to work out, but our workshop with CHIPS was a very positive start that we look forward to building on!”

Michelle also sees a number of specific opportunities for Brixton young people as a result of partnership. “One of my hopes is that local young people will learn more about history and the art of oral story telling which is an amazing skill,” she says.

“There are also some very practical opportunities to gain work experience as a tour guide to the public. And I’d love to explore the possibility of local young people interested in art working together on a creative project to be exhibited at San Mei Gallery – I’m already looking at ideas!”

“Ultimately, as peacemakers, we want young people to feel included and proud of their area and its history”, she concluded. “We hope they will see that good things can and do come out of Brixton and engaging with its history can also help them to be a part of a positive future!”

If you’re part of a local community initiative interested in exploring ideas for partnership with Van Gogh House and San Mei Gallery, you can contact Janet at janet@vangoghhouse.co.uk

Fun facts

  • Many people are surprised to know Van Gogh lived in South London. This had been lost in the mists of time until 1971, and the house has only been open to the public as a heritage site since May 2019.

  • Van Gogh’s time in London was significant to his life as an artist. He was very taken with the city – roaming around on foot to visit galleries and enjoy nature!

  • Not many people know that Van Gogh learned to swim in Brixton!

  • When Van Gogh was there the landlady Ursula Loyer ran a school from the front parlour and that there were often 8 or 9 people living in the house sharing one outside toilet.

  • During his time in the house, it is often said that Van Gogh reportedly fell in love with the landlady’s daughter Eugenie and that his feelings were unreciprocated. She went on to marry someone else shortly after.

Cover photo by Van Gogh House.