Ffion Rhys, Curator, Aberystwyth Arts Centre
5 June 2024

Teulu (Family)

Ffion Rhys, Curator, Aberystwyth Arts Centre

5 June 2024 | Minute read

While in conversation with fellow curators a few months back, a colleague commented on the fact that we are all so busy spinning all these plates, and that we really should make sure that one plate is always a sweet one, at which point she turned to me and asked “which is your sweet plate at the moment Ffion?” Well, the answer to that question came easily - Teulu of course!

Family (or ‘Teulu’ in Welsh) means everything to me, as does art - so combining both was always going to be a delight. I worked for a while as a gallery educator for Artes Mundi - the biennial international contemporary art exhibition in Wales - and my favourite part of that job was the family workshops. I just loved involving the parents, grandparents, children and extended family and friends all together in something creative - there is something quite special about how art can create a different space that enables new interactions with each other. Researching more about this, I came to understand that there aren’t many opportunities for families to take part in creative activity together as a whole unit: parents often go off to do one thing, while the children do a different activity, which was also identified as a priority in research carried out by The Audience Agency - Arts Connect Research: Family Access Scheme, 2016.

An exhibition made by families, for families

I wanted to explore ways of working with the whole family and I also wanted to find out what barriers might exist in preventing families in visiting galleries in particular. We found 4 fantastic families that wanted to work with us for a period of 6 months, and we have learnt so much from them - I cannot thank them enough for their insights and enthusiasm. The main focus to the project was that we would curate a major exhibition together, an exhibition made by families, for families.

Together we went through all aspects of usual exhibition production: the idea/theme/aspiration of the show; selecting the artworks; writing the interpretation panels and labels; deciding on the layout of walls; the placement of works in the space and in relation to each other; and ideas for the opening event, marketing and gallery activities.

Through all of this process, we learnt that parents or carers sometimes feel that the gallery isn’t a space for them - they often worry that children might not be interested in the art, that they might break something, make too much noise or run/slide on the floors - as galleries are often large wide-open spaces, and often more akin to libraries. They also felt that the artwork was often for adults and not targeted at children, with nothing additional for them to ‘do’. Indeed, this is the experience I have had with my own children.

We found that children love colour, sound, touch, movement, play and creating - not too surprising - but how would we include these elements in a gallery full of fragile valuable art? That is the conundrum. How were we going to create a space that went towards making families feel that it was OK to come in, stay, enjoy, take part if they wanted and feel that it was their space?

A joyful exhibition

We worked in partnership with Amgueddfa Cymru - Museum Wales, National Library of Wales and the School of Art, Museum and Galleries, Aberystwyth University all of which hold amazing national collections that belong to us all. We wanted the families to have access to these important artworks and to give them the choice of selecting what they thought would represent their ideas, themes and aspirations. What they have created is a joyful exhibition that is a real celebration of what family means to them. The ‘white cube’ and straight edges have disappeared, and what we see is every wall a different colour painted in curves with artworks hung at child height as well as adult height. The families have even created their own ceramic and animation artworks in response to, and to show alongside, their chosen artworks by Picasso, Ceri Richards, Kyffin Williams, David Hurn and Claudia Williams. The artworks speak of spending time together with those you love: around the table at home, in nature, at the seaside and in the mountains. Their concerns about the preservation of our natural world for our future generations and climate emergency is also reflected in the works selected with photographs depicting rubbish collected on our beaches. The children chose more colourful and abstract works, children’s book illustrations depicting animals and creative play and also moving image work. The families also commissioned artists to create new interactive artworks in response to the themes of the exhibition - a ‘weaving table’ where the whole family can create together and interactive playful soft sculptures that move around the gallery.

On the families’ suggestion, Ben Dant the pirate and Rt. Hon. Elin Jones MS opened the exhibition, who commented that:

“This is the noisiest private view I have ever been to! How refreshing it is to see so many families here, this is how it should be.”

The exhibition is on now at Aberystwyth Arts Centre until June the 23rd 2024 and we are very proud that this exhibition was chosen to launch the exciting initiative that will establish a national contemporary art gallery for Wales, which at its heart aims to give access to our national art collections through showcasing the collection in 9 partner galleries located throughout the breadth of Wales.

A space for all

There are many unexpected outcomes to this project: the numerous requests from the artists selected to meet the families - having chips on Aberystwyth prom with David Hurn was a definite highlight! And the ceramics curator for Aberystwyth Art School asking if they could work with the families to curate another exhibition is a wonderful legacy. What we have learnt through this has far surpassed my expectations, and we are still learning from it. It has had a ripple effect throughout the whole Arts Centre team, and its visitors. The gallery is full of people of all ages, enjoying what they see, taking part in creating together, with less worry about noise or playing and how they are ‘expected’ to behave. Ultimately it has changed the way we work and changed attitudes as to what a gallery space can be - which is a space for ALL.


Thank you to the families, the Arts Council of Wales and national contemporary art gallery Wales for funding this project and to our project partners Amgueddfa Cymru - Museum Wales, National Library Wales, Aberystwyth Art School, Plant Dewi, Flying Start, Families First, Elin Vaughan Crowley artist and project co-ordinator, Laura Hughes ceramics tutor and Charlie Carter, animation tutor, for their part in enabling this to happen.

Photographs by Aberystwyth Arts Centre and Emma Goldsmith.

Teulu (Family), Aberystwyth Arts Centre

Teulu (Family) Exhibition, Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Photography: Emma Goldsmith

Teulu (Family) project, Aberystwyth Arts Centre


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