Outreach team | Helping people access visual art

If you’re young and you live in ‘the sticks’, how do you get access to visual art? Robin Baillie, Senior Outreach Officer at the National Galleries of Scotland was contacted earlier this year by Kari Giordano, an art teacher and photographer from upstate New York. She was in Scotland, on a Fullbright Scholarship, seeking to investigate rural art provision for young people over here.

In this blog, Robin explains what happened when they met to discuss how outreach officers from Learning and Engagement make the Galleries accessible and relevant to young people outside the cities.

I was happy to share our experience gained through projects run over many years working with young people across the country, from Portree to Eyemouth and Thurso to Dumfries. We agreed that Kari would join me on my next trip down to Galashiels to engage unemployed youngsters with historical works from the Scottish art collection. 

Kari sat in the passenger seat of the National Galleries’ car as we covered the 28 miles south from Edinburgh to the community centre in the former mill town of Galashiels, where we would meet the young people. This post-industrial rural setting was familiar to her from her experiences at home, as was the need for cultural access for young people isolated in these areas, due to transport costs and lack of provision. 

Sir David Wilkie General Sir David Baird Discovering the Body of Sultan Tippoo Sahib after having Captured Seringapatam, on the 4th May, 1799 1839

The Galleries’ outreach team have been working in the Scottish Borders since 2016, inviting young unemployed people to reimagine the Scottish past based on their own experiences and attitudes.

This is part of the audience engagement plan for the HLF funded transformation of the Scottish National Gallery. These youths have literally stepped into historic paintings - like one by Sir David Wilkie, pictured left, presenting a Scots’ military hero from the days of the British empire - by re-enacting them in public, or by using the greenscreen technique to montage themselves into the image to speak from inside it.

This monumental image sparked a debate about violence in Scottish history and whether military force was justified, then or now. One lad was about to join the army so he had a strong interest in this debate, and another, who had represented Scotland as an amateur boxer, also had personal experience of using force in a sporting setting. 

We then agreed to go to the Town Hall in Galashiels and make a visual intervention featuring a replica wooden flintlock pistol on a pole - pictured below - at the equestrian statue of the Border Reiver, which would dramatically highlight this issue.

After the session, Kari then created a thoughtful and touching account of the experience she had that day … I’ll let Kari take up the story from here via her blog.

By Robin Baillie, Senior Outreach Officer, 4 May 2020