Over the last few months of the pandemic lockdowns, The Drawing Room Kitchen Table has been a vital lifeline for connecting audiences to artists and one another through a shared creative experience.
Before COVID-19 The Drawing Room had been running since 2003 as a monthly artist-led free, experimental drawing workshop that met after-hours at the National Galleries of Scotland. By necessity Drawing Room sessions have moved online, with participants meeting in Zoom rooms instead of gallery spaces. Online workshops are obviously not the same as being our galleries in front of incredible artworks but have allowed participants to continue to be have the shared experience of being in the same place at the same time, albeit virtually.
Each month we invite a different contemporary artist to devise a new session. Preserving the original Drawing Room ethos, sessions are open to everyone and no previous art experience is required. Artist Sharon Quigley has been involved in leading sessions from early on and has observed the development of The Drawing Room over time.
So much of the regular Learning & Engagement in-gallery programme at National Galleries of Scotland has been adversely affected by the pandemic closures but we felt some form of live face-to-face activity was a priority to keep going. After the first COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020, The Drawing Room was the first Learning activity to migrate online. We approached this tentatively at first, offering a short, free-to-access session on Zoom which evolved into the 45-minute Kitchen Table sessions we currently offer.
Ticket holders get sent a Zoom link and a list of materials on the afternoon of the session. Visiting artists devise activities using easy to find household materials and tools (pencils, cartridge paper, kitchen spices, magazines, scissors etc). Some of the online sessions such as those led by Sharon Quigley and Brigid Collins have focused on mindful activity, some artists such as Ailsa Sutcliffe and Tessa Asquith Lamb have devised activities in response to artworks in the collection, others have been fun social activities, such as Rae-Yen Song’s Drawing Bingo game.
Despite our initial worries, The Drawing Room has successfully adapted to new virtual conditions with both artists and participants enthusiastically taking up the opportunity. Although this kind of digital participation was new territory for us, we tried to ensure the essential Drawing Room elements were retained: led by professional artists, informal atmosphere, free to access and focused time to draw. When asked what they enjoyed about the online Kitchen Table sessions participants mentioned ‘being in contact with other people’, ‘seeing familiar faces’ and that they found it ‘very enjoyable and therapeutic’. These comments chimed closely with a recently published study on digital responses to the pandemic in museums that started with the premise that ‘one of the most valued aspects of the museum experience is related to... social interaction’.1
The success of The Drawing Room online has inspired spin-offs since we piloted it last year: based on The Drawing Room format, our Families programme offers Art Connects for new parents. We have also re-run The Drawing Room Kitchen Table sessions as part of our Health and Wellbeing activities.
In feedback participants expressed appreciation we were able to offer activities online while ‘it is unsafe to visit’. One participant remarked: ‘I’m confined at home… and online classes are a real blessing - could do one every day!’ Although it is our intention to re-start onsite activities whenever it is safe to do so, the experience of developing the online The Drawing Room has also demonstrated, through increased accessibility, the necessity to continue to offer some of our activities via Zoom in the future for audiences unable to access our buildings and activities. As one participant said: ‘I hope that the Kitchen Table format via Zoom continues until it is safe for me to return to the Galleries after the pandemic’.
1 Vayanou, M., Katifori, A., Chrysanthi, A. and Antoniou, A. 2020. ‘Cultural Heritage and Social Experiences in the Times of COVID 19’. In Proceedings of AV I 2 CH 2020: Workshop on Advanced Visual Interfaces and Interactions in Cultural Heritage (AV I 2 CH 2020) (accessed 22 April 2021).