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South West Arts Projects Overview > Falmouth Art Gallery

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Brunel 200 – A Celebration

Brunel 200 was a celebratory exhibition designed to inspire interest in Brunel throughout the South West. It formed part of a national programme of events celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Brunel 200 and the Heritage Lottery Fund sponsored the exhibition. Brunel 200 is an initiative of Bristol Cultural Development Partnership on behalf of Culture South West, Arts Council England South West, Bristol City Council and Business West.

The exhibition had a strong community and family focus, displaying rare photographs of Brunel’s projects. It also included Brunel-inspired works commissioned by local artists alongside those produced by children. It has been put together by the same educational team that has won or been nominated for 14 national awards in the last 5 years, the most recent award being The Guardian Family-Friendly Award 2006 that the gallery won after the judging family anonymously visited the Brunel 200 exhibition.

Falmouth Art Gallery has a “Family Friendly and Free” policy and prides itself on creating a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere for its visitors. In order to maintain this comfortable environment it seemed appropriate to take an informal approach to evaluation. The evaluation has therefore been designed to be as unobtrusive as possible, relying on the use of case studies, observation, and informal interviews.

Project Outline

Thanks to the generous funding from Brunel 200 and the Heritage Lottery Fund the gallery was able to stage a 2-month long Brunel 200 exhibition complete with educational workshops and activities. The entire project was designed and run by staff and volunteers at the gallery.

The Exhibition

The gallery commissioned local artists and automata-makers to interpret Brunel’s achievements in a fun and accessible way in order to complement the rare photographs. This included a painting by Falmouth artist John Dyer, who has produced a number of celebratory paintings for the Falmouth Tall Ships Festival and Ellen MacArthur’s triumphant return to Falmouth.

Other commissioned works were:

Automata and Papier Mâché

Paul Spooner, The Box Tunnel on the Great Western Railway- over a hundred labourers were killed during its excavation.
Keith Newstead, God’s wonderful railway- after Emett.
Justin Mitchell, I. K. Brunel’s Leviathon of the Seas- The Great Eastern.
Carlos Zapata, I. K. Brunel 1806-1859.
Emily Firmin, Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

The commissioned works have now been made part of the permanent collection of Falmouth Art Gallery to be a useful resource for the future.

Members of the community, local school children and special needs groups, were also invited to design Brunel-inspired creations. These were then professionally framed and mounted before being displayed. This complies with section 10.2 of the gallery’s learning policy: “The gallery shall not adopt a two tier set of standards in the presentation of work… We promise to display children’s and workshop-produced art to the same high standards as we would a professional artist.”

As well as commissioned works the exhibition also included historic photographs on loan from the Porthcurno Telegraph Museum and the Royal Cornwall Museum. These were hung alongside works produced by local artists and a variety of interesting pieces from the gallery’s own collection.

Workshops and Activities

Workshop structure and timing varied depending on the needs of the attending group. The gallery ran workshops for local schools, families and special needs groups. Workshops were designed to encourage groups to appreciate Brunel’s achievements. Most workshops included a tour around the gallery, completing an activity worksheet, and a paper aeroplane competition. The paper aeroplane competition also allowed groups to become inventors like Brunel by creating an original design. Some of the winning aeroplanes were displayed in the exhibition.

There were also specialist workshops given by local performers and artists. These included a mime artist who gave a Brunel-inspired performance at the gallery that proved to be extremely popular. King Charles School attended a dance workshop where they were encouraged to make shapes based on Brunel’s constructions. There was also a successful cartoon workshop based on Brunel that was run by Nick Brennan, a famous cartoonist for Beano and Dandy.

To accompany the exhibition gallery staff designed activity worksheets that were given to school groups and also left out in the gallery for visiting children to enjoy (please refer to appendix 2). The worksheets encouraged children to look closely at the exhibition and to use their imaginations to design a bridge like Brunel’s.

Falmouth Art Gallery supports the aim of Brunel 200:

“To use lifelong learning to encourage people to appreciate the value of the achievements of Brunel and his nineteenth century colleagues, and to foster an interest in all aspects of engineering, science, and design.”

It also aims to:

Inspire interest in Brunel and his achievements throughout the South West.
Encourage artists, makers and the local community to interpret Brunel in a fun and accessible way.
Forge closer relationships between community partners, to encourage their wide ranging and long term involvement in the gallery.
Promote a positive learning experience to inspire and enrich the lives of those involved and promote social inclusion.
Give children the confidence to express themselves freely and without fear of “getting it wrong” or being consciously evaluated, and to instil a pride in their work.
Create innovative “learning atmospheres”, where non-didactic learning can be stimulated and inspired.
Celebrate: encourage an understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of our heritage and its enhancement of people’s lives in the community.
To display children’s and community work in a professional manner in the gallery space.
To deliver the project within the given time frame and budget.

Project Partners

The Brunel 200 exhibition happened as a result of a successful collaboration with Brunel 200, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Royal Cornwall Museum, Porthcurno Telegraph Museum, University College Falmouth and Falmouth River Festival. This proved to be an extremely worthwhile collaboration that was mutually beneficial to all parties involved. The gallery was particularly grateful for a jointly produced a Brunel 200 leaflet that listed all of the events and activities taking place in the South West. These leaflets were prominently displayed at the gallery to draw attention to other celebratory events. A large number of visitors went to other Brunel events.

The gallery is committed to breaking down barriers and using heritage as an inspiration to deliver learning across the National Curriculum. In order to achieve this it works closely with SWMLAC, DCMS, and DfES.

During the exhibition the gallery also worked with local schools, Royal Cornwall Museum archives, Falmouth Youth Club, Mencap, Age Concern, Falmouth Stroke Club, Earle’s Retreat, Adult Education Truro, Falmouth Art Society, special needs groups and other local community organisations.

Case Study

Workshop with Gerrans School

Gerrans School, from the nearby Roseland Peninsula, attended a workshop at the gallery on the 4th July 2006. The workshop ran from 10.00am - 11.30am. The group included 15 children, aged 9-10, and 4 adults.

Brian Stewart, Curator, and Natalie Rigby, Gallery and Education Assistant, led the workshop.

The workshop started with a tour of the exhibition given by Brian Stewart. During the tour Brian drew attention to the famous Brunel constructions and highlighted interesting details for the children to look out for in the exhibition. For example, an automaton that was designed to imitate the noise of a train, and giant rubber foam chains in the centre of the exhibition that reflected the background of a famous photograph of Brunel. The tour had an informal atmosphere and the children were kept engaged and involved with questions.

The children were then invited to look round the exhibition and choose their favourite piece. Once they had made a choice they were asked to create a drawing based on the work. The most popular pieces were the automata made possible by the funding from Heritage Lottery Fund and Brunel 200. These helped the children to appreciate the photographs even more. As you can see from the following examples the children got very involved in the activity and produced some amazing work.

The workshop also included a paper aeroplane competition. The children were invited to become inventors like Brunel and design their own paper aeroplane. Prizes were then awarded for the furthest flight, most interesting flight, and best decoration. This was another enjoyable and popular activity. One of the children, David, aged 10, designed a Brunel-inspired aeroplane that was decorated with the giant chains that he liked from the exhibition.

During an informal interview Mrs Judy Tomlinson, Gerrans School art and design teacher, described the gallery as “small and friendly” with “fantastic workshops”. She thought that the children really enjoyed the workshop and the laid back atmosphere of the galley. Sophie, aged 9, said, “I think it’s really brilliant!”. Special mention was given to the fact that the children really looked at and understood the work on display. One of the children, Elliot, aged 9, said he found the exhibition very stimulating and said “I like the pictures with emotion in them”.

Outcomes and Data

A thorough study of feedback from visitors, informal interviews and general observation reveals that the project was successful in achieving its aims. It was delivered on time and on budget and was positively received by a varied audience ranging from families to Brunel enthusiasts. Overall it attracted a pleasing total of 8,614 visitors. There were 751 educational visits, 510 were community education visits and the remaining 241 were school children.

The assistance from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Brunel 200 was vital to enable the gallery to produce an exhibition that could be enjoyed by the whole community. The commissioned automata were a particular favourite amongst most of the visitors, especially children. These automata will now be included in an activity book produced by the gallery for schools and families about the history of automata and how they are made. This book will be distributed free to local schools as part of the National Curriculum.

Media Coverage

The project was also extremely successful in terms of press coverage and was mentioned in local and national publications. Encouragingly it reached a readership of 3.1 million. This figure does not include coverage given to the Brunel 200 project as a whole. It is therefore important to acknowledge the coverage that the Brunel 200 celebrations received in the press and its benefits to the exhibition. The gallery cannot afford a cutting service and therefore will no doubt have missed some of the coverage.

During the exhibition the gallery also received extensive coverage in The Guardian due to its nomination for the Family-Friendly Award 2006. Photos of the exhibition were also displayed on the 24 hour museum website when the gallery won the award, however this was after the exhibition had closed.

Visitor Feedback

The feedback from all participants revealed an enthusiasm for the exhibition, the workshops and a wish to continue creative activities outside the gallery. Children enjoyed themselves and felt at ease in the gallery.

The following quotes are typical examples from the comments book:

“Brunel exhibition inspired.”

“I liked the automata. They are funny!”

“Lovely exhibition of the greatest engineer of the nineteenth century.”

“What a man!”

“Brunel is an awesome figure to whom we owe so much and to all who made his works possible. Thank you for the exhibition!”

“Loved The Brunel.”

“Well done, very informative of Brunel’s genius.”

The Guardian Family-Friendly Awards 2006

Falmouth Art Gallery was recently awarded The Guardian Family-Friendly Award 2006, beating competition from The Horniman, Livesy Museum, National Waterfront Museum and North Somerset Museum. A family who formed part of The Guardian judging families arrived unannounced at the gallery during the Brunel 200 exhibition and took part in one of the workshops. The whole family loved the experience and were so entertained that they spent over 3 hours in the gallery. Herbie age 7 said “I think it’s 10 out of 10”. Dad Mike couldn’t remember his family spending so long in a museum before, he said “here they’ve sat down, been enthused, and had a whale of a time. It’s difficult to see what more this gallery could do”.

This award reinforces the fact that the Brunel 200 exhibition was an extremely worthwhile project.

Future Plans

John Harrold, illustrator of Rupert the Bear, has been commissioned to produce another celebratory work. This will be used in a small exhibition that will take place in conjunction with the anniversary of Brunel’s death in September. Other pieces from the exhibition have also been loaned to Penryn Museum.

Falmouth Art Gallery is keen to build on the partnerships and skills that it has gained from working in collaboration with Brunel 200. Darwin’s Beagle landed at Falmouth and so the gallery is already working with Newquay Zoo in preparation for the future Darwin celebrations. It would very much like to be an integral part of any bid. The Director wished to gratefully acknowledge Martyn Heighton, Ruth Sidgwick and the Brunel 200 team for their hard work and support.

Donna Williams MA Museum Studies
University of Leicester

Staff and Volunteers Involved in the Project

Brian Stewart, Curator
Natalie Rigby, Gallery Assistant
Alex Hooper, Assistant Curator
Pat Collinson, Gallery and Shop Manager
Tamsin Bough, Gallery and Shop Manager
Richard Harold, Volunteer
Glyn Winchester, Volunteer
Susannah Webster, Volunteer
Claire Harrison, Volunteer
Lauren Vincent, Volunteer
Simon Polglase, Deputy Clerk and Finance Officer
Pat Webster, Volunteer
Tony Waddington, Volunteer
Terry Thorne, Volunteer
Kate Holliday, Volunteer
Linda Bickford, Volunteer
Nina Cooper, Volunteer
John Tonkin, Volunteer
Chris Buck, Volunteer
Claire Harrison, Volunteer
Jill Robinson, Volunteer
Poh Lai Lim, Volunteer
Nick Sargent, Volunteer

Evaluation report by Donna Williams, University of Leicester.

Falmouth Art Gallery
Municipal Buildings
The Moor
TR11 2RT