“The paintings are more human now, they are people.” (Jackie)
Wow! I don’t think the Ashmolean ever expected 4 years of such an amazingly diverse, inspirational, inclusive celebration of people, art and portraiture when we started the campaign to ‘Save Manet for the Nation’ in 2012.
Beyond the Balcony has been such a fitting way to end the activities around Manet’s Portrait of Fanny Claus: to explore and focus on the person behind the artwork, the portrait, the sitter and the viewer. Guiding the people in the MIND and Young Dementia UK groups, brook & black gave everyone the opportunity to see how artists work, to be part of the processes involved when responding to existing work and then creatively bringing responses together to culminate in digital videos and installations.
The artists also helped the museum refocus the work around Manet, giving community engagement a higher profile in the galleries, in large scale public events (the May LIVE Friday) and to rethink how we use the gallery spaces for people to be creative and respond to both the work and spaces of the museum. Through their workshops of photography, poetry, collage and video (using a green screen), they gave a solid platform for people to actively participate in art and in the Ashmolean: giving people the opportunity to experience the museum more confidently.
Jackie said “I feel like it’s like my lounge now, I want to go to sleep in the corner and watch”.
Calvin said “It [the Ashmolean] feels more accessible, I felt before restricted to go into certain areas but now I feel like I can come in and enjoy it more.”
Most importantly, at the centre of all the activity was everyone’s individual stories and experiences. Beyond the Balcony was not only perfect approach of accessing art, portraiture, the museum: it encouraged us to look beyond the interpretation often presented to us as an audience at the stories behind the paintings and reflect and present our own stories. What is our connection with other artworks on display?