Kids are taking over museums Part II

This is Part II of a paper that I wrote in 2015 for the International Symposium of the Children’s Museum for its 10th Anniversary of the National Museum of Korea reconstruction and children’s museum opening to the public. The Symposium was entitled Museums where Children have fun – results and challenges of education at Children’s Museums

Kids are taking over museums!

Part II

Take One Picture

To conclude my presentation, I would like to present a final Takeover Day case study and describe another of my roles as curator of the National Gallery’s Take One Picture exhibition. Here, children are taking over the National Gallery’s private view of the annual exhibition. Children acted as guides, greeted guests and served refreshments.

What is Take One Picture?

The National Gallery was founded in 1824 and is home to around 2,300 Western European Old Master paintings. Each year, a single picture becomes the focus and inspiration for four- to 11-year-old children’s learning across the curriculum. Looking in close detail at a single painting and discussing relevant universal themes enables pupils to make meaningful connections across cultures and time. It also allows children to discover, imagine and explore while unlocking their creativity.

Over the last 20 years, thousands of primary school children throughout the UK and in international schools abroad have participated in the National Gallery’s Take One Picture scheme. Selected work is exhibited at the Gallery and there is also a digital display.

This year celebrates 20 years of Take One Picture and I have collated a retrospective showing different ways in which children have interpreted the National Gallery’s collection over the years.

Take One Picture enables participating children to investigate cross-curricular lines of enquiry; process new skills; make meaningful links to the painting and learn together as part of a community. Many schools use Take One Picture annually to place a painting at the heart of the curriculum as a creative catalyst to learning. The impact of Take One Picture, as evidenced in a 2013 report by the Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education, is overwhelmingly positive and demonstrates a range of significant benefits for both participating pupils and teachers, with additional benefits for the school as a whole.

Georges Seurat, Bathers at Asnières, 1884
Bought, Courtauld Fund, 1924

Case Study (1) of Bathers at Asnières, 1884, by Georges Seurat

Nine-to-10-year-olds focused on Georges Seurat’s painting, Bathers at Asnières. Factory workers are taking a break alongside the banks of the River Seine near Paris. It is a time of industrial change, so the children decided to research the Industrial Revolution as a line of enquiry, specifically the spread of the railway network inspired by the steam train crossing the bridge in the background of the painting. They found out that the building of the railway bridge in 1837 made Asnières easy to visit from the centre of Paris.

Children were keen to depict the figures in Seurat’s painting hard at work in an industrial scene and researched working conditions in factories. They stand here in front of their recreation of the steam train depicted in Seurat’s painting. They explained how they interviewed members of their local community about working conditions now and in the past. They also created and signed a petition that they took to Parliament to protest about the new high-speed train coming to London, as it has caused local homes to be demolished.

Joseph Mallord William Turner
The Fighting Temeraire, 1839
Turner Bequest, 1856

Case Study of Turner’s Fighting Temeraire, 1839, by Joseph Mallord William Turner

Ten-to-11-year-old children were fascinated by the idea that the Temeraire was about to be broken up and the oak reused for various purposes, including the making of furniture. This ship played an important role in Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, after which she was known as the ‘Fighting Temeraire’. A school parent who was a carpenter worked with the children one afternoon a week for a term. First, they visited a local sawmill to source the oak. Then, having researched tables of the period, they designed their own. The children learned traditional carpentry techniques. They became skilled at using saws and chisels and at constructing mortise and tenon joints.

Case Study (2) of Bathers at Asnières, 1884, by Georges Seurat

Ten to 11 year olds transported the South Yorkshire town of Barnsley to the French suburb Asnières. They had been looking at photographs of the banners each colliery carried when returning to work after the 1980s miners’ strike. They decided to produce their own banner, including elements of Bathers at Asnières and parts of Barnsley’s heritage. Each child worked on their own piece of the design. They drew the initial template to scale, chose textiles and colours, and sewed their finished pieces on to the banner. See if you can find Barnsley’s famous pork pies, English cricket umpire Dickie Bird, and even a small figure from Seurat’s painting.

Case Study (3) of Bathers at Asnières, 1884, by Georges Seurat

Seven to 11 year olds enjoyed learning about their local environment. They explored transport and discovered that around the time Seurat made this painting, Londoners travelled by train to Fleet Pond, near their school, to enjoy a day out in the countryside. Two designers-in-residence supported the children’s work. They encouraged each child to chart a journey from home in black line drawings. The children were introduced to new skills including hand printing, monoprinting, typography, embroidery and appliqué. Parents and grandparents assisted with the stitching, so the work became intergenerational.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir
The Umbrellas, about 1881-6
Sir Hugh Lane Bequest, 1917

Case Study of The Umbrellas, about 1881–6, by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Six-to-eight-year-old children recreated the blue dress of the woman carrying a basket in Renoir’s painting. They first studied period costumes, working with a historian from the Fashion Museum in Bath. The children experimented with dyeing fabric. They then pinned and cut out the pattern, stitched all the pieces together using a sewing machine, and hand-stitched the hem. They made the dress to fit one of the members of staff who proudly wore it around school when it was completed!

Challenges faced by teachers include lack of time to implement the project due to National Curriculum constraints; lack of confidence in teaching art; and limited budgets available to implement ambitious projects. To support teachers in overcoming these challenges, Take One Picture is a flexible model that can take place over one week or one term. Training days are offered to support teachers in skills sharing and example case studies are shared to show cost-effective ways of implementing the project.


The concept of Takeover Day as a vehicle for increasing young people’s participation in museums and heritage sites is working, and significantly, museums are becoming aware of the value of the initiative. Takeover Day allows and encourages museums to think differently, to challenge themselves and take risks. They try new activities and methods to reach out to new visitors and partners. The process of listening, communicating and reflecting on the experiences that they have created for young people brings some incredible results. Innovation is a key outcome of the project.

Enjoying museums and galleries from a young age can be transformative. Kids in Museums Patron, the bestselling children’s author Damian Dibben, says:

‘Takeover Day is the day that kids take over our amazing galleries and museums, and run them for themselves. Everything I feel passionate about today – art, science, music, the great endeavours of humankind – began with a trip to a museum or gallery when I was young.’

Many thanks for inviting me to speak today.

Caroline Marcus 02/08/2015