An Artists’ Village: The Story of George & Mary Watts, as told by young people
“If you’d have said we would have been doing history I wouldn’t have come, but now I think the history is the best bit”
February half-term was a dark, wet and cold week, yet around fifteen local young people from Barn Youth Project in Guildford between the ages of 11 and 21 turned up every day at Watts Gallery to make a film about the history of George and Mary Watts in Compton, produced with funding from Arts Council South East’s World Stories programme.
The young people’s studio space for the week was Limnerslease, from where each day they ventured out on location for research, writing, acting and filming. They recruited curators, learning staff and volunteers in their production and delighted visitors in their replica Victorian costumes.
Not one of the group had visited Watts Gallery before and so they were starting from scratch with their interpretation of its history. The results are impressive; four well-researched, humorously scripted, acted and directed short films that tell the story of Watts Gallery, Limnerslease, Watts Chapel and Art for All learning programme. It’s hard to believe when watching the film of the Chapel, that the presenter is just 13 years old. This is clearly an art historian presenter in the making!
On Thursday 25 April, their documentary was premiered at Watts Gallery to an audience of about forty people including parents of the young people and each received a certificate in recognition of their efforts, creativity and engagement with the Gallery. Some have also been busy preparing their portfolios for an Arts Award, further establishing Watts Gallery as a local centre for supporting young people with taking part in this national scheme to develop and recognise young people’s achievements in the arts.
Fred Smith, Trustee of Barn Youth Project said ‘we were so pleased to be selected as part of the project ... it did a lot to build up their confidence and enrich their everyday lives’ and talking to the young people at the premiere, it was clear to see that their Watts week had challenged perceptions of what a Gallery can offer them.
‘Can I come back?’, ‘fun’, ‘I really want to work at the Gallery’, ‘can I bring my sister?’ These are just the comments we hoped to hear and demonstrate the impact projects like this can have on young people’s engagement with museums and galleries.
The success of this project is also a tribute to the dedicated team of adults who supported them all week and whose patience, generosity and encouragement continue to ensure the Art for All ethos pioneered by George & Mary Watts so imaginatively in London and Compton through their work and community projects, continues to thrive in the twenty-first century.
The film ‘An Artists’ Village: G.F. and Mary Watts at Compton’ was funded with the support of Arts Council England, Guildford Borough Council and The Worshipful Company of Weavers.