This year brought a busy start for the Courtauld National Partners Programme; our exhibitions Radical Drawing in Coventry and The Bloomsbury Effect in Wolverhampton came to a close, having been enjoyed by over 20,000 visitors and our associated schools programme ran a series of new workshops for local young people based on the exhibitions.
In February, we opened two very different but equally brilliant exhibitions at The Harris, Preston, and at Braintree Museum. The Artful Line at The Harris Art Gallery, Museum and Library explored drawing as a process and technique, bringing together works from The Harris with four specially selected works from The Courtauld’s collection.
The exhibition also provided an opportunity to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the closure of the Courtauld factory in Preston with a reunion event for former employees, over tea and cake they shared memories, brought objects from their own collections, and had a tour of the exhibition. A true highlight was the inclusion of three newly commissioned works in the show, created by local artists responding to the legacy of the factory.
Courtaulds: Origins, Innovation and Family at Braintree Museum also offered visitors the chance to explore the history of the Courtauld family and their textile business through new displays and audio recordings of memories captured by local volunteers. For the first time, The Courtauld loaned a selection of rare woodblock prints by Paul Gauguin to demonstrate the significance and quality of Samuel Courtauld’s art collection. Over the course of two very busy days, we welcomed 148 students into the exhibition to learn more about the works and make prints of their own.
Of course, the Covid-19 restrictions of the Spring and Summer of 2020 brought a multitude of unexpected challenges to the programme, including the sudden closure of the two exhibitions and the cancellation of our planned activities in schools and with members of the public. However, because of the strong relationships built over time with our partners, we were able to work together on new approaches and embrace the opportunities to reach even wider audiences with our exhibitions and activities.
Like many others, we turned to digital platforms and supported our partners to create interactive online versions of the closed exhibitions. We moved our public programming online through blogs, films and downloadable activities, this included curators from The Courtauld recording YouTube versions of events due to take place during lockdown and activity worksheets made by our Heritage and Learning Officer for children and young people at home.
We were thrilled to reopen both exhibitions by late summer and to extend the closing dates to allow local audiences to visit in person and see works from The Courtauld alongside our partners’ collections. But in these unpredictable times we have also continued to focus on ways to help communities engage with our work from a distance. For example, Braintree Museum have developed a fantastic approach to supporting local care homes by offering art activity packs based on the Gauguin prints in the exhibition.
We are now looking forward to opening new exhibitions with our partners at Belfast Museum and The Ferens Art Gallery, and using innovative new approaches will continue to work with schools and community volunteers in 2021.