Shadow Lab: studio thinking and the Whitworth Learning programme

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Groups engaging with Shadow Lab, Whitworth Art Gallery. Image by Steven Roper


The Whitworth’s learning team are looking ahead to the opening of their new learning studio and are busy developing ideas of how the space will be used. One way of gaining inspiration for the future has been to reflect on projects the team has worked on in the past. The Whitworth has a long history of trying new things and doing things differently, and the learning department is no exception.

Previously the learning and engagement team have been restricted by the amount of space they had to create their projects, however that hasn’t stopped them from building immersive environments for creative learning to take place. In 2011 the Whitworth hosted an exhibition called Dark Matters: Shadow. Technology. Art. In connection with this the Learning team designed Shadow Lab, a space where visitors could get hands on with the themes of the exhibition. Shadow Lab saw the learning team transform the Gallery’s storage area into dark space with a series of projectors and abstract shapes for participants to interact with. The result was a constantly changing art work that highlighted the creative and theatrical possibilities related to light and shadow.

The Shadow Lab project was a hugely successful venture for the Whitworth’s learning team, and demonstrated how a space could be transformed into a unique and creative environment for visitors to engage with. The possibilities for this type of immersive and conceptual learning will be increased once the Clore learning studio opens. By reflecting on Shadow Lab the learning and engagement team are able to develop plans for work they would like to do in the future that embodies these creative ideals

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Playing with shapes in the Shadow Lab, Whitworth Art Gallery, image by Steven Roper


A Reggio Approach

The Learning Team are getting increasingly excited as they get closer and closer to moving into their brand new Learning Studio. Early Years Coordinator, Lucy Turner, has been out and about exploring and testing new ideas about how this Reggio Emilia inspired space might be used.

Reggio Emilia is an approach that underpins Whitworth’s Learning Programme as a whole but is particularly relevant to the Early Years Programme.  In Reggio thinking there is a belief that the environment is the third teacher and that it is crucial to provide children with plenty of natural light, access to the outdoors and space for movement to encourage independent play, and curiosity about the world.

Our new Learning Studio will provide just that; it’s huge bi folding doors will let light flood into the room and will open straight out to the new sensory art garden, extending the room and blurring the boundaries between indoor and outdoor.

In our new programmes much more emphasis will be put on outdoor learning, utilising the amazing resource that is Whitworth Park and the art garden. Children will be encouraged to work outside whatever the weather, whether it’s shadow drawing in the sunshine or using the inclement Manchester weather to our advantage to create rain and puddle paintings.

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With no tables and chairs in the Studio the space will have the feel of an artist’s studio, or Atelier, rather than classroom.  This will also allow the space to be much more versatile as each day it is used by a different audience from adults to babies, students to older people. As part of the Early Years programme the space will be regularly transformed into an Atelier which will host Reggio inspired activities encouraging hands on exploration and discovery and for the first time ever we will be able to get as messy as we like!

While the Whitworth has been closed for redevelopment we’ve been popping up in venues around Manchester trialling new Reggio inspired ideas for the Early Years Atelier, here are just a few examples of what we’ve been up to:

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The Clore Learning Studio: The Story so far…


Staff on a visit to the new learning studio at Whitworth Art Gallery. Photography by Steven Roper


The learning studio will look out over the gallery’s new art garden. Photography by Steven Roper

This year the Whitworth Art Gallery is closed as we undergo dramatic redevelopment work to create bigger, better spaces to house our collection and for our visitors to enjoy. As part of the redevelopment process a new studio space, funded by the Clore Duffield Foundation, is being built for the Learning department to operate. The studio will be the focus of the learning team’s programmes when the gallery reopens later this year, and as such it has been specially designed to encourage a wealth of creative activity in all age groups.

As we reach the half way point in the Whitworth’s building programme it seems like the perfect time to take a look at how the new studio is coming along. On a recent site visit the team was able to get an idea of what the studio would look like.

The studio is located by the park side entrance of the gallery, meaning it is ideally located for access to the collection and the natural inspiration of Whitworth Park. The long shape of the room and openness of the space mean that the studio can easily be adapted for different needs. Whether being used by primary schools for messy arts, or as a safe exploring space for culturebabies, the studio is a welcoming and responsive place for creative learning.

The large glass doors along one side of the studio open onto our central outdoor space, where an art garden will soon be developed. This feature makes the room a versatile space, blurring the boundaries between where nature ends and art begins.

Watching the studio come to life is an exciting experience for all of us on the learning team, and we can’t wait for our visitors to enjoy the space with us.