Replacing a lost arts education for the Covid-19 generation

Replacing a lost arts education for the Covid-19 generation

The St Ives School of Painting, a historic painting School and a registered charity, has extended its provision for young people with an ambitious online youth programme.

The School, which has been teaching students in the renown Porthmeor Studios for over 80 years, stepped up its offering to the 7-18 age group in 2016 in response to the deficit in arts education and years of cuts to youth services – a situation now exacerbated by Covid-19.

St. Ives School of Painting, Culture Camp
Young person drawing at Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden. Photo taken by Bob Berry.

Led by Youth Arts Manager, Cat Lee, the School offers three different projects for young people; a Kids Sunday Art Club, an Art Collective for teenagers, and a Culture Camp for young people at risk.

The majority of the provision is free for young people to access, thanks to support from various funders including The Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust, St Ives Rotary Club, The Roy Ray Legacy Fund, Little Parc Owles Trust and the UK government’s Kickstarter Programme.

Cat Lee explained: “Our Art Collective and Culture Camp are projects specifically aimed at those from low income households. We are targeting a big section of the next generation of adults who feel excluded from cultural experiences. Covid has intensified educational inequalities and left this group even more alienated.”

The pinnacle of the youth programme is Culture Camp, which began in 2017 but has pivoted online in order to continue.

Cornwall is the second most deprived area in Europe and, for many of the students taking part in Culture Camp, the barriers to learning are complex and multi-faceted.

Young people living in poverty, or those at risk of exclusion, experience a week of art workshops, tutoring, gallery and studio visits and practical sessions including a clay workshop led by The Leach Pottery; the result is a Bronze Arts Award accreditation – a nationally recognised qualification.

Young people sharing their art skills in Culture Camp. Photo taken by Bob Berry.

Cat Lee is passionate about the project, explaining: “The aim is to give these young people some cultural entitlement and to help them engage in learning again. For many of them – especially since Covid – it’s also a way of alleviating anxiety, stress and an immense lack of self-worth. The Bronze Arts Award improves their life chances; for some of the excluded participants this could be the only qualification they leave school with.”

Meanwhile, The Porthmeor Art Collective is a new online project which focuses on contemporary art practices and ideas, led and taught by 18-25 year old emerging artists.

Currently spearheaded by emerging young artist Caleb Richards, who’s role is part-funded by the Kickstarter Scheme, this project is thought to be the only peer to peer initiative of its type in the UK.

The hour-long sessions are free and the syllabus designed by Caleb covers topics including the roots and techniques of Manga, iconic album covers of the past decade, and New York graffiti in the 1980s.

Experimenting with mark-making in Culture Camp. Photo taken by Bob Berry.

Finally, in October the School will recommence its online Sunday Kids Art Club, with hour-long sessions suitable for whole families but specifically aimed at children between 7-12.

The sessions are led by an artist and teach children to explore all sorts of art techniques and ideas in a fun and engaging way; the £10 charge for these sessions helps support the other youth work of the charity, enabling it to provide free arts education to those less able to pay.

Alison Sharkey, Director of the St Ives School of Painting, said: “We are extremely proud to be extending our provision to young people at this time, when Covid has decimated access to cultural experiences and an arts education, especially for the most disadvantaged. We’ve created a portal for the arts to inspire young people, helping them discover a love for something which in many cases they never knew existed.”

For more information or to get involved, visit