The ART MATTERS concept, was conceived in 2013 as a reaction to the Michael Gove education reforms. Schools across the country were undergoing curriculum and examination reform and as a result, the Arts were experiencing the impact of reduced curriculum time, reduced option choices and a huge decline in numbers of students choosing to continue with an Arts subject both at GCSE level and post 16 courses.

The exhibition was now more important than ever, in channelling the message that the Arts are not only vital to the mental, academic and creative development of our young people, but also provide a way of accessing and understanding other areas of the curriculum and breaking down barriers. It was this concept that Art does Matter that propelled the re launch of the exhibition as ‘ART MATTERS,’ with a deliberate focus on creativity across the curriculum.

We were incredibly fortunate at this time, to have very strong partnerships with both the University of East London and the University of the Arts London, who had both been involved and supported past exhibitions. Through a number of meetings, we were able to secure collaborative funding from both universities to ensure the exhibition not only continued but would continue to grow to be what is now the biggest schools’ Art exhibition in the country.

Over the years the partnership between the two universities and ART MATTERS coordinators, Catherine Mcgill and Ashia Oozeer has continued to flourish, with both establishments now playing key roles in the planning, publicity and workshops in the lead up to the exhibition.

Art Matters has grown from strength to strength, with over fifty primary and secondary schools represented in the show, including work from NewVic College, Leyton Sixth form, University of the Arts London’s Saturday Drawing Programme and the University of East London’s Saturday Master Classes.

This year, with the 20th Anniversary, we have expanded the show to include Hackney schools. We are immensely grateful to UEL and UAL for making this possible, and hope that the art matters legacy continues for years to come.

Ashia Oozeer     Head of Art, Plashet School, Lead Practitioner, SLE Secondary Art

Catherine McGill  SLE Primary Art and Design

I have been working on this show for 20 years and it has always been a challenge; the logistics of gathering the work, moving it to the college, working out how to hang it up. You never know what you’re going to get or even how much. Compared to the university show, it’s very varied and a lot of fun. We put up all the work that comes. We make a lot of judgments when we are hanging it, particularly the primary work. Being an Artist myself, I am used to hanging shows, you get an eye for how to put colours or styles next to each other to show them at their best. The rule I use most often is the graphic design 50/50 rule – how you divide up a piece of paper – the spaces between the pieces are important to the final aesthetic, to make the display flow.

The show is important to me because it is local schools showing in the university and it shows how inclusive we are as an Institution. The university is the top of a pyramid, working at a high level of learning. The schools’ show is about learning in art for everyone. The show has encouraged more people to visit the university and see their work on display. It has helped them to see the possibilities of the university itself as a pathway to developing their potential.

If you look at art that is produced in Art School, it tends to be an individual thing about finding your own language, but the schools show is more about art for all or art that has lots of languages. Those languages are to do with the students who make the art and the teachers who teach it. Its about an exchange of ideas for both children and teachers. You can see the influence of the different teachers and schools in the outcomes on display.

We get about 1500 visitors to this show and they are all people who are linked to the local community; children, parents, governors, councillors and teachers. The show has encouraged the university to set up Saturday classes for secondary students to engage them when they are younger. There are workshops during the show for primary and secondary schools teaching them how to look and engage with work in an exhibition and give them a focus. Teaching children how to look is the key to understanding.

 Glen Marston Technical Associate UEL