It was an absolutely stunning building, once the office and store for the Hudson Bay Company, recently extended and reopened with sympathetic but iconic architecture. Inside hung temporary exhibitions on the ground floor, and on the first floor, the permanent collection of modern British art (think Barbara Hepworth and the St Ives school of art). I came away wowed and utterly in love.
And then as I mulled it over some more I realised I hadn't seen any evidence anywhere of people actually engaging with the work. In many galleries now (and in many I've worked in myself) there are family activities, family corners, 'interactives' (i.e. hands-on stuff to do that are permanent parts of a particular exhibition), signs of projects with young people or community groups that took place and have been incorporated into the exhibition design...
But there was none of this on show. A flaw I thought, so went back to see if I'd missed something. And looking round again it seemed I had. I noticed, upstairs in the permanent collection, something I'd seen so many galleries say they do but really don't. Hang art for children. What this usually turns out to be is art picked because the curator thinks it will appeal to children, sometimes assisted by the Education Officer (in more forward thinking places anyway). It might have bright colours or patterns, or some kind of humour. But invariably it's hung at standard gallery level - eye level of a 5'6"ish adult, or just above.
Pier Arts Centre has turned some potentially problematic architecture to its advantage - small low level walls with big chunky windows have been used because of, rather than in spite of, their scale, to show valuable, historic, original pieces of work at all levels. Some only a few inches off the ground. Several times I sat down cross legged on the floor to look more closely at favourite pieces like the one below.
Stooping, crouching, kneeling and crawling seemed by far the best way to explore the work in all its finery. A much more integrated and authentic approach to making galleries more accessible to children than simply selecting the jolly stuff and hoping for the best.
(And for anyone wondering, yes it was accessible to people with mobility related disabilities too, I checked that out having had the same thought whilst I was there).
It was a great way to revisit and rethink the way I work with galleries in the future.