Pilvi Takala’s ‘The Committee’ is a charming and timely exhibition that comments on the value of creativity for children, the opportunities it affords them and, significantly, is told from their perspective.
‘The Committee’ refers to a group of 8-12 year-olds who Takala asked in 2014 what they thought best to do with a £7,000 art grant she received for the Emdash Award. The exhibition features video interviews with the children, all selected from a youth centre in Bow, individually discussing the money. The resultant decision, a bouncy castle named the ‘Five Star Bouncy House’ created by the group, is erected outside the Pump House Gallery for use by everyone, weather permitting.
Engaging with communities can frequently be found in the fields of both art and architecture. Although the intentions are often grounded in sincerity, sometimes the execution of such projects can feel condescending. The first thing that comes across in ‘The Committee’ is the sweetness of the artist giving the children this opportunity. By modestly pointing the camera solely on them, the result is a candid take on their experience.
The Committee, it seems, went through a range of discussions: the initial elation of the money led to some predictable responses – Legoland, Alton Towers and, for some reason, Southend. But maturely, the children all managed to come to an agreement that the money should be enjoyed by everyone and would be spent on something that would last. The bouncy castle idea that transpired was a combination of something that was accessible and fun. Ingeniously, the structure can be rented out by the public, giving the project a self-sustaining and semi-entrepreneurial slant.
In the interviews Takala cleverly lets the children explain each stage and process, showing how they felt in charge and responsible the whole time. There seems to have been no decision pushed on them by the artist. The children seem to value getting something done more than having their voice heard the loudest. Here, there a reference to the clash between autonomy and compromise in collaboration and this stands in contrast to the more negative view of a committee being ineffective and overburdened by bureaucracy. The videos reveal heart-warming comments by the children on how glad they were to have made something and that sense of pride shone through.
The quality of the children’s ideas is impressive, especially the runner-up concept of a mini-city style exhibition which genuinely wouldn’t seem out of place coming from a major institution such as the Southbank Centre or London Festival of Architecture. One child even said that the project was important because it had their individual ‘brand’ attached to it. This is an interesting statement as it points to both the overabundance of corporate brands in young people’s lives as well as a desire to compete and develop a personal ‘brand’.
The video and bouncy castle are the main focus of the exhibition but there is more worth seeing. As you advance through the floors of the Pump House Gallery there’s a clip from a Finnish TV show discussing the project – some find it endearing, others are more cynical, but the innovative idea is amusing to all.
All smiles stop on the final floor, though, as a small, almost hidden projection details what has happened since ‘The Committee’ in 2014. The Bow youth club was closed when the local council sold its building to a housing association in 2015. The youth group itself cost only £1,000 to run per year.
Takala’s project unearths the wealth of ideas that a group of children can generate given the opportunity. The knowledge and inspiration gained by all involved provides a much-needed dose of optimism. That funding cuts like this are affecting the arts and extra-curricular activities of children and adults across the country is a depressing and ever increasing trend by a government that is cheating its public. Innovative ideas such the ‘Five Star Bouncy House’ project are the exact kind of creative education project that cannot be replaced and should be encouraged in favour of short term savings.
When I visited the gallery, the ‘Five Star Bouncy House’ was something of a sad sight wrapped up and unused due to bad weather. Still, this is infinitely better than it never having existed at all.