The Courtauld Institute of Art is the world's leading centre for research into art history, conservation and curating. They house one of Britain’s best-loved collections! This is the third year in a row that the Courtauld have taken part in The Big Draw Festival, and we were very excited to catch up with Leyla Bumbra, Research Forum Programme Manager, to find out a bit about what's in store for their #MaketheChange events. We hope you enjoy the interview!
Interview: Matilda Barratt in conversation with Leyla Bumbra.
Welcome back! It’s so good to have you lot on board for another Festival year. For those of our followers who may not be familiar with the Courtauld, might you be able to provide a little introduction?
Hi everyone! We are so delighted to be back for another festival, thank you for having us. The Courtauld works to advance how we see and understand the visual arts, as an internationally-renowned centre for the teaching, research of art history and a major public gallery. Founded by collectors and philanthropists in the 1930s, the organisation has been at the forefront of the study of art ever since, through advanced research and conservation practice, innovative teaching, the renowned collection and inspiring exhibitions of its gallery, and engaging and accessible activities, education and events. The Courtauld is currently undertaking an ambitious transformation project that will make it accessible to even more people. The Courtauld’s permanent home in historic Somerset House – London’s working arts centre – is closed for a major programme of renovation. The Courtauld’s students and academic staff are based near King’s Cross. The Gallery is scheduled to reopen in Autumn of 2021.
This year’s Big Draw Festival theme is ‘Make the Change’, looking towards a more balanced and sustainable way of living. How does this theme resonate with you and the work that you do at the Courtauld?
My role at The Courtauld is actually to programme activity that touches on pertinent issues — magnifying contemporary thinking in society through the field of art history. As art should be relevant to all, I want our programme to grant attendees the chance to access, read and engage with art and art history through a different lens — revamping and rethinking art historical discussions through themes that affect every single one of us. We are trying to ‘Make the Change’ through platforming new perspectives, new ways into art practice, looking at art and reading its history through reactive themes, as well as interdisciplinary and making activities, connected to our collection and research. Part of this is considering the ways in which we can be more sustainable - through our conservation programmes and research.
This will be your second year of running online events - when we spoke last year, you admitted that the move to digital had been a difficult one. What have you learnt from your experience running online events? What are some of the pros and cons, and challenges and opportunities that come with moving online?
This years Big Draw will definitely build on the success of our online programme. The innovation and success of our online events (over 50,000 people tuning in over our last academic year) is almost a silver lining to the COVID cloud in my eyes. The Courtauld put technology at the service of art during the COVID 19 pandemic to drastically expand awareness around our research and collection. Digital tools, although challenging at times, have been extremely useful in bridging the gap between The Courtauld and non-traditional users. Acknowledging that not everyone thinks it is normal to (or physically cant) step foot into a gallery or museum means we can appreciate the ways in which digital assets can allow free, open access for more people.
Saying that, I do still recognise the huge digital inequity out there, a digital divide, that necessitates a hybrid programme of activity going forward. The pivot into the digital exposed the fact that the issue is intergenerational and that many people don’t have the connectivity or equipment to attend or engage online. Making things authentically open will be integral for our team going forward.
You have what sounds like an incredible lineup for your day of Big Draw activities! Could you walk us through what you have in store for us?
I am so thrilled to have such wonderful artists, creators and experts on board for this year's Big Draw Festival! Workshops will kick off the day, reworking The Courtauld Collection to focus on protest art, sustainable art practices and ideal and imaginary worlds. The second half of the day will allow rare up-close and personal object study sessions. In these sessions, Courtauld experts will look to artists in our collection – artists who reused paper, produced double-sided drawings and cut out, replaced areas and drew over previous works. The first two workshops are suitable for anyone over 7 years old who is interested in reusing and recycling, making and drawing. The third workshop is aimed at those 12 years and older. The object study part of the event is designed for older art enthusiasts, granting an opportunity to pose your questions to our experts of works on paper.
We would love you to join us - Helen Cann, Michelle Reader, Amber Butler and The Courtauld prints and drawings team - for this half day online festival. We are inviting you all to explore and get creative with materials you can find in your home, garden and local area to reconnect with each other and demand a better world for future generations. You can see the full line up and book tickets here.
What reasons would you give people to visit the Courtauld, both in person and online - particularly on the 2nd October…
I would love people to join us on the 2nd to capitalise on this rare opportunity to see works in our collection in a different light. The works on paper that we will be discussing are little known and rarely seen by the public. As well, this object study will focus on the materiality and make-up of these works, digging deep into the mark-making on the surface of the page and the historic reusing of artistic materials in our collection. It is definitely not to be missed!
The Courtauld have been loyal Big Draw Sponsor Partners for a few years now. What are your motivations behind taking part in The Big Draw Festival each year?
Apart from having a wonderful time every year we take part in The Big Draw Festival, we also love having the opportunity to showcase our collection of drawings. Many people don’t know that The Courtauld is home to one of the most significant collections of works on paper in the UK, with approximately 7,000 drawings and watercolours, and 26,000 prints ranging from the Renaissance to the present day. The collection includes outstanding works by artists including Dürer, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Turner and Cézanne, and provides a broad account of all major European schools. With our gallery opening its doors this Autumn I am sure we will be able to come back to The Big Draw once again with an even bigger and better line-up of activity!
Thank you Leyla!
If you were inspired by this interview with Leyla and would like to find out more about the Courtauld Institute of Art, head to their website here.
To find out more about the Courtauld's day of online Big Draw Festival events and how to get involved, click here.
Registrations are open for The Big Draw Festival 2021: Make the Change! Find out more about the benefits of becoming an organiser here and other ways to support The Big Draw's mission here.