In December 2019, two groups of young people from primary schools across Cambridgeshire made a very special behind-the-scenes visit to the Fitzwilliam Museum. The visit gave them a taster of  what goes into making an exhibition, and the opportunity to install their very own artworks in the INSPIRE exhibition.

The groups selected were young artists who had their artworks selected for exhibition alongside the Renaissance painting of Cupid and Psyche by Jacopo del Sellaio: Year 4 and 5 from the Brilliant Makers Club at Morley Memorial Primary School, Cambridge with their teacher Maya Dalby, who created individual magical 3D bows and arrows, and the Fitzy Peters, a group of Year 5 pupils from St Peters C of E Junior School, Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, with their teacher Natalie Bailey and head teacher Amy Harvey, who collectively made a denim dress (on display in the armoury) based on Psyche’s resilience throughout the story in the painting.

Young people explore the Fitzwilliam on a private tour

The daylong session started with a tour of the museum, in which the young people were asked to identify different ways things had been displayed and why. Then it was time for the group to get their hands dirty. They visited the Octagon Gallery where their work was in the process of being unwrapped and installed by technicians Charis and Jamie.

Meeting technician Charis as she mounts their work for the exhibition

Whilst behind the scenes, the group came up with some brilliant ideas on how to display artworks, and were tasked with answering some of the difficult decisions we would have to make about space, design and colour.  They also supported the technicians to fill in condition reports of their artworks, including taking measurements and photos. This demonstrated best practice to the young artists on what happens to all other loaned artworks that come in and out of our collection for a temporary exhibition.

The young people and their teachers completed condition reports of their artworks before installation

After refreshments, the groups then wrote example text labels for their artworks, using the museums template. They soon realised how tricky it could be to summarise a project, an artwork and all vital information in a limited number of words, but did a great job!

Following this, the group were set a creative challenge, to design and make example cards and badges inspired by the painting by Jacopo del Sellaio. These would (and did) get used as examples for families taking part in the drop-in activities available at the private view of the exhibition on the following Saturday.

The young people working on their example cards for the private view

After trying their hands at installation, design, conservation and engagement, the day ended with the group drafting some social media posts ready to publicise and market the exhibition to audiences. They tried to think why people should come and see their artworks over all other things they like doing out of school in their free time.

A draft social media post by one of the young people to publicise the exhibition

The group’s ideas and imagination kept us on our toes and inspired us to think more creatively in the exhibition to make it accessible for all.

To find out more and view a selection of the works online, visit the Fitzwilliam Museum website