What if we could look at the world through someone else’s eyes? What would we see?

For three years now, the Museum of Classical Archaeology has been working Cambridge Community Arts to do just that, hosting an exhibition which allows us all to look out through the camera lenses of the learners on their accredited Photography Course.

Cambridge Community Arts (CCA) is an inspiring organisation. They run a growing number of creative courses, designed to build healthy creative communities here in Cambridge by improving mental health and reducing social isolation – and empowering their learners through the arts. Learners on the photography course, under the guidance of Helen Perry, don’t just learn the technical elements of how to use their cameras and how to edit their photographs: they are also emboldened to view the world creatively through their lens and to feel confident enough to experiment and find their own perspective. Helen and her colleagues at CCA build not just creativity but confidence in their learners – and by partnering with them, we at the Museum of Classical Archaeology (MOCA) get to see that confidence in action…

Each year, we hold an annual exhibition of some of the learners’ favourite photos from that year. Throughout the year, they’ve been making visits, getting to grips with their cameras and most of all finding their own personal style. But by June, it’s time for them to put on show the fruits of their labours in our bright and airy Cast Gallery. This show is one of the highlights of our year. In fact, our faculty custodian has revealed to us that it’s the exhibition he looks forward to each summer!

Last year, some of the learners had visited us in March in search of inspiration, but the group had also visited some of our sister University of Cambridge collections; others had sought out locations and subject matter which were local and special to them as individuals.

Our plaster casts of Greek and Roman sculpture appeared in more than a few of the final selections. Other highlights were definitely a haunting black-and-white shot of the interior of Jim Ede’s house at Kettle’s Yard, and, for the nature lovers out there, an array of gambolling lambs. The works were on display for a week, and each day we welcomed visitors who had come specially to see them.

But by far and away the most important part for us at MOCA is when we get to meet the learners and their friends and family at the private view. This is basically an afterhours party, where for a couple of hours the learners, their loved ones, and their teachers can celebrate everything they have achieved. It has become a very special evening for us personally at MOCA. Each year, we catch up with that year’s learners but we also touch base with learners we recognise from previous years, who come back in support. Partnering with CCA has taught us the ongoing impact of opening up our collection and welcoming our local community, beyond the more academic world of Classics, into our space. It has given us a chance to make a small difference.

The annual exhibition at MOCA means a lot to CCA’s learners, says Helen Perry. ‘The overwhelming feedback from learners of immense pride in their work.’ It’s worth quoting a few words from learners themselves, because they say it best:

‘We were greeted with so many smiling faces which signified to me that the viewers were impressed with the entire exhibition. Each photographer shone in their own prowess, no two photographs were the same making the exhibition more thought provoking, although we are all novice photographers.’

‘It was magical.’

‘I feel very proud of how far everyone has come. It was overwhelming to see in a good way.’

‘I am quite excited that my photography is there for everyone to see.’

‘The exhibition showed a variety of views and looks, I feel very proud to see it all displayed in such a great setting.’

In response to the current coronavirus crisis, Cambridge Community Arts have moved all their courses and clubs online, providing a platform for learning and also to support learners to use and develop their creativity during this difficult time, as well as staying in touch. CCA will be launching a Virtual Creative Summer School and their 2020-21 programme of Accredited courses next month.  See www.camcommarts.org.uk for further details.

This year’s learners are disappointed that they will not be showing their work at MOCA as planned in June, due to the impact of the current closures. But as I write this, we are hopeful that we will find a way – together – to mark their achievements and celebrate their accomplishments in the coming months.