How do you get children with special educational needs to engage with learning? Keep it simple, yes? See how one Oxford charity is doing just the opposite — using ‘high art’ to inspire and to change lives.
An Oxford-based charity founded in memory of a St Anne’s College alumna is changing the rules on how to reach out to marginalised children and young adults. Flash of Splendour works to empower them through the creative arts. Using an innovative immersive approach, it specialises in enabling access to history, art and texts that are typically considered too dry and too difficult for children with special educational needs to understand, interpret or enjoy. The aim is gloriously to uproot entrenched ideas and preconceptions about the potential of children on the margins — what they can achieve, experience, imagine and create.
Each of their projects typically ends with an exhibition, publication or film: putting the children’s voices and work into public, often highly visible arenas, such as museums.
Founded in 2009 in memory of Felicity Anne Avery (right), Flash of Splendour’s first project enabled a group of talented teenagers with autism, and learning disabilities to exhibit a selection of paintings at St Anne’s, to profound and life changing acclaim. Two of the artists’ works were acquired by Downing Street; another, a portrait of St Anne, is now prominently displayed at the college. Later projects have seen collaborations with schools across Britain, and partnerships with the Oxfordshire Museum, the Ashmolean Museum, the English Folk Dance and Song Society at Cecil Sharp House, Barefoot Books in Oxford, cartographic artist Stephen Walter, Blackwell’s, Wytham Woods and local literacy charity Bookfeast.
Since last year, they have been working in partnership with Exeter University and the Royal Geographical Society on their most ambitious project yet, for which they were awarded major Heritage Lottery and Arts and Humanities Research Council grants: the Children’s Poly-Olbion, which introduces children to Michael Drayton’s vast topographical poem of Britain, Poly-Olbion (1612; 1622). Their reimagining of Drayton’s Jacobean landscapes will be showcased, alongside 17th-century books and maps, at the Royal Geographical Society in London in a month-long exhibition from 9 September. The first Flash of Splendour literary festival will be also held during the show’s run on 19 and 20 September and will explore ideas of English landscape and identity, with speakers including cartographic historian Jerry Brotton and poet Paul Farley.
The name ‘Flash of Splendour’ originates in Dante’s Purgatorio: ‘Suddenly a flash of splendour rent the curtain of my sleep.’ It was also the title of a 1968 novel by Felicity Avery, née Bridgen, writing under the nom de plume Anne Stevenson. For her, it encapsulated the idea of the world being forged anew in 1848, when the novel is set; she had studied Dante under historian Marjorie Reeves at St Anne’s in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. Avery’s daughter Anne Louise Avery, a co-founder and director of Flash of Splendour, says, ‘Whilst she used the phrase to invoke the transitory radiance of the revolutionary spirit, we felt that it also encapsulated our ethos: each exhibition representing a temporary “flash of splendour” permanently transforming and illuminating lives.’
For more information see the Flash of Splendour website or follow on Twitter @petitpolyolbion
Video and still © Angel Sharp Media. Photograph of Felicity Anne Avery reproduced by kind permission of Anne Louise Avery.