‘This has been the best day of my life’ said a 10 year old participant at the Royal Visit to DPG on March 15th. In late January we received a visit from members of the Prince of Wales Foundation for the Arts and to our great surprise and with very little preparation time, heard that HRH The Prince of Wales would make a visit with his daughter-in-law Kate, Duchess of Cambridge during Prince William’s time in the Falkland Islands. Later we heard that HRH The Duchess of Cornwall would come too, making the first outing of the three all together. The purpose of the visit was to meet the 120 nine to ten year old children and their teachers from four local schools involved with the Gallery in The Great Art Quest since October 2011.

For over 25 years the gallery has run a Reach Out service, bringing artists into schools, so following up visits to the Gallery and thereby giving a greater depth of experience to the children. The Great Art Quest therefore fitted well into the Gallery’s mission to engage with the community.

The four month long project involved Langbourne Primary School, Goodrich Community School, St. Luke’s Primary School and the Globe Academy working with a textile artist and storyteller to create original artwork themed to portraits and identity, using the Old Masters’ collection at the Gallery as the starting point. The holistic project involved literacy, story and poetry writing, music, art and drama.

An exhibition, ‘Journey with me, then, now and next’ showed exceptional quality artwork and featured felt portraits, wire mobile portraits, celebration bunting with portraits printed on flags, Mail Art hand prints (delivered via the Royal Mail, and despite the unusual nature of this posted artwork, every single piece reached its destination), and supporting preparatory work in hand made books.

Through the Gallery cloister another exhibition of portraits celebrated Face Britain, the theme to mark the Queen’s Jubilee and images of these DPG artworks will join hundreds more from across Britain to be digitally projected onto Buckingham Palace at night to create a mosaic of the Queen. These were created by young people on the Urban Youth arm of the Gallery’s Community Engagement Programme which has for the last 12 years served inner city young people at weekly evening workshops all year round on South London estates or on daytime programmes for those who would never normally get involved with creative programmes.

The Great Art Quest and Face Britain programme took place in the Gallery, in front of the paintings, in the Gallery’s Sackler Studio, in Reach Out workshops in primary schools and in Community Centres on the Urban Youth programme for young people.

March 15th was glorious; the hottest day of the year and the gallery and grounds looked idyllic as the Royal party walked past and stopped to speak with many of the 250 flag waving children. Inside another 150 children were involved in art, drama and storytelling, many working on portraits at easels in the main enfilade. In the Sackler studio all three Royals sat down to take part in a textile workshop. Prince Charles looking confused and showing his silk panel to the child next to him, said ‘Is this all right?’ ‘No it isn’t’ she replied disapprovingly, ‘You have to do it right!’ . There was great hilarity around the table as each Royal laughed at the other’s artistic efforts and much delight among the waiting cameramen as the Prince and Duchess of Cambridge ironed their silk pieces, making the iconic photograph that was in all the newspapers the next day in the greatest amount of press coverage ever received by the gallery from all over the world. Children escorted the visitors around their exhibition and were amazed to find themselves in easygoing conversation with the visitor who said ’just call me ‘Kate’.

The Education Department offers a menu of Public Programmes of after school workshops, portfolio development classes, holiday workshops and Masterclasses. These, along with the Schools Programme and Urban Youth Programme cater for 30,000 young people each year, all in personally taught sessions, all the more amazing when, unlike anywhere else, none of this costs the tax payer a penny since we do not receive any public funding and rely totally on the generosity of charitable donors.

Gillian Wolfe