16 OF THE BEST ART CLASSES AND EXHIBITIONS FOR KIDS IN LONDON
By Jodi Bartle
In a city full of free art collections it’s easy to forget we’re close to some of the best art (even for kids) in London.
Whether it’s housed in imposing grand institutions or stark modern cubes, Londoners are utterly privileged.
But it’s hard not to get complacent - turning to the blue-lit screen of Netflix or another round of Fortnite instead of losing ourselves in the glossy oils of a Vermeer or the optical trickery of a Bridget Riley.
Worse, children’s art classes seem to be in demise at London’s schools, and the craft of creating something out of nothing, pottering about with wool and glue and empty shoeboxes destined for recycling, can feel like a quaint, lost childhood pastime, along with other relics like walking home from school on your own or climbing a sturdy neighbourhood tree.
So reclaim it!
Get your kids up and out and see if you can’t create your own youthful Young British Artist (dream big - think Chelsea School of Arts’ alumni Chris Ofili and Anish Kapoor for starters); sample some of the most startling, mood-enhancing, creative and inspiring artistic collections in the world.
They are all here in this city, and are ways to get kids experimenting with the joys of making their own arts and crafts masterpieces.
Here’s a roundup of sixteen of the best exhibitions and art classes for kids in London.
Think of them as places to start your kid’s love affair with creative expression.
They’re all mostly free and only ever a tube or bus ride away. How lucky are we?
Street Art For The Cool Kids
You just have to start here - with the luminous, tacky, glorious God’s Own Junkyard neon shrine in Walthamstow.
A huge warehouse-sized assemblage of vintage signs and neon lights are part of the collection of the late artist Chris Bracey, who eventually ended up making neon props for Hollywood directors.
There are religious statues, disco balls, and neon signs aplenty all for sale or for rent, and a cafe on site.
Next, try the Leake Street graffiti tunnel under Waterloo Station, which is the largest legal street art area and home to original Banksy works as well as an ever-changing display of talented graffiti artists.
There are plans to regenerate the area and the arches in the tunnel are set to house pop-ups, a sensory space and bars and cafes, but until then, it’s a thrilling place to wander on your way to street food stalls outside the Royal Festival Hall.
Brick Lane also has a myriad of quirky, thoughtful, funny street art lining the walls around the area - so keep that in mind when you are next in line for authentic bagels or sampling the international food stalls lining the streets on the weekend market.
Young Woke Feminists Who Like A Floral Garland Or Two
You’d have to be living under a rock not to know that the Frida Kahlo show has come to town.
Specifically, to the V&A for the Making Herself Up tour - a collection of personal artefacts and clothing belonging to Frida, which has never before been exhibited outside of Mexico.
There’ll be eyebrow pens and bespoke boots for her prosthetic leg on display, necklaces, painted corsets, and photographs.
Paperbirds London Art Classes for Children was set up by a graphic designing, art loving mum who believes art gives kids a chance to learn by doing instead of just being lectured to.
Set in West London, Paperbirds has art classes (of various descriptions) for children age 2 to 12. They also offer summer and half term art workshops at their London studio.
South Kensington’s Art Barn believe the process is far more important than the result and they welcome artists of all abilities.
Their art courses and classes are flexible in their approach and they celebrate and encourage the child’s own ideas at all times.
Term-time courses and holiday workshops (for kids age 3 to 9) are also available.
Islington Arts Factory believe that children having access to art develops so much more than painting and drawing skills.
They offer painting and drawing classes for kids and have sessions where budding artists learn to combine painting drawing, sculpture and collage in imaginative projects which develop over a number of weeks.
Check out their ArtStart, MakeArt and MakeMoreArt to learn more about their on-site sessions where children can learn basic art techniques and build on them in a creative environment.
Founded by Sir Quentin Blake, the gallery holds monthly family workshops led by professional illustrators for children aged 5 and over.
Head south for Family Sundays, a drop-in session where you can make anything from bunting to block prints and Mini Masterpieces. There’s also a hands-on session for babies to get arty and indulge in some messy play.
The Conservatoire has a variety of classes for kids age 6 to 18 to explore and develop a wide range of artistic techniques and inspirations.
Kids age 6+ can join the Art-Venture Club – a informal setting designed to help them enjoy the process and results of creating art.
They’ll have the chance to explore a wide range of materials and media including model making, printmaking, puppetry, painting and drawing.
Teenagers can join their Painting Skills class and explore and develop painting techniques. They’ll explore colour application and mixing using a variety of different media - oils, acrylics, watercolour, tempera etc, experiment with painting on different materials such as paper, wood, cardboard, glass and canvas.
The Big Guns - London’s Museums and Galleries
As if free entry wasn't enough, the big artistic institutions also shower us with weekend and holiday options.
From free drop-in Sunday sessions at the National Portrait Gallery, Create and Make at the Design Museum on the last Sunday of every month, and the Tate Modern’s workshop for kids aged 8-14 which run every third Saturday of the month as well as school holiday art classes.
You can also visit the V&A Museum in London for pop-up performances on Saturdays and free art classes on Sundays.
Hackney’s own drawing school offers opportunities for students from all backgrounds who want to develop their drawing skills.
Teaching, inspiration and encouragement is provided by professional artists who are alumni of its postgraduate programme, The Drawing Year.
Kids aged 15 to 18 years old are eligible for the Young Associates programme, and younger kids between 10 to 14 years old who love to draw can join weekend or after-school drawing classes.
The Royal Drawing School also offers one week holiday courses in the Easter holidays and kids summer art classes for young artists aged 11–15 years.
Mini Picassos For The Tiniest Artistes
This is an art school for kids and their adults in Kensal Rise, with a range of classes to suit everyone as well as holiday workshops and hosted parties.
The toddler classes range in ages from 15 months to 4 years and tend to get messy with play-doh and enthusiastic singing, while older classes are held for kids between 4-7 years and 8-11 years.
Cool Contemporary Kids - Mayfair Galleries
Mayfair, that rather glossy part of central London, boasts many galleries showing works curated by some of the world’s hottest dealers, and all for free.
Go and see the newest, brashest stuff alongside art students looking for inspiration and serious art buyers looking for investment.
You’re also very near the Royal Academy so you can pop in there for a cup of tea and a biscuit for when the modern stuff leaves you feeling heady and woefully underpaid.
Art Classes in North London
We love the Corner9 Arts Projects classes in Dalgarno Road, a charity that works to raise funds for art activities for the people of North Kensington, including drawing classes, sculpture, textiles, woodworking and dance, drama, circus skills and puppet events for kids and adults.
There are various free community sessions, such as Pinch Pots pottery sessions, holiday drop ins and art birthday parties for kids 5 years and older.
Seeing Artists In Action - Kindred Studios
Kindred Studios, a creative home for 175 artists and makers housed in a former Victorian school, has started running weave, knit, woodworking, print and mosaics workshops with local primary schools in the Maida Vale area.
They hold open days where you can go inside the studio spaces and see the artists at work as well as buy their art, jewellery, ceramics, illustrations, paintings, textiles, and photographs direct; kids can get a sense of what it means to be an artist making a living from creating.
Future plans include fundraising for an outdoor learning space to host opportunities for the local community to engage in arts and environmental programs.