Q&A: Natalie Zervou, Starting With Art

Tell us a bit about Starting With Art and what you do: Starting With Art works with different age groups from toddlers to adults in different settings, including art galleries, schools and the wider community. Every week is different; I could be working on a gallery project or a community event. I also have a regular part-time teaching post, which I love and which gives my week some structure. I am really passionate about creating meaningful experiences for all who attend our workshops and have always been particularly interested in using contemporary art as a starting point for generating art experiences. Under-fives can sometimes be underestimated in terms of how they engage with art but in my experience it’s a particularly exciting and fascinating age group, with younger children tending to deconstruct and transform artworks into something more personal to them.

What is the inspiration behind Starting With Art?: Starting With Art is inspired by our innate desire to create. When coming up with early-years workshops I often reference the Reggio approach, which asserts that art needs to be part of a wider range of languages rather than just a subject children dip into now and then. At the heart of this system is the powerful image of the child, who is not simply an empty vessel that requires filling with facts. Starting With Art’s workshops are very process-based and I really try to focus on the whole experience, which begins from the moment you enter one of our set-up spaces. How materials are arranged is really important; they have to be inviting and evoke curiosity. Basically I believe that art is imperative for development, confidence, creativity and critical-thinking skills. What would we be without it?!

What is the highlight of running your business?: There are so many highlights. I feel extremely lucky to do what I do and get great pleasure from working with the children and families who attend our workshops again and again. Forming relationships and seeing children develop is such a privilege, though doing one-off workshops and events brings a different element that’s just as exciting. Last week I worked with Urban Village Fete to create a community structure that participants added to throughout the day. It became a collaborative project and we had all ages taking part, from mums with babies in their arms to grandparents and teenagers. We expected the unexpected and for something wild and exciting to emerge, but nothing could prepare us for how epic the joint stricture became. Everyone who got involved was so eager to engage and construct in their own unique way. It was amazing to observe and be a part of.

What’s next for Starting With Art?: Starting With Art is now joining forces with some other artist-educators, including Grace from Little Art Forms and Poppy from Blank Canvas, to set up a collaborative platform called Between Points, which we hope to launch by the end of 2017. Between Points will include lots more experimental art workshops and events for all ages, and we will also be working on developing our own practice, research and writing through talks, crit groups and more. I’m very excited about my forthcoming art residency at Villa Lena in October, when I will be working with families to create ‘art happenings’.

What are your favourite kids’ shops in London?: I’m in love with children’s books! Camden Arts Centre has a great selection for children, as does the Tate bookshop. Unfortunately many specialist children’s bookshops in London have closed but I recently discovered The Alligator’s Mouth in Richmond, which runs events for children. I also have a thing for Start-rite’s classic shoes (I used to wear them myself), so John Lewis or Russell & Bromley for those, and I love Fara Kids in their various locations for good-quality second-hand clothes – I never leave without buying something!

Describe your perfect day in London with kids in tow: Having grown up in London, I like to reflect on what I used to love doing in this great city. My perfect day with kids would involve a day spent outside in perfect 23-degree weather. We would go to an adventure playground – probably Holland Park – and then have a picnic and make it into a real event with proper blankets and baskets. Later we would do some chalk drawings over our shadows, feed the ducks and get an ice cream from a van. I love taking children to open spaces but I also like smaller gardens with nooks and crannies – there are so many great ones to explore in London. One of my all-time favourites is King Henry’s Walk in Islington. It’s just magical. It’s open to the public during certain times but is also inexpensive to become a key holder. I’ve hosted art workshops there before and they do lovely events like their summer fete, which is taking place later this month.


Photo credit: Natalie Zervou