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On Tuesday 4 August, the BP Portrait Award: Next Generation Young People’s Private View opened up the Gallery only for 14-19-year-olds as a showcase of youth talent and portraiture. The hosts for the evening, the Gallery’s Youth Forum are a group of young people who develop events to make the Gallery more youth-friendly.  Youth Forum members Josh and Miranda talk about how the night brought a youth perspective to the BP Portrait Award 2015.


Summer is an exciting time for young people at the National Portrait Gallery. The annual BP Portrait Award: Next Generation project inspires our drop-in drawing sessions, artist-led workshops and the Summer School where teens can chat with the artists, get advice and respond to their work. This culminates in the Young People's Private View, where contemporary art meets mocktails, music and making, after-hours, all in one historic venue. This is hosted by the Gallery's Youth Forum, a panel of passionate young art enthusiasts, who give talks, instruct drawing activities and ensure the evening runs smoothly. The goals for all are to encourage engagement with the arts in a more youth-friendly manner and to inject a youthful energy into the gallery.

BP Portrait Award 2015 second prize winner Michael Gaskell encourages young people in a drawing activity

There was an anticipatory buzz around the Gallery on Tuessday evening. As the Youth Forum, staff and Gallery Director readied themselves, I was as excited as anyone, partly because this was the first time I had been in the Gallery after hours and because the whole night was to be dedicated to my age group.

The chilled vibe (‘mocktails’, a special menu, Bridgette Amofah from Rudimental) contrasted with activities designed to stimulate creativity and talks to encourage teenagers to explore the many opportunities open to them. We had three BP Portrait Award-past winning artists, BP Portrait Award 2015 exhibitor Lee Simmonds this year’s second-prize winner Michael Gaskell, and past BP Travel Award-winner Sadie Lee, who were on hand to offer their inspirational stories and explained how young people could get their work exhibited in the Gallery. Lee, one of the youngest ever Award exhibitors at eighteen when he entered, explained how getting selected had got his painting seen by thousands of people, before even going to University. Youth Forum member Ami also talked about having her work shown in the Gallery through taking part in the Next Generation Summer School.

BP Portrait Award 2015 exhibitor Lee Simmonds is interviewed by the Youth Crew for the project website

Participants got to show off their talent as well with a drawing competition and prizes in the spirit of the Portrait Award, and I enjoyed instructing a 'sneaky' drawing session in which participants drew unsuspecting visitors from behind, based on Daniel Coves’ Back Portrait No.8. The evening epitomised how I envision a Gallery should be: bursting with life, fun and creativity.

Performer Bridgette Amofah with guitarist Michael Winawer in the Gallery’s Main Hall


Providing music at the event was sixteen-year-old musician Rosie Alena, and Rudimental singer and solo performer Bridgette Amofah, with seventeen-year-old DJ Lou Venturini spinning tunes in the Main Hall. Rosie Alena performed a stunning selection of original songs and characteristic covers. What was most empowering and inspiring was seeing young people, such as Rosie, being so confident in pursuing their creative talent. This was also one of the most inspiring things about Lee Simmonds’ talk, as mentioned above. It certainly allowed young people – perhaps for the first time to experience being surrounded by people whose youth doesn’t become an obstacle to them in pushing the boundaries of their creative careers. What was unique about the Private View was seeing everyone taking inspiration from all the different aspects of the evening; the music, art, artists and even the other young people around them. Music is so often a source of inspiration for art, and vice -versa, which was what helped produce such an innovative and stimulating atmosphere.

Photographs: Anthony Luvera © National Portrait Gallery, London

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