BAM meets Jane Porter of Bring Your Baby

When was the last time you went to an exhibition with little legs in tow and felt like you really got it? These days it’s unlikely you’re going to be able to peruse all the blurbs and insights at your leisure so it’s easy to feel like you’ve missed out a bit.

Enter Jane Porter and Bring Your Baby – relaxed, friendly tours of Bristol’s best exhibitions. Taking inspiration from the success of baby friendly tours at other museums such as the British Museum, Whitechapel and the Whitney in New York, Jane approached Bristol galleries with an idea to start something similar. A few tried it but had little success so, a year later, Jane decided to offer to lead the tours herself.

With her background in arts and connections with other parents, her tours quickly gained in popularity and now regularly sell out. The effort she puts in to researching the exhibitions and artists is very evident and her talks are peppered with interesting facts and insights, as well as her own thoughts on the artwork.  We decided to learn a little bit more about what the tours mean to her.

Why did you start Bring Your Baby?
So many reasons! 

I found it really hard to go to art events when I had my first baby. After working as a production manager for artist films, I was used to seeing people at openings and events. Yes, you can go during the day with your baby, but it’s nice to see people too. When I went back to work I felt really out the loop. 

I had a friend who did baby tours at the British Museum and I knew that I would have loved to have that when I was on maternity leave and it would have helped me feel more in touch. So I met with her, Whitechapel and emailed the Whitney in New York because they do them too. I picked up some tips and approached some galleries in Bristol, suggesting they add this to their programme. 

When you meet people through having kids, sometimes that is all you have in common, which can be hard. A big part of BYB is that you might meet people with similar interests, or at least spark a conversation about something new. 

How important do you think it is to get parents into museums and galleries?
It’s integral to my reasons for starting BYB. 

When I started back at work after my first baby a friend told me about a project by two artists Kim Dhillon and Andrea Francke. They had published a book – The Invisible Spaces of Parenthood. It was amazing! It was about all sorts of aspects of feminism, being an artist and having kids and how childcare could be set up and types of creative play. But one thing that stood out for me was in one of the essays where it talked about visibility of parents in art schools and galleries. It talked about the importance of the presence of parents in these places so that other people / artists would see them and think ‘if I have kids that is what I can do.’ Rather than ‘if I have kids I don’t see myself coming here.’ This allows artists to imagine becoming parents and not seeing the two choices as either or.

I found that super inspiring. This is the reason I always do the talks when the gallery is open, if possible. Some places do it before the public comes in, but I prefer the group to be visible. 

What’s the best thing about running them?
For me personally the best thing is that I get to spend time researching artists and their work. It’s been such a long time since I could give an exhibition this amount of attention and it’s reminding me of how I felt about art to begin with. 

But my favourite thing overall is how the audience responds. I get so many thank yous and kind comments about how glad people are that it’s happening. People seem genuinely grateful and happy to be at something that is for them, not just their baby. 

Who is your personal art throb? 
I’ve had a few. I loved Simon Starling when I was at college. But that was a while back.

What’s your favourite piece of public art in Bristol?
Obviously the Whitchurch and Hengrove Community Orchard! It’s planted in the shape of a Cathedral on Whitchurch Green. I produce the engagement programme for it so naturally I think it’s brilliant! 

When chatting with Jane, one of the aspects that really stuck with me was the idea of visibility that she mentions and the importance of taking our children into these environments so that others see us and think, ‘When I have kids, I’ll bring them to exhibitions too’. If we help to break down that idea of museums being an adult-only environment where children are unwelcome, we’ll be on our way to bringing up a generation of little art lovers.

After all, in the words of Bob & Roberta Smith…

©️Bob & Roberta Smith

Bring Your Baby is at the Arnolfini’s Basim Magdy exhibition on Tuesday 6th June and the Whitchurch and Hengrove Community Orchard on Saturday 13th May, where everyone is invited to bring a picnic and learn more about the Orchard Arts Projects. A wonderful way to take in some art and meet like minded parents!

💥 BAM 💥

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