The artists, the exhibition and their enriching legacy: what our former pupils bring to our schools

This has been an astonishingly creative week, as the St Mary’s Calne Art department moved to Cork Street, London, for a most beautiful Art exhibition. Pupils present and past exhibited, and the range of media and array of subjects was amazing. I could devote a blog a day from now on to each of the incredible artists, and I would still be here in several months’ time, eulogising. One of the (many) highlights was a work by artist Endellion Lycett-Green, who was a pupil at St Mary’s Calne in the 1990’s, and who had come back to the school a couple of years ago to talk about how she creates her works (see here for a report on her talk) but she was not alone – so many incredible artists, with so many astonishing works.

It seems almost unfair to select just one artist or group of artists, because every work was amazing (and – although I may be biased – the exhibition as a whole was by far the best in Cork Street this week) but I will say that the old girls who exhibited added an especially symbolic dimension to the event. Old Girls are hugely important in a school, and it has been one of my real joys that over the past few years the Old Girls’ Association at St Mary’s Calne – now renamed, most appropriately, just the “Calne Girls’ Association”, as testimony to the enduring, ‘forever’ nature of being a pupil at the school – has grown more and more entwined with the school as it is at present. More and more old girls (of all eras) have come back to school for reunions and to give lectures, and our communication channels with old girls – both ways – have grown better and better.

Former pupils are so very important in schools. They hold memories of the school’s history, they are useful guardians of the past, and they bear witness to the eternal strands of education that have woven their ways through the centuries of the school’s existence. Without former pupils, a school is only a shadow of itself, or of how it can be. A school is richer with the involvement of all those who have ever been part of the community – in fact, I would argue that once a member of the community, always a member of the community. The ties that are made with a school – a great place of learning and growth – can never be abandoned entirely, even though, without careful nurturing, they may loosen with the passing of the years.

The Cork Street Exhibition was fantastic, and each piece of work owed some of its beauty to the educational and life experience that its creator had at school. Equally, each piece of work has now contributed through its beauty and as a result of the educational and life experience of its creator to the depth of creativity that is present in the school today. It is a wonderfully virtuous circle, and it happens when former pupils remain engaged, and schools honour their involvement.

Long live our Old Girls.


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