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The Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration - The Open College of the Arts
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The Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration

Last week I was lucky enough to have tickets for the Open House Festival, to pay a visit to what will be the new Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration. As you probably know, in 2002, Quentin Blake founded a new charity to celebrate and champion illustration. Formerly known as The House of Illustration, their exhibitions and projects celebrate illustration, support illustrators and ‘empower people of all ages to tell their stories’. 

From 2014 – 2020, The House of Illustration had a space at Granary Square, King’s Cross, but from 2024 the new Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration will have its permanent home at the New River Head in Clerkenwell. It’s very much a building site at the moment, but The Centre is working with Tim Ronalds Architects to restore New River Head, a former waterworks with more than 400 hundred years of history. The site’s distinctive 18th and 19th century buildings have been empty and unused since the 1950s, but when it opens, the site will include galleries, gardens, an event space, café, shop and studios for drawing and making. The history of the site is an important aspect of The Centre, and the cultural history and importance of the waterworks as a part of our social history will be well represented.

Looking around the site, you can feel the history oozing from the walls. For the Open House Festival, some of the buildings contained installations by the current Illustrators-in-residence Laura Copsey, Philip Crewe and Sharpay Chenyuè Yuán, the latter’s murals filling the space that was previously a coal store. These installations all reflected the long history of the waterworks and its significance to the area.

Sharpay had also created an activity for the visitors, as a way to discover the various reasons people might visit the centre in the future. Different coloured stickers, representing different motivations behind a visit to the centre were laid out on a table. We picked the stickers which corresponded to our own reasons and the task was then to create a person from the stickers to add to Sharpay’s display. It was a great idea, and resulted in a sticky play session for a bunch of adults and a great variety of sticker people! As a reward for our efforts we were gifted a postcard of a drawing from Sharpay’s Lost Springs, Coming Spring installation.

It was great to visit the site and get the feel of what will be an exciting home for Illustration, and with half of their funding raised it’s hoped that everything will be on schedule to open in 2024. Fundraising continues however, as The Centre does not receive regular government support. If you want to donate to the cause, or find out more about the project you visit the website qbcentre.org.uk , and for updates on the progress follow @qbcentre on Instagram.

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Posted by author: Judy Brown
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