The Foundling Museum - Museums Association

The Foundling Museum

The Foundling Museum tells the story of the Foundling Hospital, the UK’s first children’s charity and first public art gallery. The story resonates particularly strongly with looked after young people: children under the age of 18 who are growing up in children’s homes, hostels or in foster care. Enabling vulnerable and marginalised young people to work alongside artists and to explore life’s possibilities, lies at the heart of the museum’s work.

In 2014 Foundling Fellow Lemn Sissay produced Superman was a Foundling, a striking text-based mural in the museum café that explored the powerful role that fictional looked-after children play in our culture. Sissay, who grew up in both children’s homes and foster care, describes the project as addressing the disparity between our admiration for fictional orphaned, adopted, fostered and foundling characters, and our disregard for their real-life counterparts.

The mural has generated other projects, including work with Foundling Fellow and natural history sound recordist, Chris Watson. Watson ran a project with a group of young adults who had grown up in children’s homes in London, to record the sounds of the dawn chorus on the site of the original Foundling Hospital. None of the young people had heard of the museum or the Foundling Hospital. They responded enthusiastically to the story and the collection. In the words of one participant; “Every brushstroke of every painting was painted for me.”

Working with Lemn Sissay and listening to the young care-experienced adults talk about the positive impact that understanding their place in history and culture had on them has inspired a new three-year project to develop a bespoke training and mentorship programme run by care-experienced young adults.

The scheme will enable the young adults to devise and deliver workshops at the museum for children currently in homes, hostels and foster care. It will provide paid employment and valuable life skills, including public speaking, critical and creative thinking and people management.