School children and college students across the West Midlands have been benefiting from a University of Wolverhampton, Arts Connect and British Art Show 9 (BAS9) inspired Learning Programme. The Programme has been assisted by philanthropic support from charitable trusts, donors and societies including the Wolverhampton Society of Artists (WSA), all of whom have helped the hundreds of children and young people who will visit the project between February and April.

The Wolverhampton Society of Artists (WSA) is an established group of professional and amateur artists who work in a wide range of styles and media, with artists that are proactive locally, nationally and internationally.

School children aged 8 and 9 from Fibbersley Park Academy in Willenhall were one of the first schools to visit the BAS9 exhibition recently with the opportunity to work in ‘the art school within an art school’, created by local artist, Mark Essen. The creative workshop space, School of the Underkraft, was designed by pupils at Thomas Telford University Technical College (TTUTC) in collaboration with Essen and mixed media artist Sahjan Kooner, as an alternative project space for teachers and young people to explore contemporary art.

WSA donated £2,320 to School of the Underkraft after applying for Heritage Lottery Funding to spread the ‘love of art’ in schools and colleges. The donated funds have been used to create Art Packs for young people which include paints, chalks, paintbrushes and pencils so that they can continue to create at home after participating in the workshop.

Norm Keech, Chair of WSA, who visited the School of the Underkraft to see the Fibbersley Park Academy pupils at work, said: “Giving young people access to art and creative tools is vitally important. Without this kind of incentive, some children would never know how important art and creativity is. We were delighted to see first-hand how our donation was making an impact on young lives and they can take their learning into their homes and hopefully that will also inspire the parents.”

Becky Thompson, British Art Show 9 Learning Engagement / Arts Award Manager, said: “It’s great to see the art packs being utilised by young people. BAS9 has given us an amazing platform to work with local artists who have been going into local schools – it’s been so inspiring for the young people.”

Will Dewar, Teacher / Creative Arts Leader at Fibbersley Park Academy, said: “My class and children have absolutely loved visiting here today. We have talked about contemporary and abstract art, but now that the children have been here, they are completely amazed, not just seeing the paintings and the more traditional art, but also being in the immersive experiences of film, video and soundscapes so they’ve really enjoyed being here. Having these resources to work with, having that hands-on opportunity to create, is really valuable and we will be able to use these when we’re back at school.”

Maggie Ayliffe, Head of the School of Art at the University, said: “What these vital donations have done is enable us to not just bring children in to see the work, but also to make sure they’ve got some materials so that when they go home they are able, in their own time, to create and express themselves. This makes art available to people, no matter what their background, and makes it something they can take part in, not just look at, and this is all about connecting the two things together.”

The British Art Show is presented by Hayward Gallery Touring every 5 years and is the biggest touring exhibition of contemporary art in the UK and widely acknowledged as the most important recurrent exhibition of contemporary art produced in this country, unrivalled in its ambition, scope and national reach.

Arts Connect is a development agency which delivers the Bridge programme in the West Midlands for Arts Council England. As part of the University’s Faculty of Arts, Business and Social Sciences, Arts Connect has collaborated with contemporary artists Sophie Huckfield, Thomas Eke, Joanna Fursman, Mark Riley and Larissa Shaw to create a range of BAS9-inspired contemporary art-thinking and -making activities for young people to explore while they’re in the School of the Underkraft.

British Art Show 9 is exhibited across two venues in Wolverhampton from 22 January to 10 April 2022: Wolverhampton Art Gallery and the University of Wolverhampton School of Art.

British Art Show is recognised as the most important and ambitious recurrent exhibition of contemporary art produced in the UK. Taking place every five years it brings the work of artists defining new directions in contemporary art to four UK cities. For BAS9 in Wolverhampton, the exhibition focuses on how we live with and give voice to difference, showcasing 34 artists whose works investigate identity from an intersectional perspective.

By exploring coexisting identities such as class, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality, these works are presented in critical dialogue with Wolverhampton’s cultural history which has been shaped by the diverse populations that came to work and live there during the post-war period.

British Art Show 9 is a Hayward Gallery Touring exhibition in collaboration with the cities of Aberdeen, Wolverhampton, Manchester and Plymouth and is curated by Irene Aristizábal and Hammad Nasar.

Four of the new works in the tour are made possible with the generous support of the Art Fund and these will be acquired by museum partners in each city for their own collections, as a marker of the lasting legacy of this ambitious touring show.

BAS9 also benefits from the support of Arts Council England’s Project Grant for National Activities which is allowing partners to produce ambitious and wide-ranging programmes of creative learning, civic engagement and participation that will further extend the reach of BAS9 across the four partner cities.