Naren Wilks is an emerging artist who uses film, video and photography, whose interactive installation ‘Collide-o-scope’ was based at The Public.
Wilks first got in touch with The Public after an open call for submissions for artists to take part in an exhibition. He submitted a short film, ‘Collide-o-scope’, in which a man divides himself into four clones. “Ian Danby [head of programming] loved the video,” says Wilks. “He and Graham Peet [head of exhibitions] were both so supportive of my work. Ian asked me to adapt it as an interactive installation, commissioned by The Public.”
“Working with The Public was an absolute joy. I was so impressed by their ambition and how much they supported the installation. They helped me throughout the funding process, which was quite difficult and time consuming, and they even helped source all the materials to build it. I really couldn’t have done it without them.”
“Having ‘Collide-o-scope’ commissioned has made a hugh impact on me. I get emails from visitors to The Public saying how much they enjoyed it, and I constantly get good feedback. It’s been great to feel appreciated and have a massive boost in confidence.”
By investing in artists, The Public supported many emerging talents. Commissions such as ‘Collide-o-scope‘ gave artists the confidence to continue their work, as well as raising their profile and building their CVs. By commissioning interactive artworks, The Public increased the opportunities for visitors to engage with art and creativity.
"I was very impressed by how The Public responded to the ideas around my Black Country shooting and turned this into reality very smoothly. My project needed to have a good public profile and this was achieved very well indeed."
Thee Public was commended for excellence and innovation in digital accessibility for all with for Sound Canvas by Zoe Partington.
In November 2013 The Public were named joint winners of a highly prestigious Jodi Award - an awards programme celebrating widening participation for disabled people in museums, galleries, exhibitions, libraries, archives and other heritage sites.
The Jodi Awards are given in memory of Jodi Mattes (1973-2001) - a tireless champion of equal access to culture for disabled people. To mark their 10th Anniversary, in 2013 three Public Engagement Awards were given by The Jodi Mattes Trust at a special celebratory event held in Liverpool. These new Awards were for Access Planning and User Involvement, Innovation, and Legacy and Impact.
The Public, joint winners of the Innovation Award, were commended for their multi-sensory exhibition, Sound Canvas, which uses sensors and digital technology to enable visitors to access art in an innovative way. A unique audio-visual experience triggered by movement, Sound Canvas was created by Zoe Partington for a project, IN (Disability Arts in the Mainstream), commissioned by The Public and DASH – a leading Disability Arts development organisation.
Robin Urquhart, Trustee and Chair of the Jodi Award judging team, said,
"Our panel of expert user testers were extremely impressed by the broad accessibility of the multi-sensory Sound Canvas.” He added, “The Jodi Awards, now in their tenth year, are a benchmark of excellence in inclusivity; and this year’s shortlist, more than any other so far, should make a significant impact on the Culture and Heritage sectors; placing accessible design in the heart of national and local galleries, museums, libraries and archives.”
Paula Dower, General Manager of DASH said,
“DASH are delighted to hear that Sound Canvas, by Zoe Partington, has been named joint winner of the Innovation Award. DASH’s project, IN (Disability Arts in the Mainstream), has been created to give Disabled Artists the support they need to enable them to create great works of art and to work in partnership with galleries to show that work. DASH would like to thank all the staff of The Public, they have been wonderful supportive partners of the IN project.”
Joannie Lemercier - Anti VJ
In November 2011, school children and emerging artists from West Bromwich worked alongside an internationally renowned video artist - as part of an exciting artistic project forming part of stunning exhibition, Light Up Digital.
Light Up Digital, was a fascinating celebration of light and dark, featuring an inspirational 3D video-mapping projection of Eyjafjallajökull, the Icelandic volcano which wreaked travel havoc across Europe in 2010, by Joanie Lemercier of AntiVJ.
During November, students from George Salter Academy in West Bromwich and a group of emerging and established local artists took part in a special residency led by Joanie. Taking inspiration from the exhibition they were able to learn more about the fascinating artistic technique and were provided with the opportunity to develop their own interpretations of the work.
Using a variety of materials, including 3D polystyrene shapes and paper pyramids, the residency saw the creation of a new video-mapping installation with triggered sounds and lighting, designed to challenge visitors perception of space, depth and distance. Working alongside the cutting-edge AntiVJ artist, the week long project provided the group with a valuable platform to learn new skills and experiences, as well as a unique opportunity to showcase their work to visitors of to The Public.
Joanie Lemercier from AntiVJ said,
“I would really like to thank The Public for inviting me to West Bromwich has presented me with a fantastic opportunity to showcase my work to new audiences. Working alongside the students and artists has provided me with a great deal of inspiration, and a host of new ideas which I can incorporate into future projects.”
n 4 years, The Public held a number of Open Exhibitions, providing Sandwell artists with the opportunity to display their artwork in the gallery alongside those of international pedigree.
These included the annual Summer Exhibition, together with Open Exhibitions themed especially around our changing programme of work including, Characters, Homemade and Lights.
The Open Exhibitions aimed to actively encourage creativity within the local community by nurturing talent and providing residents the opportunity to showcase their work to a mass audience, alongside established names. The region is rich in artistic talent and The Public looked to celebrate this artistic excellence.
All artwork submitted to these exhibitions was uploaded to The Public’s online gallery, which is available to view here.
Gemma Hadley graduated in 2009 with a BA (Hons) in Fine Art from the University of Hereford. She worked part-time in retail, but was seeking any opportunity to gain experience to pursue her career within the arts.
Gemma found the The Public’s internship scheme advertised in the Arts Council newsletter, and it was the only scheme she could find within the region. “The internship sounded like the perfect opportunity. I applied for Exhibition Planning, which sounded exactly like what I wanted to do as a career.”
Gemma was particularly interested in the internship as she had visited The Public while the building was under construction. “I have a photo of me wearing a bright pink hard hat in front of the building. I was really keen to see the completed building!”
The internship has provided Gemma with a range of experiences and skills to help develop her career. “The way the internship was structured meant that we were involved in a wide variety of projects and so could get lots of different experiences. One week we’d be involved in learning workshops and light drawing, the next we would be compiling databases! This was great because we gained a lot of experience across many aspects of how The Public is run.”
The most beneficial aspect of Gemma’s internship was the opportunity to collaborate with fellow intern Allen Lowe to coordinate the Martin Parr exhibition from start to finish. Not only did they experience the process of coordinating an exhibition, they also experienced working together on creative projects.
“Since the internships, Allen and I have set up our own exhibition management company, INNATE Projects. If I hadn’t had done the internship this wouldn’t have happened. Allen and I met at The Public and when we worked in the Martin Parr project it really helped us establish a working relationship and see how we worked best together.” The internship scheme is also supported through the University of Wolverhampton, and provides a tutor to offer career support and advice.
Internships at The Public provided young people like Gemma and Allen the opportunity to gain practical experience working within an arts environment, a scheme that is apparently unique in the region. The support and structure allowed interns to undertake a wide range of work to build their skills and aid their future career prospects. By investing in skills, The Public improved the achievements and job prospects of young people in Sandwell.
Sarah – Age: 15 years
My work experience placement gave me an invaluable insight on how the organisation worked, how all the teams worked together to market and prepare and provide funding for events and exhibitions. I also gained vital communication skills as I helped at the day to day running of the building including areas operating reception, taking phone calls and writing notes and reminders in The Public diary.
The experience I gained at The Public helped increase my confidence, communication, IT and team working skills which will help me in future work experience and employment. I was very satisfied with the entire process of the application to the placement for work experience as it was done very quickly.
I would definitely recommend others with an interest in art and how an art organisation works to apply for a work experience placement as you will be able to gain vital knowledge and increase your IT skills, and communication”.
“You certainly brought out the best in them with the fun packed imagination and creativity tasks and also it was so nice to see them engaging more with each other to work as a team especially when building the castle!”
Since August 2009, primary and secondary pupils from Sandwell that attend The Albion Foundation Learning Centre’s for a 10 week after school programme, were involved in a number of artistic projects at The Public.
Each group visited The Public for a two hour session where they had a look at the art on display, had a tour around the building and also worked on being part of their own art work. The pupils worked with staff from The Foundation and The Public to create a ‘Sergeant Pepper’ style crowd scene.
Comments/feedback from pupils:
“It was fantastic and flabbergasting”
“I want to go there again please”
“It was brilliant”
“I really, really enjoyed it”
“It was fun and cool”
“Cool and exciting”
“It was the best trip ever”
“It was enjoyable”
“It was quite fun and we would love to go back again”
“It was fun and joyful”
From 2012 – 2013 The Public worked in close partnership with Sandwell Adult and Family Learning Service (SAFL) and Sandwell Community Learning Network Trust to be a provider of key learning in Sandwell. By developing this relationship The Public firmly established a valued partnership with Sandwell MBC for the delivery of community adult learning in the region.
Funded through the Skills Funding Agency the community Learning programme enabled The Public to work with local community groups, third sector and learning providers, to identify and deliver learning that supports National, local government and arts council priorities.
About The Public's programme:
It has been The Public’s key aim to develop and deliver high quality community learning experiences that both reflect the nature of an arts organisation and its specialism in digital and visual arts. In the academic year 2012-13 65 adult learners were trained in specialised digital and visual arts practices that were subsequently presented and exhibited alongside both nationally and internationally acclaimed artists within The Public’s galleries.
Areas of study that were offered to adult learners were in the following subjects; digital photography (beginners and intermediate), accessing social media, Art and Design (beginners and intermediate), creative jewellery design, creative product design and sewing and dressmaking. All of the mentioned programmes were 10 week learning programmes delivered by specialised practitioners within the arts and adult education.
Tony Carlson, 67, who took part in the Digital Photography beginners course said,
“I have always been interested in taking pictures with my digital camera but have found it difficult to do the computer side of things. Being on the course has taught me lots of different techniques and ways to operate my camera, now I can download and share my pictures online with family and friends. The most difficult thing was learning about editing and cropping my pictures on the computer but I have been very pleased with the results and overall have enjoyed the course tremendously”
TEACHER TWILIGHT SESSIONS
In 2011, The Public launched a new initiative to help teachers from across the region find out how they can use the arts centre as an educational resource.
Held on the second Wednesday of the month, the Teacher Twilight Sessions provided a valuable insight into the learning resources on offer at The Public. Designed for teachers, educators and group leaders looking to hold a workshop, attend an activity or visit the gallery, the regular sessions helped educators identify how they could incorporate the interactive art gallery into their teaching practices.
Led by The Public’s Learning Team, the early evening sessions consisted of a tour of the gallery followed by a discussion about the available workshop packages, their forthcoming exhibitions programme and digital projects.
Local school George Salter Academy worked alongside The Public on a series of artistic projects – part of a long term partnership between the two organisations, aimed at enhancing student development.
On 16 June 2012, Post 16 Art and Design students from the West Bromwich school were provided with a unique opportunity to showcase their work within the gallery - celebrating their development and creative journeys. Paintings, 2D and 3D media, photography and textile work was displayed as part of a project between George Salter and a network of schools from across Sandwell. By working collaboratively alongside six local schools, the staff and students were able to successfully share ideas and valuable strengths.
Having their work displayed in a professional gallery provided the students with an opportunity to gain helpful advice and expertise from the gallery’s exhibition staff as well as a greater understanding of the cultural sector.
An Art and Design student from the college added,
“Working with The Public provided me with the opportunity to learn more about unique ways in which artwork can be presented.”
Head of Art and Design at George Salter Academy said,
“Working alongside The Public only provided our students with valuable experience in exhibiting, it has saw them develop a sense of pride in their work. Collaborating with the arts centre has enriched learning, giving the students the chance to do things they would otherwise not have the opportunity to do.”
The exhibition formed part of a long term partnership between the West Bromwich arts centre and George Salter Academy. As well as having the opportunity to display artwork in The Public for free, the Black Country art centre’s learning team also hosted a number of digital workshops for their Graphic Design students. Specially tailored Light Drawing and Photoshop workshops helped the school’s Key Stage 5 students learn new creative techniques and skills, and try something new which they otherwise would not have the opportunity to participate in.
The U3A is a nationwide organisation dedicated to providing education for the elderly community. It is a democratic organisation, members run their own sessions ranging from arts and literature to archaeology.
Phil Page is an active member of U3A in Sandwell. He has held the position of speakers secretary and ran his own regular music sessions in the theatre of The Public. Phil was a great advocate for The Public as a centre for art and creativity in Sandwell, and as a centre for the older generation to meet. However, Phil hasn’t always felt this way.
“I was very against The Public when it was being built. It was an awful lot of money being spent in a very poor area, and to be honest I didn’t really like the design. I felt as if they had a lot of money and wanted to build something, then decide what it was going to be as an afterthought. There was a lot of negative press, so it was easy for me to dislike it. However Bob Tidmarsh, the chair of the Sandwell U3A, was very pro The Public.”
The Sandwell U3A originally used the Wesley Chapel on West Bromwich High Street as its headquarters. Bob Tidmarsh developed a close working relationship with managing director Linda Saunders, and U3A eventually relocated its monthly meetings and the majority of its smaller groups to The Public in autumn 2010.
“That’s when my opinions really changed about The Public. The facilities were so much better than at our old building, especially as it used to get so cold. At The Public, the staff would put out the chairs and tables for us, or set up a PA system if we needed it.”
Currently, Sandwell’s U3A has around 200 regular members. Mr Page added, “We have so many different classes and events going on; we go on group theatre trips, days away, and even have regular luncheon meetings. One of the reasons U3A was so happy at The Public was that all the staff were so friendly and helpful, and we had a great working relationship with Linda Saunders. The Public became an amazing centre for the elderly of Sandwell.”
Phil believes that taking part in U3A provides members with an opportunity to keep active, both mentally and physically. “It makes people get out and about in the community rather than sitting at home. There’s a great sense of camaraderie and community, the social side is just as important as the education side. It enables members to meet each other and build friendships they may not have otherwise.”
ISLAM AWARENESS WEEK
In 1994 the Islamic Society of Britain established Islam Awareness Week as a national event to help erase misconceptions about the religion and increase awareness of Muslim culture, community and values. As part of Islam Awareness Week, a variety of celebrations were held at The Public, and elsewhere across Sandwell .
Activities held at The Public throughout Islam Awareness Week included quizzes, stands distributing leaflets and educational material, and an exhibition on Islam’s vibrant past.
“The exhibitions were key to Islam Awareness Week,” says Saeed Nasser, an advocate for the Yemeni Community Association in Sandwell. “We displayed ancient artwork and artifacts from the wide range of Islamic cultures. There were ancient Korans, and even artwork from more recent periods in Islamic history. We also provided projects and activities for children, to help them engage and to try and stop misconceptions about our culture.
“We started hosting Islam Awareness Week at The Public because the facilities were so excellent. They were fellow partners with the Council, so it made sense to work together. They were brilliant to work with, the facilities were good, and the staff very friendly and helpful.”
Saeed believes that celebrating Islamic culture has had a huge impact on the Sandwell community. “We’ve had very positive feedback from people across a wide range of backgrounds, not just Islamic. Events such as this really help us feel part of a larger community. By increasing awareness, we hope to create a more unified and understanding Sandwell, and in previous years The Public have played a large part in our success.”
Over the past couple of years, Sandwell College worked alongside The Public to give students the opportunity to work with professional artists.
Originally, Sandwell College got involved with The Public through Multistory. Multistory helped organise the collaboration between Sandwell College, Martin Parr and The Public. Martin Parr arranged to visit Sandwell College to give a talk on photography. Parr set the students a project (‘Show Me A Secret’) and this culminated in a display of student work alongside his own. This was the first time the students had had the opportunity to have their work displayed alongside the work of professionals.
Due to the success of the Martin Parr collaboration, in 2011 Sandwell College and The Public worked together on project, ‘In The Best Light’. Students worked in groups within industrial companies, photographing the work in similar style to the late Maurice Broomfield.
Dave Waldron, Head of Photography at Sandwell College said,
“Working within functioning industrial factories, and the opportunity to have their work displayed alongside that of professional photographers, were massive incentives for the students. Whereas many projects are simulated, this was a live project and provided them with a breadth of outside, practical experience. These experiences and skills can then be applied practically, improving their career prospects and increasing the satisfaction gained from their work.”
Waldron highlighted that one of the benefits of these projects with The Public is that they were available for students across the board. Adult photography students worked alongside Level 3 students (who are unsure if they want a career within photography) and Level 4 and 5 students (who are more advanced and studying photography in higher education). This inclusive nature meant that groups worked together, shared skills, techniques and advice. This developed the students’ knowledge and as a result the photography from all groups was of an incredibly high standard.
“The students also experienced the magic of working within an industrial environment. All this probably wouldn’t have happened without Martin Parr and our initial work with The Public.”
Students on both projects had their work displayed at The Public. This was the first time students had project work displayed outside of the college alongside profession work. The publicity gained from this, and having work displayed in this way, gave students a boost in morale and confidence.
“You can just tell it’s raised the students self-esteem and self-belief that they can achieve something.”
By supporting projects that enabled students to gain practical experience and transferable skills, The Public is dedicated to improving the achievements of young people in Sandwell, and investing in their skills. The self-esteem and sense of achievement gained by having their work publicly displayed is helping students gain the confidence to pursue their chosen careers, and improving their future job prospects.
Sandwell remains one of the least active areas in the UK. It has some of the lowest rates of physical activities, such as sport, and as a result some of the highest levels of health issues, such as obesity, heart attacks and strokes.
Sandwell Strides is part of an initiative from Sandwell’s Healthy Lifestyles Team, who encourage communities across the region to improve their health. Sandwell Strides focuses on walking.
Teresa Culverwell, a walk leader for Sandwell Strides, suggested that they organise an indoor walk in The Public. “It was accessible and we wouldn’t have to rely on the weather, those were the main reasons,” she says. “We have many walkers who aren’t very mobile and are trying to increase their movement, and we also have a lot of disabled individuals too, so The Public was ideal. I myself had just recovered from a back operation when I suggested the walk, and I also have a disabled teenage son, and this meant we could all complete the walk together, no matter what our abilities. Also, many of our walks are quite flat, but The Public’s ramp means that walkers have the option to walk up and downhill, exercising and strengthening more muscles.
“One of the benefits of the walks at The Public, was the walkers could really tailor it to their own abilities,” says Teresa. “The more able ones could choose to walk up the ramp more, while less able walkers could decide to go up in the lifts and walk down the ramp. As it was an indoor space walkers don’t mind this, as there’s no chance of getting left behind or getting lost!”
Both Teresa and Andrew both say that the increased activity was greatly beneficial to the walkers, and was helping to decrease the levels of obesity and related illnesses in the region. “We’ve all found that the walks increase more than just their fitness,” says Andrew. “Our walks have really created a community between our walkers, and a sense of belonging. All our groups get on very well, and work closely to support each other.”
“People with learning disabilities may not socialise as much as they could,” agrees Teresa. “So the walk at The Public was an excellent way for them to meet new people and expand their social groups. Being a part of a close group gives our walkers, of all abilities, a confidence boost, and raises their self-esteem. Hopefully this encourages them to try out more new things!”
“On all our walks, we noticed that walkers start to take great pride in Sandwell the more they get involved with our work. They were having positive, social interaction and support here, so they begin to feel very protective of it, reporting vandalism and graffiti, and trying new walks to explore new areas.”
Sandwell St Patrick's Day
For 10 years, the Irish Society has held St Patrick’s Day celebrations to raise awareness of Sandwell’s Irish community. The event aims to celebrate Irish traditions, but is open to all communities, hoping to increase social cohesion and understanding.
After holding the first seven celebrations in Queen’s Square Shopping Centre, the Irish Society moved to The Public.
The first year of celebrations were a huge success. “Everyone loved the event - it is such a vibrant and friendly place. We really began to see how holding the celebrations at The Public would benefit us, as their facilities are so much better than in the shopping centre.
“It’s a much bigger space, meaning we have more room for stands and different events. The PinkCafe became an Irish cafe for the day, serving traditional stews and puddings! This was brilliant, as many second and third generation Irish may not eat traditional Irish food at home. It also meant that people from other communities could sample traditional Irish food too.
“The theatre also provided us with space to look after our many volunteers. The PinkCafe provided them with a packed lunch, and they could relax and sit down in the theatre. This was a luxury we lacked in the shopping centre.”
Siobhan believes that the St Patrick’s Day events are crucial for the Irish community in Sandwell, so having a supportive and well-maintained facility like The Public is very important. “It’s very easy for the Irish community to remain invisible. We’re white, speak English, and many of us no longer have Irish accents; we just blend into the background. I feel that the St Patrick’s Day celebrations really give us a voice, to show that we are a community and have a presence in Sandwell. Increasing our voice will help social cohesion in Sandwell, as communities will be more aware of each other’s traditions and culture.
“We aim to promote the Irish community within Sandwell, but our celebrations are open to everyone and we try and make it as accessible to other groups as possible. We have traditional Irish dance and songs being performed, but we also focus on bringing fusions of different cultures too. Last year, we were fortunate to be able to form a collaboration between an Irish choir, and a gospel choir from a girls’ school in the region. In previous years we’ve had collaborations between Irish and Bangra dancing, Irish music and big band and even a fusion of Irish and Polish folk music. We hope this helps open up our culture, making it more accessible to individuals from other communities.”
By providing facilities for the St Patrick Day celebrations, The Public helped increase awareness of an under-represented community. By challenging stereotypes and barriers, this will increase the sense of community and understanding throughout Sandwell.
The Public developed a highly successful partnership with The Challenge Network during the 2 years of their summer residencies in the building.
The Challenge Network is a national charity that was founded in 2009. Their mission is to connect and inspire people to strengthen their communities; bringing together local people across all generations, ethnic groups and incomes to build a stronger society.
During the Summer of 2012 and 2013, The Public hosted the Challenge Network’s Summer Programme - NCS with The Challenge - for Sandwell. Over the period, The Public provided staff expertise, room and other resources, technical support and other learning activities to provide an engaging and fulfilling summer programme of activities.
NCS with The Challenge is an intense four part programme for 16 and 17 year olds delivered as part of the government’s National Citizen Service (NCS). The programme is comprised of physical and team challenges and social action projects.
Graduates took part in team and individual projects ranging from Youth Boards to Action Days. They were assigned to volunteering opportunities with other charities and personal development opportunities, such as skills workshops with partner businesses.
Participants also volunteered on The Challenge as Associate Mentors, acting as peer mentors to the next generation of social action leaders.
In addition, participants were encouraged to develop a range of useful soft skills. These included presenting ideas and campaigns to local business leaders during “dragons den days” and interacting with various community groups and projects.
The Challenge used The Public as both a jump off point for activities in the area, and as a host venue to utilise various spaces in The Public building, from presenting in the theatre; to workshops, performances and team building activities in the Madeleine Carroll Suite. The Challenge also took advantage of the wide range of businesses, events and attendees to various events; tapping them for knowledge, conducting surveys and interacting with the general public.
In February 2013 – The Public also hosted The Festival. A day of music, performance and other activities
At The Challenge, we have enjoyed two very successful years in Sandwell with our young participants.
You have helped us engage 320 young people with their local community. We feel very privileged to have been able to use such an incredible venue, with such welcoming staff.
In loving memory of The Public