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Young Meadow Arts Gets Started

10th September 2020

We've been working on a project that aims to create a network of young people in our region to initiate contemporary art projects. At the moment, we're calling it Young Meadow Arts and we've put together a steering group that includes young advisors like Bethany Williams, who we asked to tell us more about the project.


Tell us about yourself, Bethany?

A smiling young woman with long brown hairHi, I’m Bethany! Over the past few months, I have been working with Meadow Arts as part of their Young Meadow Arts network.

Whilst I have always had an interest in the visual arts, fashion and anything creative, my love of exhibitions and galleries came from my childhood in Walsall, in the Black Country. I was very lucky growing up that I could visit the New Art Gallery Walsall (NAGW) frequently. It had a huge impact on me and I have been able to witness the positivity it has brought to the town I am from. Without NAGW, I would not have had the opportunity to experience and engage with contemporary art. It played a huge part in my decision to study Art History and Curating for both undergraduate and Masters degrees and pursue a career in it.

As a teenager, the gallery was a fantastic escape for me and, whilst other contemporary art galleries felt intimidating and exclusive, NAGW made art feel accessible and that the gallery space could be a place for me too. Engaging with exhibitions which tackled important societal issues challenged and shaped my perspective and acted as a gateway to vital conversations. My passion for producing accessible and inclusive exhibitions that aim to empower, inspire and represent a broader audience who wouldn’t necessarily engage with art was drawn from my own experiences. By breaking down the alienating barriers contemporary art and galleries can sometimes present, this will bring huge benefits to society, our wellbeing and alter the way we think.


How did Meadow Arts find out about you?

Back in early April, I was interviewed for a job at Meadow Arts, but I wasn’t quite right for the role. However, the team at Meadow Arts were really interested in my previous curatorial work and my research about how we can use curatorial intervention and interpretation to help make the visual arts more accessible so they asked me to be a part of Young Meadow Arts project.

I was really interested in working with Meadow Arts because of the work they do in challenging the idea of where contemporary art can ‘happen’ and who can engage with it by bringing artistic encounters to audiences using non-art venues. I find it really exciting and inspiring that audiences who might not normally experience contemporary art are suddenly face-to-face with it in a completely unexpected location. It is a great way to change people’s opinions of contemporary art, who it is for and where it can happen.

The Young Meadow Arts project came about from Meadow Arts wanting to focus on young people within the visual arts more. The aim is to create a youth initiative centring around the idea of getting young people from the rural areas of the West Midlands engaging with contemporary art and supporting emerging artistic and curatorial talent in the region.

Hands are seen sticking lace, beads and flowers onto a board

An artwork made from coloured fabrics, beads, toys and artificial flowers

Pictures show: young people's work inspired by Empire and Migration at Ikon Gallery


What work have you been doing with Meadow Arts?

I am a part of a small group of young people who make up the Young Meadow Arts network. So far, we have each looked at case studies of youth arts initiatives around the UK, creating research reports focusing on how the selected initiatives own practice and experiences can inform the Young Meadow Arts project. As Birmingham’s leading contemporary art gallery, I was really interested in Ikon’s own youth programme (IYP) and how they promote youth engagement so chose this as my case study.

After conducting some initial research, via a video call, I interviewed James Latunji-Cockbill, the Producer of Ikon’s Art at HMP Grendon programme and former IYP leader, where we discussed the initiative at length. Talking to James was a great opportunity to gain valuable insight into the running of a successful youth initiative, the wide-ranging projects they’ve worked on over the years and what IYP means to its members.

We discussed the various aspects to IYP, including the general running of the programme, its funding, costs and expenditure, previous projects and partnerships and the demographics of members and patterns of membership motivation. It was incredibly insightful to learn how Ikon’s Learning Team ensure IYP is inclusive and accessible through representation, how they’ve been virtually running the initiative during the lockdown and, the importance of social media within the initiative as vital documentation of IYP’s legacy. My report covered these many aspects and I concluded with my suggestions for Young Meadow Arts and what steps to take next having learnt so much about IYP.

I was then able to present my findings with the rest of the Young Meadow Arts network. It was great to learn about the other youth initiatives the rest of the team had looked at, including Beatfreeks and Whitechapel Gallery’s 'Duchamp and Sons', and how their varying practice could inform Young Meadow Arts.

Video details: Empire and Migration (2019), was made by Ikon in collaboration with the Barber Collective. Facilitated by artist Jane Thakoordin, the partnership responded artistically to the Ikon exhibition, Hew Locke: Here’s the Thing (2019), by adorning Ikon’s Slow Boat with beads and creating their own version of Locke’s depiction of Queen Victoria. It concluded with a procession on the Slow Boat to the Barber Institute during 2019 Migrant Festival.


What’s next for you and the project?

We’re beginning to look at the three case studies and really think about what we may be able to replicate or evolve for Young Meadow Arts. We are also considering the model of the youth initiative itself, such as the age range, the venue and its format, as well as the logistics including funding and potential partners. Soon we’ll develop a steering group to help us understand what young creatives from our targeted rural areas would really like to see within a youth initiative. Young Meadow Arts has the potential to make a huge difference in promoting youth engagement in these parts of the West Midlands and it’s a really exciting project to be a part of.

Personally, as well as continuing to work with Meadow Arts, I am currently in the final stages of curating my third exhibition, This Space I Belong, at Gallery 46 in Whitechapel which will run from 3rd until 12th September. The exhibition presents the contemporary documentary works of fifteen emerging artists and is a collaborative effort between myself and the exhibiting graduates. Informed by the collective need to feel a sense of belonging in our surroundings, This Space I Belong explores notions of conflicting identity, community, our environments and change, investigating current cultural and socioeconomic issues.

Also, I will soon be starting my new role as Exhibitions Assistant at Wolverhampton Art Gallery!