Visual artists given boost with return of initiative

New Art West Midlands promotes new talent.

Birmingham and the wider West Midlands region is positioning itself at the heart of a significant growth in the visual arts. Now, a major project providing opportunities for recent graduate artists is to be repeated for a second year, further encouraging creative professionals to forge their careers in the West Midlands.

New Art West Midlands is an exhibition of the best contemporary art from recent graduates, who are given the opportunity to exhibit in four of the region’s leading galleries. A Turning Point West Midlands initiative, NAWM is based on a unique partnership of four art venues and five universities, and brings together their substantial support, with funding also from Arts Council England.

All exhibiting artists have graduated from one of the West Midlands’ undergraduate and postgraduate fine art degree courses in the past three years, encompassing Birmingham City University, Coventry University, Staffordshire University, University of Wolverhampton and University of Worcester.

From 147 applications, 24 artists have been selected to be part of the exhibition, which will be presented in Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Wolverhampton Art Gallery and Grand Union, opening on 14th February 2014.

The inaugural New Art West Midlands showcase took place in 2012/2013, with work by 22 emerging artists attracting some 50,000 visitors. Many of the participants have gone on to forge careers within the creative sector, both in the region and beyond, boosted by their experience in this exhibition.

Rafal Zar, overall prize-winner of New Art West Midlands in 2013, went on to exhibit his work at the Five Songs exhibition at Digbeth-based Minerva Works, organised in association with the internationally recognised gallery Eastside Projects, and was selected to be part of the Worcester Open. Other noted entrants included Stuart Layton, now studying for a Master of Fine Arts degree at the prestigious Royal College of Art, London, and Corey Hayman, who has been offered a work placement in Florence. Meanwhile the Margaret Street Free Arts Council – a graduate duo from BIAD at Birmingham City University – have been in residence at Friction Arts in Digbeth, Birmingham. Many other exhibiting artists have taken part in exhibitions and residencies across the UK.

Professor John Butler, Head of Birmingham School of Art at BCU said: “Birmingham and the wider West Midlands region now has one of, if not the, most exciting art scenes in the country. The key is to support emerging artists and, crucially, prove that this is the place to stay and forge a career. New Art West Midlands can provide an important first rung on the ladder for these artists, bringing their work to the attention of the art market, arts venues, critics, media and employers.

He continued, “In addition, the vast number of creative talent coming out of our art schools will go on to bring important skills to the creative industries, not just as artists, but also in the fields of design, fabrication, arts administration, teaching – the list goes on. Last year’s exhibitions were very well received and we are incredibly pleased to repeat the initiative this year and, hopefully, in the years to come.”

New Art West Midlands is the work of Turning Point West Midlands (TPWM), set up to strengthen the visual arts through brokering partnerships and initiating new projects that create new opportunities to artists and brings new work to a wider audience.

In recent research of practicing artists and arts professionals, some 86% respondents said that TPWM is making a positive difference to the contemporary arts sector in the region, with 54% believing that the West Midlands is now a more attractive place for artists to work in.