City gallery takes to the water

Ikon awarded £210,000 to take art into the Black Country – by boat.

Birmingham’s Ikon gallery has been awarded £210,000 by Arts Council England to bring art to the Black Country. The funding has been awarded as part of Arts Council England’s £45 million Strategic Touring Programme, which supports arts venues to tour their work so more people can experience and enjoy it. It allows Ikon to undertake a three year programme, Black Country Voyages, involving its Slow Boat – a converted canal boat measuring 72 feet in length. Slow Boat will travel the Black Country’s industrial canal routes from Smethwick to Stourbridge, Sedgley to West Bromwich and Birchills to Aldridge.

Ikon Youth Programme – a group of 15-19 years olds with an interest in visual arts – will be particularly involved in the project, assisting in crewing the boat and leading activities. Ikon will also work with other organisations including Writing West Midlands, Flatpack Film Festival, local authors, photographers, artists, libraries and schools including the RSA Academy in Tipton.

The tour will feature artist-led workshops, on-board performances, writing workshops and book design, amongst other activities. People who encounter Slow Boat on its journey will also have the chance to be involved in influencing the development of the programme, contributing their thoughts and ideas.

Peter Knott, Area Director of Arts Council England, said: “This is great news for Ikon and the Black Country. Ikon’s Slow Boat takes great art right in to the heart of local communities in a non-traditional way. But what will be really exciting about Black Country Voyages is the connections Ikon will be able to make with existing arts groups and local people, giving them the opportunity to shape the future of the tour.”

Ikon director Jonathan Watkins, added: “Black Country Voyages will be a wonderful adventure for the young people taking part in Ikon’s Youth Programme, participating artists and audiences alike. The canals in this region are under-appreciated, but for Ikon they are an extraordinary network joining the dots of local communities that will be new audiences for the very best contemporary art.”