Opening up a collection to new audience is always an exciting prospect. A recent Sculpture Around You partnership between the BBC and Accumulate, a London-based charity supporting young people who are homeless and living in temporary accommodation across the capital, proved just that.
Broadcasting House in central London is the headquarters of BBC and the first purpose-built home for radio broadcasting in the UK. Originally an imposing Art Deco design, the building has seen many changes and extensions across the years and is now one of the largest live broadcast centres in the world. The building is also home to many wonderful works of sculpture which respond to its significant history, from the magic people felt when radio first entered their homes, to more contemporary themes of communication, truth-telling and remembrance.
From the ground, you can look up and admire Breathing by Catalan artist Jaume Plensa, which dominates the roof of the new East wing. Reflecting the surrounding architecture (inverting the spire of nearby All Souls Church) this monument of light and glass stands as a memorial to journalists and crew who lost their lives while working on location.
In the piazza below, George Orwell by Martin Jennings stands on a stone plinth alongside the inscription: 'If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.' The quote is taken from Orwell's own preface to Animal Farm and highlights the importance of clarity and truth-telling, encouraging passers-by to remember these ideals in their daily work.
When we met with Robert Seatter, Head of BBC History and steward of the BBC Collection, he was keen to open up this wonderful collection to a new and younger audience. In doing so, he hoped to explore what broadcasting means to young people today in light of the significant changes we have seen since the early days of Broadcasting House in the 1930s.
London-based charity Accumulate were soon on board, and an exciting creative partnership began to emerge. Accumulate provide creative opportunities to young people at risk of homelessness here in the capital. The charity aims to help participants develop their skills, improve their wellbeing and ultimately take positive steps forward in their lives through creative education.
For those who engage regularly, Accumulate also offers the opportunity of securing a fully paid scholarship to continue their creative learning and study Design and Digital Media (Access to HE Education one-year course) at Ravensbourne University London – a truly life-changing opportunity.
We subsequently developed a four-day creative programme for Accumulate participants in partnership with the BBC, which would allow them to explore the medium of sculpture and produce their own original artworks inspired by the artworks at Broadcasting House. The programme began with a tour across the building to introduce the sculpture collection. For many of these young people, to see inside the world of the BBC was a truly eye-opening experience, from passing well-known radio personalities to the sea of journalists working away in the BBC Newsroom.
Supported by artist Sadie Edginton, the group then spent the remainder of their time with us reflecting on the themes of the collection, asking 'what does broadcast mean to me?', while developing and producing an original work of sculpture.
Sadie's practice often explores the potential of everyday materials, and materials available to the group included recycled items and low-cost resources such as chicken wire and Modroc to keep things accessible and inventive.
We were thrilled at the outcomes and loved hearing each participant talk about their response to the theme of broadcast – from fake news to the importance of finding their own voice and freedom of speech.
None of the young people involved had ever worked with the medium of sculpture before yet achieved considered and thought-provoking outcomes.
To see their artwork in a professional exhibition was a high point for many of the young people, and a public acknowledgement of their hard work and commitment.
Laura Woodfield, Learning and Engagement Manager at Art UK