My diary last week had two exhibition openings to visit:
Van Gogh at Media City and Venture Arts at Manchester Central Library. I tossed a mental coin and it landed on Venture Arts. (Van Gogh can wait.) In April last year I wrote on Manchester’s Finest:
‘Everyone has their own complicated circumstances, but just try to imagine how that must feel for the learning disabled and the disorientation this brings for Venture Arts participants, who have had their regular lifeline and focus extinguished.’
Yes, April last year saw us all having our own lifelines extinguished to some degree and we were all reeling with taking it all in. But in that same feature I outlined how Venture Arts were immediately adjusting to keep alive the creativity that is a lifeline to around 70 learning disabled people.
People who maybe couldn’t readily adapt and adjust themselves and so desperately needed to continue what for them was a complete focus.
Venture Arts immediately put out a call for donations and very quickly managed to supply iPads and other digital facilities to their artists, plus driving around with deliveries of a myriad of art materials so that creativity and learning – and sustenance – could continue.
A year and a half later the product of those iPads, those materials, that riot of colour and creativity is on show from 70 artists in hundreds of art works.
When I chatted to Amanda Sutton, Director of VA, she told me that far from lockdown stifling creativity and experimentation, the new way of collaboration and working meant that artists, by necessity, had more one-to-one contact with facilitators. Yes, remotely and through the digital ether, but maybe somehow more personal than in the VA Studios in Hulme.
“There were lovely stories that came out of those close, personal collaborations. For example artist Sarah Lee completed 20,000 panels of quilting during lockdown, working with Laura Nathan, who teaches textiles. During the one-to-one conversations it emerged that they shared Jewish heritage. Sarah’s Polish grandfather was a prisoner of war who later became a wood carver and Laura’s grandfather was a concentration camp survivor who later trained as a tailor. Different disciplines of course, but the connection was that both of those grandparents worked on their art to work through the trauma whilst victims of the holocaust. Such a connection between Sarah and Laura. Maybe that wouldn’t have emerged if they hadn’t been working one-to-one.”
I have visited several Venture Arts exhibitions and also their studios of course. Make no mistake about it – the learning disabilities of the artists does not reflect in the outstanding quality of work.
Yes, it has its naivety, but there’s a certain Vincent on show not too far away who would, today, be called an ‘outsider artist.’ Wandering round was a delight: photography, ceramics, textiles, illustration, print, light and sound.
The beauty, of course, is in the diversity. Venture Arts have other exhibitions planned in high-profile venues, each will feature exceptionally creative, uninhibited work. For example Leslie Thompson (pictured) will exhibit solo at Paper Gallery, with his large collage on show here deconstructed into separate works, each with a narrative. The Lowry and Manchester Contemporary are also on the agenda.
The work itself is for sale; two thirds of the income for the artist and a third for the continued work of Venture Arts.
And so, if you’re looking to buy high quality original work or just wander around a massively eclectic art show then go along to Manchester Central Library, where ‘Completely a Hustling Place’ runs until the last day of 2021.
Completely a Hustling Place
Venue: Manchester Central Library
Dates: Until 31st December 2021