Washington Celebrates Artwork with a Difference | Living North

Washington Celebrates Artwork with a Difference


Charlotte Burnham
Arts Centre Washington’s annual showcase for young artists, Bright Lights 2021, is now open for submissions – and this time, it’s going virtual

The Centre’s regular Youth Arts Exhibition is supported by Sunderland Culture and is a platform for young people from across Wearside to showcase their talent. 

‘The exhibition has been evolving over the past few years,’ says Matt Blyth, Audience Development Officer at Arts Centre Washington. This year’s Bright Lights will be curated by the Celebrate Different collective. Celebrate Different is a team of young Wearsiders aged 13–25 years, united on a mission to get their voices heard and to inspire other young people across Sunderland.

‘Over the past three years, we decided it needed freshening up a little bit which is why we took the decision to give young people more ownership,’ Matt explains. ‘So we’ve been working with Celebrate Different over the last two exhibitions, and they have helped us think about what kind of work young people want to feature in the exhibition in terms of themes and aesthetics. They make these choices working with staff from the Arts Centre and Sunderland Culture and then think about how that will look within the gallery space. That’s helped give us a fresh perspective.’

Last year the arts centre received around 90 entries, spanning textile art, mixed media sculpture, digital photography, painting and video, with entries coming in from schools, youth groups and individuals. Entries from young artists aged 11–19 are encouraged for this year’s show, and the chosen artwork is hoped to appear on display in Arts Centre Washington’s professional gallery between 13th February and 10th April 2021, depending on restrictions during that time.

The themes of this year’s exhibition are inspired by the Paint the Town in Sound exhibition, which was due to be displayed at Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens from November 2020, but has now gone virtual.  

The themes are: 
Expression and Identity
The Modern World
The Lockdown
Locality and Heritage
Freedom and Social Change

Paint the Town in Sound has been developed as part of Sunderland Culture’s prestigious partnership with Arts Council Collection (ACC), the National Partners Programme, and the exhibition explores the relationship between musicians and artists. The artworks in the exhibition, chosen by Sunderland band Field Music, are drawn from the Arts Council Collection and feature work from Helen Cammock, Jeremy Deller, Anthea Hamilton, Mark Leckey and Susan Philipsz. The exhibition also features a variety of artists and musicians born or working in the North East, including Simeon Barclay, Laura Lancaster and Narbi Price.

‘Over the past nine months, we’ve been working really hard to make our online experience a bit more special,’ Matt says. ‘For the Paint the Town in Sound exhibition we developed a way to display images and video and we’ve also worked to develop a 360 tour of the exhibition. Previously, we used our website to tell people about exhibitions but now we’ve realised how useful it can be in becoming an integral part of the exhibition.’

Arts Centre Washington have also been planning how they can take the work out of the Arts Centre and have it displayed in a public space. ‘This is still in the planning stage at the minute,’ Matt admits. ‘We want to get art out into the public domain and places like the supermarket are one of very few places that people are likely to be able to go to. That way it would make the young artists accessible to anybody to be represented.’

Matt expresses how important it is to continue representing young artists. ‘We’re all astounded by the quality as well as the amount of talent we have locally,’ he says. ‘We always get amazing feedback about how talented our young people are and why they should stick at it. Some young people study art at their GCSE but it’s a shame that sometimes people move away from it after they leave school. It’s really important to give these young people a platform to show them that there are opportunities for their work to get out there.’

As we move through the third national lockdown, Matt is sure that art will continue to thrive. ‘People found that just to make some time and develop your interest and skill was really fulfilling and could also be beneficial for your mental health,’ he says. ‘People do have a tendency to get caught up in the run-of-the-mill and prioritise things in different orders, but I hope lockdown might have taught us that making time to explore the arts and develop skills is important. It’s all about making time and developing yourself as a person. It will be interesting to see, when we get the final entries, what will come out of it, especially with the themes that have been chosen.’

A digital version of the Bright Lights exhibition will be produced and submissions are open until 4pm on Wednesday, January 20th 2021.
Young artists can submit up to three pieces of artwork. To submit your work go to artscentrewashington.co.uk

Published in: January 2021

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