The University of Wolverhampton’s Arts Connect programme has shown what a good sport it is by supporting local schools to come together and showcase their Commonwealth Games 2022 artwork in a public collaborative exhibition at Wolverhampton School of Art. The Commonwealth Connections project was run jointly by the British Council and the Birmingham Organising Committee for the 2022 Commonwealth Games, twinning 60 schools in the West Midlands with counterparts from the Caribbean, Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
The British Council is delivering the project in partnership with the Birmingham Education Partnership (BEP) and the Youth Sport Trust (YST). Using sport and art, the project seeks to create connections between young people on shared Commonwealth values. The project forms part of the Birmingham 2022 Organising Committee’s Youth and Education programme.
As part of the project, 4 primary and 2 secondary schools based in Walsall and Wolverhampton joined together with Midlands-based artist, Anna Roebuck, to create art installation pieces inspired by the Commonwealth country of Ghana and using recycled and upcycled plastics. Anna has worked as a freelance artist for 18 years as a mixed media artist, working in lots of mediums, but specialising in recycling and specifically recycled plastics.
Moreton School, Ormiston Shelfield Community Academy, Palfrey Junior School, Wilkinson Primary School, Oak Meadow Primary School and Leamore Primary School worked with Anna to create a large installation piece with links to sustainability, plastic recycling, the African artist Serge Attukwei Clottey, Adinkra symbols, Ghanaian landscapes, the Commonwealth Games, community spirit and global citizenship.
Jody Williams, Head of Creative Arts at Moreton School, Fallings Park, Wolverhampton, said: “This was an amazing project to be part of, linking in with the excitement of the Commonwealth Games 2022 coming to Birmingham. It was great to get our students involved in really thinking about what the Commonwealth means as well as exploring other cultures in the context of sustainability and environmental challenges we are all facing.”
Becky Thompson, Arts Connect, said: “Both secondary schools in the cluster created large representational sculptures linked to their schools’ ideas around the project.
“The lead cluster representative, Moreton School, linked Wolverhampton’s part in the Commonwealth Games. The City hosted the time trials for cycling and this developed ideas linked to sustainable travel and pollution.
The students created a large wheel inspired sculpture made entirely from upcycled and plastic recycled materials.” Students at Ormiston Shelfield Community Academy focused on their links to famous swimming athletes from Walsall, such as Ellie Simmonds and Nick Gillingham, as well as thinking about plastic pollution in the sea which affects sea life and their eco systems.
They created a representational swimmer showcasing these themes. The four primary schools in the cluster created large wall panels and banners showcasing links to the Ghanaian landscapes, Ghanaian wildlife, the Commonwealth Games, sports activities, recycling, and humanitarianism.
Anna said: “We created sculptures based around the sporting activity taking place during the Commonwealth Games and we also looked specifically at representing the landscape of Ghana.
“The focus on recycling plastics was chosen due to the problems being experienced there with disused plastic water containers when they had suffered a drought. I’ve worked with recycled plastics for 21 years so that was one of the reasons I was chosen to facilitate the project.
“We focused a lot on the environment – looking at pollution in the ocean but also looking at sustainable travel. The students and pupils had a lot of wonderful, creative ideas and I supported their vision.
“The project has inspired the children not only to think about art and sport, but to think about wider issues such as climate change and the environment. It’s been a friendly place where everyone comes together and is really representative of the connection between the countries – it's a union of ideas.”
Julie Ward, Arts Lead for Commonwealth Connections project, Birmingham Education Partnership, said: “Arts and education is fundamental for all kinds of reasons, for teaching transferrable skills, where children learn about collaboration, learn how to be curious and helps us to work collectively together. And then that produces something at the end which is very emotional and touches people in different ways.
“The work is amazing and I feel really moved by it. The collective works says something about celebration, movement, recycling and the environment. They are all very profound pieces and all the schools have made a wonderful contribution to creating something extremely special.”
Gurnoor Kaur, from Moreton School, said: “This was my first time doing this type of thing but we all worked together as a team and all put our ideas into this project so we were all involved. It was such a new experience to learn how to use plastics in making the art and it’s something I’d never thought about before, but I’ve definitely learned new skills.”
Hadassah Marrett, also from Moreton School, said: “We were all chosen because we were interested in art and it was great to put our heads together to work on this project. I knew Ghana was a place, but didn’t really know much about it, it was mind-blowing that we actually had some things in our house from Ghana and it was great to learn about the country as we created the work.”
Arts Connect is a development agency connecting and supporting communities across the West Midlands, to enable children and young people (from 0-25) to enjoy a rich and meaningful arts and cultural life.
They lead change by working with partners in education, arts and cultural organisations, local government, and others to run activities that create new opportunities in arts & culture with and for children and young people. They deliver the Bridge programme in the West Midlands for Arts Council England, and they are part of the Faculty of Arts, Business and Social Sciences at the University of Wolverhampton.