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Local artist SENDS creative help to children with special educational needs

Local artist SENDS creative help to children with special educational needs

A contemporary local artist and creative practitioner has been working with five Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) schools in the West Midlands as part of the University of Wolverhampton’s Inspired by British Art Show 9 (BAS9) Arts Connect Partner Schools Programme.  

Mark Riley, a visual artist living and working in Birmingham, is inspired by light, colour and landscape, and the marks that we leave behind on it.  He works mainly in pastel, combining his love of the immediacy of drawing and colour, and has a long interest in printing. 

He has been working with children from The Shepwell School in Bilston, Arc School (Old Arley) in Nuneaton, The Westminster School in Rowley Regis, Merstone School in Solihull and Lindsworth School in Kings Norton. 

Each of these schools caters for young people with a wide range of complex needs and Mark has been supporting lead teachers and students from each school to create exciting and accessible art projects.  

Mark said: “This is a great opportunity to work with young people from complex backgrounds and to engage them with the best of contemporary art. I want them to be inspired by the themes covered in British Art Show 9 and enable them to have the agency to show what life is like for them and what they want for the future." 

Mark worked with the Arc School, Old Arley, a specialist day school near Nuneaton, Warwickshire, for children aged 7-16 with anxiety, trauma and related mental health needs. The project began with ‘Ourselves in 3 Objects’ inspired by one of the BAS9 artists, Margaret Salmon, and her photographs of everyday objects.  

Mark said: “Young people brought in three objects that they felt represented themselves so that they could explore ideas about their identity. They photographed these objects and then used clay to re-create a simplified version, finally setting the clay object into crystal resin. The aim of the work was to give students the feeling that these ordinary objects, that represented themselves, had become something special and important.”   

The final phase of the project is still taking place and draws on the work of Grace Ndiritu, one of the BAS9 showcased artists, it mainly focuses on the Coverslut protest photographs, but also links in with climate change and the Black Lives Matter protests.   

Hazel Wills, Art and Design teacher at Arc School, said: “Pupils at our school find it very challenging to investigate the identity of others and themselves. Visiting the BAS9 show really opened their eyes to the possibilities of communicating this through art. Pupils have enjoyed working alongside Mark and exploring interesting materials and themes.” 

Mark has also worked with The Shepwell School, a Short Stay School in Willenhall, who applied to join the Inspired by BAS9 Arts Connect Learning Programme.  

Victoria Rudd, Lead Practitioner for LAC and PP at The Shepwell School, said: “We saw it as an excellent opportunity for an artist to work with our students, help them engage creatively with art and to develop their confidence in producing imaginative artwork.   

“We are thoroughly enjoying working with the artist, and the art project has been a huge success with our usually reluctant students engaging, participating and being proud of their achievements.”  

One of the students from The Shepwell School said: “I loved this project. I am more confident in myself and it has helped me to learn new skills.” 

Hannah Rollason, a Fine Art degree student from the University of Wolverhampton School of Art, who worked with Mark at Arc School Old Arley and Shepwell School, said: “Assisting the workshops, I was able to talk to individuals about their ideas, encouraging independent thinking and participation whilst providing support. A key element was emphasising that this is their artwork, they are the artist.  

“I have gained an understanding of what it means to be a freelance practitioner and specifically their role within schools and practical elements that come with this type of work. The environment created allowed for freedom of expression which encouraged young people to engage with the workshop while trigger an open discussion as to what art is and its potential.” 

Arts Connect and the University of Wolverhampton are collaborating with local teachers, young people and local artists to create dynamic contemporary arts programmes in schools across the West Midlands as part of the Inspired by BAS9 Arts Connect Learning Programme.  

BAS9 is exhibiting in Wolverhampton until 10 April 2022. 

BAS9 is recognised as the most important and ambitious recurrent exhibition of contemporary art produced in the UK. Taking place every five years it brings the work of artists defining new directions in contemporary art to four UK cities.  

For BAS9 in Wolverhampton, the exhibition is focusing on how we live with and give voice to difference, showcasing 34 artists whose works investigate identity from an intersectional perspective. By exploring coexisting identities such as class, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality, these works will be presented in critical dialogue with Wolverhampton’s cultural history which has been shaped by the diverse populations that came to work and live there during the post-war period.      

BAS9 is a Hayward Gallery Touring exhibition presented in collaboration with the cities of Aberdeen, Wolverhampton, Manchester and Plymouth. Curated by Irene Aristizábal and Hammad Nasar. Four of the new works in the BAS9 tour are made possible with the generous support of the Art Fund and these will be acquired by museum partners in each city for their own collections, as a marker of the lasting legacy of this ambitious touring show. 

BAS9 is benefiting from the support of Arts Council England’s Project Grant for National Activities which is allowing partners to produce ambitious and wide-ranging programmes of creative learning, civic engagement and participation that will further extend the reach of BAS9 across the four partner cities. 

Works on show at BAS9 include vibrant paintings depicting the cultural experience of Hurvin Anderson, a Birmingham-born artist with Jamaican heritage. Furniture designed by students at Wolverhampton’s Thomas Telford University Technical College (UTC) at Springfield Campus are on show as part of a pilot programme for an ‘art school within an art school’ by artist Mark Essen. 

The exhibition also includes film, photography, painting, sculpture, and performance, as well as multimedia projects that don’t sit easily in any one category. 

To find out more about the Inspired by BAS9 Arts Connect Learning Programme or find out how you could get involved contact Becky at 

Anyone looking to study at the University of Wolverhampton should register for one of our forthcoming Open Days. 


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