Gwen Riley Jones & Salford Youth Council with the University of Salford Art Collection
1st February to 28th April 2023
A new exhibition exploring positive social action, health and wellbeing through art and photography opened at the New Adelphi Exhibition Gallery this month.
The show is the culmination of a 12-month residency in which socially engaged photographer Gwen Riley Jones worked with the University of Salford Art Collection and Salford Youth Council to collectively explore how art can be a catalyst for social change?
Attending the preview of the show gave me the pleasure to meet the artist and some of the participants and hear first-hand about their role in the project and feelings about being involved. I also learnt all about Salford Youth Council and Members of Young Parliament. The show documents the work they do and is an important platform to raise their profile.
Looking back over the blog posts that have been posted along side of the evolution of the project, I noticed this quote from early in the project
“A member of one of the groups I have been working told me ‘I’m not interested in art but would be if it made sense to me – the way its presented is like a barrier and I don’t know about art.’ What can we do to get rid of, or reduce these barriers for our audiences?”
The show answered that question by putting the participants at the heart of the art making and curation of the show. This co-produced approach included the selection and placement of artworks as well as comic up with the title of the show. The strongest element of the show (closely followed by the stickers & badges) was the selection of work from the collection and in particular the inclusions of the participant’s comments on the interpretation panels.
The above image is of ‘Shoe for a Bird’ by Han Feng and Harley’s comment reads ‘this made me imagine a society where birds are like people, what would their culture be like? Would they use money? Which movies would they watch? Would they insult people by calling them human brained?”
The opportunity for the audience to contribute by writing comments and pinning them on the notice board further reinforced the role of co-production and extended the dialogue between artist and participants to include the audience too.
This one responded to the ‘Shoe for a Bird’ interpretation:
“My favorite quote is the shoe for a bird quote by Harley. ‘Would they insult people by calling them human brained’ This reminds me of the power of words and how impactful words can be”
The value of this engagement work can be found in the coproduction methodology, where workshops, meetings, and conversations, impacted on participants thoughts, opinions, and experiences. This knowledge exchange between artist and participants and visa-versa, created meaningful outputs of the project and an interesting and engaging experience for a public audience visiting the exhibition.
The project is a great example of how multiple types of engagement (collaborating, consulting, informing and inspiring) can be deployed in one project to create a rich and deep connection with the public. It has inspired me to think about how we can learn from this pilot model of working with socially engaged artists to connect with more of our local community in a useful and meaningful way. Looking forward to hearing more about what the Salford Art Collection Team do next.
The show runs until 28th April 2023
You can read more blog posts about the development project here: