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Ikon is Birmingham’s leading contemporary art venue, offering world-class exhibitions to over 130,000 visitors a year. In 2013 the gallery was awarded £10,000 Partnership Investment Funding from Arts Connect to work with St Basil’s, a charity that works with homeless young people to provide accommodation and support. Simon Taylor, Ikon’s Head of Learning, explains.

“Ikon has a strong history of working outside of our gallery space, and we also have a thriving youth programme. But we knew we had more to offer, particularly for young people who aren’t in education or employment.

“We teamed up with St Basil’s to work with a group of young people in temporary accommodation – these were very vulnerable individuals, at risk from homelessness. This is a difficult area to work in; some of the group had substance abuse issues or mental health problems and all were dealing with significant challenges in their life. But they also had drive and determination. Two girls were working their way through college despite having nowhere to live.

“Partnership Investment Funding allowed us to develop a meaningful, quality programme suited for their needs. We led structured sessions with visiting artists and gave the group opportunities to have a go at photography, portraiture and creative writing. Their efforts were rewarded with their own exhibition, The St’ Basil’s Showcase, at Ikon in October 2014.

“We also led an Arts Award summer school and two of the group subsequently produced portfolios and were awarded the Bronze Art Award. This is a massive achievement and a real boost to their future employability.

“When asked to be adult and responsible, the group rose to the challenge. Ikon has a narrow boat and the young people were trained to steer the boat and operate locks. Staff at St Basil’s reported how important this was; for most of this group, no-one had ever trusted them or expected anything from them before.”

“Gallery education staff are skilled at working in an open, flexible manner so it’s a natural progression to link our work with children and young people deemed at risk. That modest investment of £10,000 from Arts Connect has allowed us to model a way of working and we now link with a local Pupil Referral Unit, offering Arts Award and learning opportunities to young people who have dropped out of mainstream education. Art is a universal language and through it, we can improve their skills and life-chances.”

Simon Taylor, Head of Learning
Ikon Gallery

“IKON’s exciting artistic programme, their good practices in engaging with young people and the potential to build a lasting partnership to benefit vulnerable young people made this proposal one we needed to support.”

Rob Elkington

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