How we worked in partnership with Art School Plus to select an artist for a commission
February 14, 2024

In summer 2023, Imperial War Museums (IWM) worked with Art School Plus to offer an exciting commissioning opportunity to an early-career artist as part of the IWM 14-18 NOW Legacy Fund. The programme supports more than 20 cultural organisations from across the UK to commission ambitious new artworks inspired by the heritage of conflict, created by world-leading and emerging contemporary artists.

  • Collaboration with Art School Plus

One of the key ambitions for the IWM 14-18 NOW Legacy Fund programme is to forge new opportunities for artistic engagement, especially as both the cultural sector and artistic practitioners continue to recover from the wide-reaching impacts of COVID-19 and the cost-of-living crisis. Our vision aligns perfectly with the mission of Art School Plus to connect artists with opportunities in public spaces, and so we joined forces to find an emerging artist for a new commission with The Brickworks Museum in Southampton.

The Brickworks Museum

The Brickworks Museum is housed in the only remaining Victorian steam-driven brickworks in the country.  Bricks were made here in the million between 1897 and 1974 including during both world wars.  The art commission will focus on the legacies of the bombing of Southampton during the Second World War, and how communities heal both physically and psychologically after conflict.

‘What we are really interested in is how the city emerged from the rubble,’ says Mary Flinn, Collections Manager for the Brickworks Museum. ‘There is a lot of research on the Blitz itself but little on the rebuilding of Southampton.’

Both the Brickworks Museum and IWM were keen to hear from artists in the early stages of their practice, who had the ideas, enthusiasm and commitment to bring this commission to fruition.

  • Recruiting the artist cohort

I thoroughly enjoyed joining the panel to recruit the 2023 Art School Plus artist cohort, and we met many talented and passionate individuals who were keen to make the most of the opportunity. As one of the artists reflected, ‘this is the kind of support and learning I have been searching for [for] a while’.  We asked each candidate to prepare a short description of one of their artworks, real or imagined, which gave a real insight into their practice and ambitions. It is a testament to the high standard of the interviewees that selecting just 10 individuals was a very tricky task!

IWM sponsored one of the places in the Art School Plus cohort, and IWM’s Head of Art Rebecca Newell provided guidance on the art commission opportunity during the Training Week. The artists were then given a brief prepared by the Brickworks Museum, IWM and Art School Plus and were invited to pitch their ideas to us.

  • Responding to a brief

This commission is a fantastic opportunity for an artist to create a compelling intervention with a historic building, and to bring to life a story that has been relatively untold until now. We asked each artist to prepare a pitch outlining their approach to this commission, from the concept and vision through to the practicalities of managing the budget and working within the site itself.

The artist pitches were incredibly inspirational and thought-provoking, and it was fascinating to see the range of ideas and responses to the theme of rebuilding after conflict. Again, it was difficult to select just one artist from such a strong cohort and it was invaluable to have Ella on the panel to share her thoughts and expertise alongside the team from the Brickworks Museum and IWM.

  • Looking ahead

We are delighted that multi-disciplinary artist Grzegorz Stefański, who works primarily in film, installation and performance, will develop the commission at Brickworks Museum to launch in summer 2024. The Brickworks Museum, supported by IWM, will work closely with Grzegorz to develop and refine his ideas, including providing access to archival material for inspiration. Grzegorz will also engage community members in the local area, to facilitate intergenerational dialogue around rebuilding and the long-term impact of conflict.

Grzegorz reflected

‘We are living in times that do not offer much time to heal when historical traumas are constantly being triggered by contemporary conflicts. The Brickworks Museum commission is an opportunity for me to look into film making as an activity that shapes and changes history, a process of remembering, forgetting and moving on.’

‘Spill’ (2018) by Grzegorz Stefanski

We are very grateful to Art School Plus for providing the opportunity to meet such a wonderful group of artists, and we are excited to see Grzegorz’s work and practice grow over the coming months. This commission will be a fantastic addition to the portfolio of new artist commissions within the IWM 14-18 NOW Legacy Fund programme.