NEWS: The Recovery Foundation showcases over 100 pieces of original artwork at Secret Art Studio Space

Words by Ed King / Pics by Ellycia Gardner – with additional images from Ali Walker and Robert Alden

On Monday, 8 August, The Recovery Foundation launched their art showcase  exhibition at the Secret Arts Studio Space (SASS) in Erdington.

Over the past few months, more than 50 local residents picked up a pencil or paint brush, many without any previous art experience, to create over 100 pieces of original artwork – as part of a programme of workshops to support mental health, wellbeing, and social inclusion.

Still on display at SASS, situated downstairs at the Central Square Shopping Centre, The Recovery Foundation exhibition can be seen through the gallery windows and on selected open days – and will remain installed over the next few weeks.

Running six separate groups over six weeks, The Recovery Foundation art sessions were free to access workshops – supporting anyone with “lived experience of mental illness”, or those just looking for a social or creative outlet.

Formed in 2020 by Emma Sitole, after her own issues with mental health and subsequent recovery, The Recovery Foundation places ‘hope’ and the centre of its support programmes.

Also embracing creativity and art as helpful tools of recovery, the six week workshops followed a series of oversubscribed Art in Parks sessions, where people would come together in outdoor green spaces, such as Rookery Park,  to learn new art techniques.

As part of a post lockdown programme to help bring people out of isolation and come together again in community groups, the subsequent workshops allowed The Recovery Foundation to continue its work in Erdington – reaching out to more people and building a wider network of budding creatives.

Emma Sitole explained: “We trialled Art in Parks last year, which was really successful, and off the back of that people were saying they’d love something that explored different techniques and looked into different things.

“Angie (Chapman), our Creative Arts Director, put together a programme and we’ve seen about 50 people come through our doors with these workshops.

“It’s a privilege to walk alongside people and see them discover they’re really creative – and they’ve created some incredible artwork.

“Today is the showcase… there’s a real sense of pride around people wanting to show what they’ve created.

“There’s been a lovely buzz about the place, some lovely conversations. But also lovely to see that community come back together again and support each other.”

A local mum, Ali Walker, took part in The Recovery Foundation art workshops after suggesting the programme to a friend.

With a new born baby to look after, who she took to each session, Ali found the workshops a chance to meet other people and further explore her passion for art – already being a keen photographer.

Attending the showcase exhibition at SASS with her now 10 month old daughter, Ali told Erdington Local: “I got a range of things from it (the art workshops), on the art side I learnt a lot of skills and techniques and things that I didn’t think I’d be able to do.

“On the other side of things, it was connecting with people from different backgrounds and getting involved in all sorts of conversations. And getting to know about Erdington a lot more, which I really enjoyed.

“I was trying to encourage someone I know, who struggles with their wellbeing, to come along but they couldn’t make it.

“I’d already put my name down and thought because I’m a new mother it was a good chance to get out for myself as well.”

After the success of Art in Parks and the subsequent art sessions, The Recovery Foundation are looking to establish a more permanent home in Erdington – and will be running another series of creative workshops in September.

Birmingham based professional mixed media artist, Eddy Aigbe, knows first hand the impact both creating and exhibiting art can have on people’s sense of self-worth.

Eddy told: “It’s something I’ve promoted myself in my previous job, where we had a community centre in Lozells.

“The problem was a lot of people were isolated and had mental health issues… and had a lot of talent. Just like you do here in Erdington – there’s a lot of talent going on.

“But there’s not much space to exhibit and show it off. A key part in being an artist is not just producing the work but showing it off – it validates you as an individual.

“As an artist, it’s a way to evaluate all the processes, styles, and everything you’ve been doing.”

The Recovery Foundation art workshop showcase on Monday, 8 August was open to the public, with the exhibition still on display at SASS.

Local resident and campaigner Basharat Dad attended the showcase’s opening. He told Erdington Local: “I think it’s brilliant, The Recovery Foundation have been great at engaging with the local community.

“Some of the artwork is the first-time people have tried art, and they’ve created some amazing pieces.

“There’s more of a need in Erdington, in terms of art spaces and projects, that could really help not just with mental health but also community building and bringing people together.”

Erdington Ward Councillor Robert Alden also attended The Recovery Foundation art showcase launch.

Cllr Alden has long championed the constituency’s creative industry and endevours, alongside his running mate Cllr Gareth Moore – from the mural on the hoardings around the old Maplin site, to the ongoing Active Arts and Kaleidoscope events.

Cllr Alden added: “It was great to be at The Recovery Foundation art event in Central Square and to see so many people from across the area together who had benefited from the art sessions that they have put on locally, especially in Rookery Park.

“These kind of events can help provide people with that support and community conversations that help people when they need it.

“Cllr Gareth Moore and I will be doing what we can to help support The Recovery Foundation with their plans for further events and services to support the local area in the coming months and years.

“While this was their first Erdington art show, at the Secret Art Studio Space, I have no doubt it won’t be their last.

“Well done to all of the local residents who produced some stunning pieces of art as part of the show.”

For more on The Recovery Foundation visit www.therecoveryfoundation.org.uk

NEWS: A rather ‘Nice’ Friday evening – Erdington’s Evening of Creativity hosted by celebrity guest, Mrs Barbara Nice 20.11.20

Words by Jobe Baker Sullivan / Pics courtesy of Sami Saunders, Janice Connolly, and Anne-Marie Allen

Erdington’s long running Evening of Creativity has never missed a month, even during COVID-19 pandemic.

Thriving on art, creativity, and giving creatives a chance to experiment, it is now being broadcast using a mix of high quality camera-work and editing along with locals being asked to submit their art from home.

Tonight’s Evening of Creativity broadcast will be hosted by actress and comedian Janice Connolly BEM, under the guise of her lovable alter-ego Mrs Barbara Nice. Janice is a comedienne who hosted the 2019 Erdington Lights switch on.

“Up the arts!” she says, with a wry smile, in support of the event. 

November’s Evening of Creativity will commence with a traditional Indian dance from Sahana Shrikaanth in celebration of Diwali, an annual ‘festival of lights’, celebrated by Sikhs, Hindus and Jains.

It will include performances from classical guitarist Mike Bethel – alongside original musical songs by Anne-Marie Allen, promoting her album on Spotify.

Centrala Art Gallery will feature as part of the EoC with their lockdown-special online exhibition – hosting an art collective from Finland called Valmed Ry, exploring ecology and nature through photography, projection and 3d printing.

The Evening of Creativity was founded and hosted by the Erdington Arts Forum, whose primary goal is to improve the status of artistic activity in the Erdington constituency.

The Arts Forum engages people with workshops, exhibitions, training programmes, exhibitions and music performances.

It acts as a conduit for people to explore all range of artistic activities, hosting regular ‘forum meetings’ and running a Facebook page, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook group, and mailing list to keep Erdingtonians and interested parties in the loop.

Ordinarily held at Oikos Café on Erdington High Street on the third Friday of each month, the Evening of Creativity had to adapt to an online format very quickly  due to the coronavirus lockdowns – embracing the chance to invest in new camera and sound recording equipment.

During the summer of 2020, as COVID-19 measures eased, the Evening of Creativity continued at Oikos Café with a small, live audience – using a table booking service to ensure social distancing and safety measures.

The regular showcase, however, continued to broadcast all their events – going out live using a multi-camera system.

Despite a new national lockdown coming into force 5th November, the Arts Forum once again continue to host their Evening of Creativity – following government guidelines – by using pre-recorded clips and editing them into a full length show.

You can watch this months’ Evening of Creativity online from the Erdington Arts Forum Facebook page, from 6:30pm on Friday 20th November.

For a live stream of the event, and for more on the Erdington Arts Forum, visit www.facebook.com/groups/cafeartsforum

LOCAL PROFILE: Oliver Hassell

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics supplier by Oliver Hassell

Artist Oliver Hassell took Erdington by storm with his striking, colourful, and darkly-inspired pieces displayed for Black History Month. Erdington Local catches up with him to find out what makes him tick.

Born in Erdington and living here his whole life, Oliver started to enjoy art “as a toddler.”

I’d draw what I’d see on TV – things like Harry Potter,” although he admitted, with a smile, that at this age they were “stickmen, and I’d just label them ‘Harry Potter’.” He sees these early years of drawing “cartoons and action figures” as an important sign he had a calling for visual art.

Oliver says that he “didn’t get into making proper art until I was about 16.” He studied illustration at Birmingham City University (BCU), saying that “Uni was fun, I had a good time” – spending that time developing new skills, professing that he learned a lot “by himself” as opposed to part of the university course.

Oliver creates colourful, eye-catching pieces with dark figures, foreboding smiles, and references to social media, religion, sex, death, and his latest piece regarding coronavirus (with the virus literally coming out of a Corona bottle of beer).

Oliver explains his general working method when creating his artwork. Commencing with a sketch, then “mainly drawing in pens, adding small details in with paints for “mouths and eyes.”

To give the art an extra layer of otherworldliness, Oliver then scans his piece onto the computer and edits slightly to “step it up from a drawing to something to look at.”

Oliver has various inspirations, saying the “past year or so I’ve been concentrating on the concept of the shadow self.”

He goes onto say that “Everyone’s got their dark-side that they don’t really want to look at – It’s up to you to figure out and understand that [dark] side of yourself so you can become a complete person.” He explored these themes in his debut exhibition in January 2020 at The Gap Arts in Balsall Heath.

Oliver worked in a collective setting as part of Gallery 37 which is a ‘creative residency programme where young people can rediscover themselves as artists’. The joint exhibition of 5 artists was called ‘Karma-Utopia’ hosted at Centrala in Digbeth.

Oliver created an art piece which was a colourful, illustrated “stack of blocks, with different values on it like love – creativity.” The words were written backwards, placed next to a mirror.

Viewers could participate with the piece, ordering the blocks in the order of values which they found most important to them. “It puts you with what you think is important,” and the fact it is next to a mirror represents that the values are a “reflection of yourself.”

Erdington Local asks Oliver his opinions regarding Black History Month [BHM]. Oliver is “mixed – Black Caribbean and white British.”

He feels like “We’ve come so far with it now,” thinking that 2020 BHM should be the “start of something that goes on forever.”

Oliver sees the murder of George Floyd in May as a great “injustice” and that it’s important to “support the fight.”

He says he personally “hasn’t felt oppressed by the government,”but was aware of racist language when he was growing up. “It’s a joke when we were kids, but that’s still a problem,” Oliver says.

Oliver was featured as part of October’s Evening of Creativity at Oikos Café and is happy that “stuff like this is happening now in Erdington,” bemoaning that there isn’t much for visual arts in the area.

He transformed lockdown into a chance to concentrate on his own business, ‘Death in Colour’, which is his own clothing line featuring his art work: “Upcycled, vintage clothing with my art work – all customized.”

Starting the business in March, Oliver says he’s been “doing quite well during COVID” with some of his stock now sold out.

He did have intentions for a pop up shop-come-exhibition space, although this was not possible due to the pandemic. “A couple things have been scrapped, but it hasn’t stopped the train,” says Oliver, positively.

Oliver is now learning more about animation, 3D, and digital art forms. He’s interested in “Wallace and Gromit-style,” plasticine 3D animation.

I’m just trying to evolve – build up my skills as much as possible. Good stuff will happen.”

To find out more about Oliver Hassell, visit www.oliverhassell.com

To find out more about Birmingham Black History Month, visit wwwb.irminghamblackhistorymonth.co.uk