Wolverhampton Art Gallery: celebrating the Black Arts Movement

Wolverhampton Art Gallery: celebrating the Black Arts Movement

People in an art gallery

Heritage Grants

Wolverhampton, West Midlands
Wolverhampton Art Gallery

The project

Wolverhampton Art Gallery collected works by artists associated with the Black Arts Movement, a radical political art movement in the 1980s. 

The aims of the Artists of the Black Art Movement in Britain: 1979-1984 project were to:

  • explore the legacy of the movement for contemporary practicing artists
  • engage new audiences from the local community
  • improve the diversity of Wolverhampton’s young curators programme
  • develop a diverse and relevant collection
  • address the under-representation of Black Arts Movement artworks

The organisation 

Built on land provided by the council, funded and constructed by Philip Horsman and designed by Birmingham architect Julius Chatwin, Wolverhampton Art Gallery opened in 1884.

Its collections include Victorian paintings and British and American Pop Art.

The funding 

The £183,000 Collecting Cultures grant helped Wolverhampton Art Gallery to develop its Black Arts collection and engage with the local community. It also helped provide valuable learning opportunities for staff and volunteers, including improved techniques in the collection of oral histories and enhanced research skills.

Wolverhampton Art Gallery found that the Institute of International Visual Art (Iniva) was an important partner and a vital source of advice, brokering introductions to key artists. The programme also engaged Artforum Gold, a youth arts group based at the gallery, to create the Race, Identity, Culture and Heritage exhibition.

The results 

Button art
Taking part in a Chila Burman workshop


The project acquired 16 pieces of artwork, including pieces by Keith Piper, Tam Joseph and Turner Prize-winning artist Lubaina Himid.

The project also:

  • ran a series of artist talks and film screenings; produced events and workshops
  • carried out curatorial research and shared knowledge
  • captured the origins of the Black Arts Movement in Wolverhampton
  • produced public engagement programmes involving diverse young people and specifically young black men
  • held two exhibitions

An oral history project was also completed, where nine local black artists talked about their influences, work, and experiences. These recordings were transcribed and versions were included as part of the Back to Black exhibition at the gallery.

Meeting our outcomes 

The project engaged new and diverse communities in the collections, meeting our inclusion outcome.

The Collecting Cultures grant also enabled the gallery to develop its collection and development skills and capabilities.

The future 

The project invested Wolverhampton Art Gallery with a significant amount of credibility which in turn put the gallery in a strong position for future funding bids. The project has helped the gallery secure Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation status.