Image revamp;Subject of the week;Music and the arts

13th November 1998 at 00:00
The move to a larger site has given Birmingham's Ikon Gallery a new lease of life, writes Ann FitzGerald

Since July, Birmingham's Ikon Gallery, which is dedicated to showing the work of contemporary artists, has been housed in new premises - inside the red-brick, Gothic shell of Oozells Street School, a listed building that was formerly a Victorian Board school.

Two spacious galleries on two floors are linked by a spiral staircase. There's also an events room ("where we can let children be messy with paint," says Alessandro Vincentelli, one of the Ikon's four curators) and a resources room, equipped with two video screens and reference material, much of it on CD-Rom.

The relocation to a larger site has enabled the gallery to extend its range of educational projects and collaborations with other organisations and arts institutions across the city. "Since we don't have a permanent collection," says Mr Vincentelli, "we are free to look at each exhibition before it comes in and decide what are the most telling opportunities it offers."

The gallery's education work is currently focused on two exhibitions by abstract painters - Scotsman Callum Innes and American Ellen Gallagher - for which the Ikon has created joint projects with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Birmingham University's Barber Institute.

"The CBSO is working with primary schools on Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition," explains Mr Vincentelli, "and they approached us with the idea that part of that programme might be a visit to the gallery. We felt we could do more than just get the children to look at the pictures, so we hired a composermusician - Jane Wright (formerly head of music at St Michael's CE School, Rowley Regis, in the West Midlands) - to help the children make music themselves, using the paintings as a stimulus."

Judged by a morning spent at the Ikon with Year 5 pupils from Cotteridge Junior and Infant School, the results are impressive. Far from being overawed by the austerity of Innes's rectangles of colour or Gallagher's recurring symbols of lips and eyes, the children are full of ideas as to what the paintings make them think about. By the end of the morning, two groups have each produced short, evocative compositions, using a variety of percussion instruments and some voice-sounds - one suggests a violent storm brewing up, the other, a strange, dream-like, sinister world. When they go to Symphony Hall to hear a performance of the Mussorgsky piece, they will surely understand the inspiration the composer found in paintings.

Meanwhile, a group of secondary pupils is studying "the language of paint". A morning's guided tour round the Barber Institute's collection of paintings dating from 1377 to the early 20th century is followed by an afternoon at the Ikon studying Innes's and Gallagher's work and discussing colour, shape, texture and brushwork.

Other recent educational projects have included the Ikon's summer exhibition, "Sorted", in which six artists explored the theme of adolescence. The exhibition included a video installation in which local teenage girls from a special school expressed their own thoughts, after having worked with Andy Robinson, one of the six artists. "Sorted" was supported by a programme of films at Birmingham's Electric Cinema about teenage life.

The Dance Exchange, the Readers and Writers Festival, and Birmingham Rep have all recently worked on collaborative projects with the Ikon, while the gallery's small-scale, touring programme continues to bring work of regional and national artists into school halls and reception areas, local libraries and business premises.

"At the moment, we're engaged in the early planning stages of a project to involve five schools and the city's five main galleries: the Ikon, City Museum and Art Gallery, MAC, the Barber Institute and Birmingham Royal Society of Artists' gallery," says Mr Vincentelli. He is hoping to include in this project a research post for the University of Central England to monitor one group's development over three years.

For full details of teachers' resources and other educational opportunities, contact: The Marketing Officer, Ikon Gallery, 1 Oozells Square, Brindley Place, Birmingham B1 2HS. Tel: 0121 248 0708

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today