Helping fund Royal West of England Academy (RWA) take art out into the community

SMV was delighted to be invited recently to a sneaky peek behind the scenes of the newly refurbished RWA  landmark Art Gallery on Queens Road, Bristol.  “Jaw-dropping” probably best describes our reaction to all that has been achieved.

The refurbishment project has sought to make this spectacular building – described by Sir Nicholas Serota (Chair of the Arts Council) as one of the most beautiful art galleries in the country – somewhere that everyone feels welcome.  The inclusion of a Changing Places Facility is key to this: for tens of thousands of disabled people, access to these specially adapted wet-rooms, is essential. The RWA will be the only Art Gallery between St Ives and London with such a facility, making world-class art accessible to many people across the region for the first time.

Alongside this, extensive consultation has ensured that the building and its services are suitable for everyone from people living with dementia and their carers to underprivileged young mums, while regular tailored activities range from touch-tours for visually impaired people to ‘Happy Monday’ monthly events for neurodiverse children and families.

While the refurbished building provides a very visible public face for this independent charity, perhaps the RWA’s greatest impact lies in its extensive work elsewhere in the city.  Here at SMV we have been delighted to make a donation to RWA to specifically help support this incredibly valuable outreach work.

The RWA has built its own community within some of Bristol’s most disadvantaged wards, where it has responded to the needs and wants of local people. For example, since 2016, the Gallery has been running free, monthly ‘Scribble and Sketch’ creative workshops for families in Easton Community Centre, and these have proved so successful that they are now also taking place in Hartcliffe, Redcliffe and Southmead. These intergenerational creative workshops are a hugely effective way of bringing communities together, building social cohesion and boosting individual confidence and wellbeing.

The RWA is also working with people of mixed ages and backgrounds who face significant mental and physical health challenges, including partnerships with Bristol Community Links (BCL) and CreativeShift, and with Briarwood School and the Venturers Academy.  In all their work, the RWA take a collaborative approach, ensuring that the work they do is relevant and effective. One BCL manager told them:

I think the thing that comes across from the work we have done and the approach you take is that of genuine collaboration and a real good ethos behind what you are trying to do.”

Regular tours described for people with visual impairments, led by experienced facilitators

RWA Pop up exhibition tour to local community centres, with artists workshops run alongside the exhibition

Regular artist-led workshops for families

Regular Scribble & Sketch activities run in venues across the city

Workshops for adults with learning disabilities and physical disabilities, mental health issues and dementia

A Heritage Trail will be available when it reopens in 2022

Photographs: Alice Hendy / RWA