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Iconic art galleries and film institute join forces to celebrate unheralded champions of the arts sector

2nd November 2020

Today for the first time, eight of the UK’s most iconic art galleries, and the UK’s lead organisation for film, television and the moving image have come together to present a unique photography exhibition where the subjects aren’t celebrities or historical figures, but instead the unheralded everyday champions of the arts sector.

Abbie Canning by Chris Floyd
Abby Canning, Q Club, Derby Quad

With the sector being one of the hardest hit areas during the pandemic, thousands of dedicated and devoted artists have made it their mission to keep the arts in their local area alive and accessible for all. The exhibition – titled, The National Lottery’s 2020 Portraits of the People - honours 13 of these artistic champions for making a significant difference to lifting people’s spirits this year, using some of the £30m raised by National Lottery players every week for good causes. The digital exhibition can be visited on the websites and social media of: The National Portrait Gallery, London, The National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, The MAC in Belfast, IKON Gallery in Birmingham, Summerhall in Edinburgh, Tŷ Pawb, Wrexham, Ruthin Craft Centre in Ruthin, Wales, The Photographers’ Gallery in London and the British Film Institute (BFI), and the portraits will also be on display at BFI Southbank in London.

The exhibition launches as The National Lottery releases insights [1] that show across the UK, the public turned to a wide range of artistic activities, with 24% seizing the chance to do more arts and crafts, half enjoying listening to more music (51%) and watching more films (50%), and 14% singing more.

A woman, Mojisola Elufowoju, acting in the theater.
Mojisola Elufowoju, Utopia Theatre, Sheffield

With many traditional entertainment venues closed, taking on a creative task also became a comfort for many with 61% of those who interacted with arts and crafts crediting it as a factor in improving their state of mind during the crisis. Two thirds (66%) of people who listened to music more during lockdown said that doing so had a positive impact on their wellbeing and a further 38% said taking part in arts and crafts helped them feel more relaxed and less anxious. Importantly, more than half (51%), also believed the mental wellbeing impacts would be long-lasting for them. In a joint statement, Darren Henley, the CEO of Arts Council England, Iain Munro, CEO of Creative Scotland, Nick Capaldi, the CEO of the Arts Council of Wales, Roisin McDonough, the CEO of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and Ben Roberts, Chief Executive of the British Film Institute (BFI), said:

“People in the UK have a great love of creativity, art and culture. We know these things can bring us together, enrich our lives, support our emotional wellbeing, and make us happier. Throughout lockdown we've seen that in villages, towns and cities, people have continued to participate and enjoy the arts whether that's at home, digitally, or through socially distanced activities within their communities. “Artists, arts and cultural organisations, and the individuals within them, have been the driving force behind this. Harnessing vital funding from The National Lottery, they’ve set up creative projects both locally and nationwide for people to enjoy. We want to thank them for making life that little bit better for many people, and we also want to thank the National Lottery players themselves for playing a critical role in supporting the arts during these challenging times. Every week National Lottery players raise an incredible £30 million for good causes, enriching public life in every corner of the UK.”

Darren Henley, the CEO of Arts Council England, Iain Munro, CEO of Creative Scotland, Nick Capaldi, the CEO of the Arts Council of Wales, Roisin McDonough, the CEO of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and Ben Roberts, Chief Executive of the British Film Institute (BFI)

Abbie Canning is one of the 13 people being honoured, for her work supporting children who are on the autistic spectrum through digital visual arts. Her charitable organisation ‘Q Club’ in Derby offers a vital creative outlet to youngsters on the autistic spectrum with a wide range of support needs including those not in mainstream education and those confined to their home. During lockdown Abbie hosted online digital creative sessions to tackle feelings of isolation and loneliness that many faced. Sessions included photography, animation and digital play, as part of a range of arts and crafts activities.

“Since the pandemic we’ve had to adapt to a really different way of working in order to provide marginalised and vulnerable groups with continued access to digital technologies and art. When our building closed at the start of lockdown in March, I instantly knew what we needed to do. I wanted to provide a framework for the young people we work with, something they could take hold of while everything else in the world was in flux. We were going to be a constant and consistent part of their lives through this very difficult period. I am hugely grateful for the funding that has come from National Lottery players, as without it, we would not be able to keep helping our young people.”

Abbie Canning

Kassim MBE, MKIAHC, Milton Keynes Islamic Arts, Heritage and Culture

Photographer Chris Floyd, who has spent his 25-year career photographing household names such as Sir Paul McCartney, Victoria Beckham and Sir Mo Farah, has been commissioned by The National Lottery to capture the portraits. The works aim to create a ‘moment in history’, preserving the work of these unheralded champions for posterity and encapsulating the varied and innovative ways art can be expressed. The exhibition is accessible free online across all participating partners’ websites throughout November. In addition to the portraits, award winning filmmaker Jayisha Patel, a beneficiary of the BFI NETWORK talent development programme which is made possible by National Lottery funding, has documented Chris Floyd’s shoots with a behind the scenes short film. The piece looks at some of these amazing people and the stories behind them, the film will be available across the BFI’s social media channels.

“All of the people we are meeting in this exhibition have done something special to help keep the soul of their community alive in these difficult and dark times using funding raised by National Lottery players. Humans are pack animals and our desire, as well as need, to come together – whether physically or digitally - and make common cause is one of our dominant instincts. This group have all shown a ‘can do’ spirit, a refusal to lay down and give up, despite their own personal and national trials this year. They have created work and projects specifically designed to fulfil that need for communal strength using the power of the arts. My aim was to document each of them in a way that showcases and honours that sense of integrity and fortitude, as well as their humour and joie de vivre.”

Chris Floyd, photographer

“The Covid pandemic has been a sobering time for the film industry as a whole, and we have all had to pivot to keep our passion alive. Capturing these incredibly devoted people for this film was a joyful thing to be part of – seeing how they, with the help of National Lottery funding, have fought to keep the fire burning for the arts in a myriad of ways. I hope this film goes to show the strength and support that can come from taking part in arts project like these – and how, even through adversity, art and film can thrive in the smallest of ways, and be a benefit to so many, helped along by everyone who plays The National Lottery.”

Jayisha Patel, director

1 Society’s Unheralded Champions: A National Lottery Report, October 2020 includes findings from a
survey completed by a nationally representative sample of 6,000 adults from across the UK between 2-9 October
2020. It was scripted, hosted, sampled and data processed by Opinium.