To celebrate its 170th anniversary Wolverhampton School of Art is collaborating with Wolverhampton Art Gallery to produce the exhibition Valuable Conversations: reflecting on 170 years of Wolverhampton School of Art.

In this celebratory exhibition current staff members, all established artists, explore the work of their predecessors, former tutors, and students at the school. Each artist/tutor selected a painting, sculpture or print from the gallery’s esteemed collection that inspired them to respond to. 

Nineteen newly created works are exhibited alongside the works that inspired them. Through their contemporary artistic practice, the artist/tutors explore the personal, social, and artistic narratives, that they have seen in the historic works, providing a fascinating series of conversations between old and new.

Wolverhampton School of Art has been at the centre of the city’s distinguished creative and industrial activity since 1853. It started out as The School for Practical Art for Wolverhampton and South Staffordshire, opening in 1853 on the outskirts of Chapel Ash. It was one of the first purpose built municipal art schools to be established. Its rapid design and construction indicated the seriousness with which the civic authorities in Wolverhampton saw the teaching of art and design in the Black Country. 

In Wolverhampton, artistic education expanded, instigating the development of the current Wolverhampton Art Gallery and College of Art combined in 1885, though the old art school remained in use until its demolition in the 1960s for the ring road. The loss of the old building and limited space in the Wolverhampton Art Gallery annex meant more ambitious development was required. As a result, the current art school building was officially opened in 1970 with 7 floors of state of the art workshops and facilities. This has now been expanded with the ambitiously equipped Screen School, which officially opened in 2022. Although they no longer share the same location, the important partnership between Wolverhampton Art Gallery and the School of Art has continued over the centuries.

Throughout its 170 years of education, the school has produced many famous artists and designers, who went on to become important figures internationally. Alumni from recent years include artists Cornelia Parker and Claudette Johnson, graphic designer Trevor Beattie, founder of Dezeen Marcus Fairs, ceramicists Jacqui Poncelet, John Higgins, John Wheeldon and Tony Bennett, and glass artists Heike Brachlow, Elliot Walker and Chris Day. Art movements such as the Black Art Movement (the first conference of which was held in the Art School), Art + Language and Funk Ceramics were all fuelled by the school.

City of Wolverhampton Council Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for City Economy, Councillor Stephen Simkins, said: “We have a long history of creativity in the city, and it is fantastic that this exhibition showcases it.

“The connection between Wolverhampton Art Gallery and Wolverhampton University remains strong and this exhibition celebrates that relationship.

“We want to showcase art and make art accessible for all!”

Valuable Conversations opens on Saturday 21 January and closes on Sunday 16 April, 2023. The exhibition is free to attend and can be seen Monday to Saturday (10.30am to 4.30pm) and Sundays (11am to 3pm).