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Global Icons from the art world join with Ulster University to celebrate 175 years of Belfast School of Art

Last week, several global icons from the art world joined with Ulster University to celebrate 175 years of the Belfast School of Art. Founded in 1849, the Belfast School of Art has launched a packed programme of exhibitions and events including industry talks, shows and more to celebrate the rich legacy of BSoA, including an exhibition from Turner Prize nominee and celebrated alumni, Phil Collins.

Leading lights from the world of art, fashion and textile design, illustration and animation are coming together to champion and celebrate 175 years of the Belfast School of Art and its impact, both locally and globally.  

Seven well-known names and faces from across the creative arts sector, most of whom attended BSoA before carving out celebrated careers, were named as BSoA ambassadors, at the preview of the anniversary Degree Show last week [6 June] kindly supported by Carson McDowell LLP, which officially launched the 175 Anniversary Programme. 

The ambassadors: Award-winning artist, author, and activist, Oliver Jeffers; Oscar and BAFTA-nominated animator, illustrator, cartoonist, producer and director, Paul Young, CEO of Carton Saloon; Award-winning fashion and embroidery designer, Niamh McCarthy; One of Ireland’s leading contemporary artists, Alice Maher; celebrated curator and Creative Director of the MAC, Hugh Mulholland; acclaimed product designer, Stephen McGilloway; renowned textile artist, Irene MacWilliam 

Over the course of the year the ambassadors will act as champions for the celebrations and get involved in the BSoA 175 programme from the special, extended 175 Degree Shows, running from 7-22 June, through to the culmination of the celebrations in December.  

Speaking as an alumnus of the Ulster University Belfast School of Art at the End of Year Degree Show, Oliver Jeffers said: “Art has always been a really important part of Belfast, as an illustration of politics, and definitely as a means of communication. It’s a strange and scary thing to do to display your work to the public for the first time in many ways, but Belfast is a city that produces brilliant people, and from what I’ve seen so far the works on display are fantastic.” 

Award-winning fashion and embroidery designer, 175 Ambassador and Belfast School of Art Textile Art, Design and Fashion Graduate, Niamh McCarthy said: “This is a momentous year as the Belfast School of Art celebrates its 175th anniversary. As a 175 Ambassador for this esteemed institution, I feel an incredible sense of pride. I am an alumni of the Belfast School of Art, having graduated from this very course in 2017. During my time here, I specialised in Embroidery, a skill that has profoundly shaped my career. Fast forward five years, I’ve sold over 3,000 jackets worldwide, with 90% of them going to brides in America who want to rock their wedding.  There are fantastic opportunities here in Belfast and across Northern Ireland, and it is an immense honour to celebrate 175 years of the Belfast School of Art.” 

The Belfast School of Art, at Ulster University has been at the forefront of innovation and design since 1849, with many eminent figures from the arts world including the 175 ambassadors, members of the Turner prize-winning Array Collective, artist John Luke and Game of Thrones photographer Helen Sloane having studied their craft in the hallowed halls – among many more. 

Speaking at the event, globally renowned artist and Ulster University Chancellor, Dr Colin Davidson said: “This year, Ulster University’s Belfast School of Art reaches 175 years, which is a really significant milestone for us to celebrate. Some of the world’s most prolific artists and designers of the last two centuries have trained at the Belfast School of Art at Ulster University, with Turner prize winners and nominees among its alumni. For me personally, it holds a really special place – its where I started to hone my craft and it really shaped me as an artist – I have so many fond memories of my time studying here. 

“So I am really looking forward to marking this important anniversary with students, staff, alumni, partners and the local community, as we come together throughout the year to celebrate Ulster University’s Belfast School of Art and the important contribution it continues to make both here in Northern Ireland and on the international arts stage.” 

Neasa Quigley, Senior Partner at Carson McDowell, supporters of the Belfast School of Art Annual Degree Show, commented on the partnership: “It is a very exciting year to be associated with the Belfast School of Art, which celebrates being at the forefront of design and the development of young artists since 1849. Both Carson McDowell and Ulster University have deep roots in Belfast, and we are each fully committed to helping our people, clients, stakeholders and communities to thrive. We are very proud to have worked with Ulster University and partnered with the Belfast School of Art Annual Degree Show for over a decade. This collaboration has allowed us to support exceptional artists and creative talent whose groundbreaking ideas, concepts, and expertise bring social and economic benefits to the region as well as making a significant global impact.” 

175 Programme of Events: 

In the Autumn, Ulster University’s gallery will host a series of exhibitions highlighting the work of alumni and friends of Ulster, including a specially commissioned work by Turner Prize nominee, Phil Collins, an exhibition by renowned textile artist Irene MacWilliam and a special display history offering a glimpse into the history of BSoA.  

Later in the year, the anniversary celebrations will feature a two-week intensive programme from Wednesday 13 – Friday 22 November, with a special series of events, activities and lectures on the theme of Celebrating Past, Present and Future. There will also be an incredible exhibit of objects and memories from the School and those who have passed through it. 

To open the second week, the University Chancellor, globally renowned artist Dr Colin Davidson, will present a 175 Address on Monday 18 November. On Tuesday 19, November, the Ulster Museum will host a talk on Joseph Beuys (German artist, teacher, performance artist, and art theorist) to mark the 50th anniversary of his visit to the then-Art College. 

From Wednesday 20- Friday 22 November, the University will host a three-day talk-series. Day one will be dedicated to the past (drawing in art and design historians) and focus on the contribution of BSoA over the 175 years. Day two on the innovative pedagogies and partnerships of the present, while the final day will examine the future, exploring the potential social, transformative roles of art and design as well as the drive towards sustainability. 

These activities will be further supported by specially designed pop-up events and exhibitions running from September through to November, celebrating the unique contributions of BSoA’s subject areas from Painting through to Product Design, Fine Art Print through to Photography. These will be advertised through the Ulster University and Belfast School of Art websites and draw in both students and the public. 

Professor Paul Connolly, Pro Vice Chancellor & Executive Dean of Faculty of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences, comments: “The Belfast School of Art is a world leading art school that makes a significant contribution to contemporary art and design both at home and abroad, and plays a central role in the cultural and creative life of the city. Since it was established 175 years ago in 1849, the School has continued to grow and today is one of the leading providers of art and design education in the UK and the largest on the island of Ireland, providing a centre of excellence and an environment for innovation, creativity and energy. We hope that everyone in the University and beyond will help us to celebrate this anniversary and the ongoing success of the School, through the year-long programme of activities.” 

Dr Brian Dixon, Head of the Belfast School of Art, adds: “At the Belfast School of Art, our students produce innovative work in a dynamic studio-led environment, supported by the very latest technology and staff who are practicing artists and designers who are actively involved in research as well as teaching. The 175th anniversary programme is an opportunity for us to properly celebrate this success with a programme tagline of ‘Celebrating Past Present Future’. It will reflect on the contributions of the BSoA since its formation and how it has maintained a connection to its roots, but also look at how it is continuing to build on its legacy today, by working alongside partners within and beyond.” 

To visit the shows and exhibits or to keep up to date with plans to mark the 175th anniversary of the Belfast School of Art, visit https://www.ulster.ac.uk/bsoa 

Pictured at the launch of the Ulster University Belfast School of Art 175th Anniversary programme, from left to right: Paul Young, CEO of Carton Saloon; Dr Brian Dixon, Head of the Belfast School of Art; Ulster University Chancellor, Dr Colin Davidson; award-winning artist and author, Oliver Jeffers; leading contemporary artist, Alice Maher; renowned textile artist, Irene MacWilliam; acclaimed product designer, Stephen McGilloway; celebrated curator, Hugh Mulholland.  
Pictured at the launch of the Ulster University Belfast School of Art 175th Anniversary programme, Paul Young, CEO of Cartoon Saloon; Yvonne Grace Stone, Final Year Product Design Student; Lauren Linton, Final Year Product Design Student; award winning artist and author, Oliver Jeffers; leading contemporary artist, Alice Maher; acclaimed product designer, Stephen McGilloway; celebrated curator Hugh Mulholland; renowned textile artist Irene MacWilliam. 
Ulster University Chancellor Dr Colin Davidson pictured at the launch of the Ulster University Belfast School of Art 175th Anniversary programme.  
Award winning artist and author Oliver Jeffers; Ulster University Chancellor Colin Davidson; Final Year Product Design student at the Belfast School of Art, Daragh McGee.
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