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National commissioning and network project to catalyse artists’ careers and change in collections

A colourful art installation
  • Written byCat Cooper
  • Published date11 November 2021
A colourful art installation
Sonia Boyce, In the Castle Of My. Photograph by Rachel Deakin. Courtesy of MIMA

The Decolonising Arts Institute at University of the Arts London (UAL) today announces 20/20: an ambitious 3 year programme combining artist residencies with artistic commissioning at scale. It will bring together 20 emerging artists of colour and 20 UK public art collections leading to 20 new permanent acquisitions.

Funded by Freelands Foundation, Arts Council England and UAL, 20/20 responds to urgent calls for action within arts and culture, to tackle social inequities and racial injustices amplified by the Covid-19 pandemic, and in the wake of Black Lives Matter. The commissioning and network programme will support ethnically diverse artists to take up residencies with public art collections across the country; leading to the collections’ permanent acquisition of new commissioned works, a series of commissioned texts; and a public programme bringing artists, curators and writers into conversation.

The project will directly invest in the development of a new generation of ethnically diverse artists who may identify as black, brown, or as people of colour. Following open calls in early 2022 and 2023, 2 cohorts of 10 artists will be selected to take up onsite and digital residencies; developing their creative practice through critical engagement with a host collection.

Creating a network of partnerships geographically and online, 20/20 sets out to build stronger relationships between UK collections. It will support inclusive engagement between collections and the communities they serve, to generate richer understanding of collections’ histories and the contributions of under-represented or overlooked artists in their midst.

The Institute will work with each collection partner to support the artist’s development and wellbeing through peer and institutional networks, engaging in curatorial and practice/research dialogues. 20/20 will also encourage mutual critical exchange across collections, artists and communities, to continue beyond the project.

20/20 is one of 2 projects to be awarded a total of £800k in a second round of funding announced by Freelands Foundation this week, as part of their £3m fund to address racial inequality in the visual arts. Together, this new long-term funding awarded to UAL Decolonising Arts Institute and Wysing Arts Centre will see 120 artists collaborating with almost 30 museums and galleries across the UK, promising a ripple-effect across the sector.

The Decolonising Arts Institute was recently awarded a £3m Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) grant for work to transform UK collections using emerging technologies: Transforming Collections: Reimagining Art, Nation and Heritage is one of 5 national Discovery Projects awarded a total of £14.5m by the AHRC. It forms the largest investment of Towards a National Collection (TaNC), a 5 year research and development programme.

20/20 partners include:

Birmingham Museums Trust; Bristol Museum & Art Gallery; Bradford District Museums and Galleries; Compton Verney, Warwickshire; Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum, Glasgow; Harris Museum, Preston; The Hepworth Wakefield; Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, Coventry; Kettle's Yard, Cambridge; Leeds Art Gallery; Manchester Art Gallery; MIMA (Middlesbrough Museum of Modern Art); National Disability Arts Collection & Archive (NDACA); Pallant House Gallery, Chichester; Sheffield Museums Trust; The Box, Plymouth; Walker Art Gallery, National Museums Liverpool and Wolverhampton Art Gallery

We are extremely grateful for the support of Freelands Foundation and Arts Council England in making 20/20 possible. Following an extraordinary eighteen months, 20/20 is a response to urgent calls for artworld actions to follow words and gestures, and move ‘Beyond the Black Square’. The project aims to catalyse artists’ careers and change in collections, bringing artists, curators, writers, collections and local, national and international audiences into conversation.

— Professor susan pui san lok, Director, UAL Decolonising Arts Institute
The Freelands Foundation Diversity Action Group are committed to creating the conditions in which Black and Brown artists in the UK are able to thrive: removing barriers and creating pathways into the sector in order to transform the experiences of artists and audiences. These 2 new grants are a landmark in terms of our continuing commitment to addressing racial inequality throughout the visual arts. We look forward to seeing the real impact these bold programmes will have on the cultural landscape of the UK, and to celebrating future generations of diverse artists inspired by these projects.

— Sonita Alleyne, Master of Jesus College in Cambridge, Freelands Foundation Diversity Action Group Chair
A dynamic cultural sector needs diversity of thought and people – so it is vital that pathways are generated that allow creative people from all backgrounds to reach their potential. Thanks to National Lottery funding, the Arts Council is pleased to support 20/20. This ambitious programme will help nurture the talent and career development of two cohorts of Black, Asian and Ethnically Diverse artists whilst they work closely with museums and art galleries across the UK.

— Sabine Unamun, Director, London, Arts Council England
This is a profoundly important project. Our Decolonising Arts Institute, with support from Freelands Foundation and Arts Council England, is leading critical and creative interventions in collections to bring about wider change in the art world. Its impact will be felt across the UK.

— James Purnell, UAL President and Vice-Chancellor

About The Decolonising Arts Institute


The Decolonising Arts Institute at University of the Arts London (UAL) seeks to challenge colonial and imperial legacies and drive social, cultural and institutional change, through creative interdisciplinary collaborations and research-driven projects and partnerships. Since 2019, the Institute’s pilot phase has seen a programme of seminars, roundtables and residencies unfold. These have led to the launch of 2 significant and complementary projects that will run in parallel over the next 3 years.

20/20 will be the Institute’s first major public-facing creative commissioning programme that engages with artists, public collections and audiences at scale, generously supported by Freelands Foundation and Arts Council England. A concurrent major AHRC research project, Transforming Collections: Reimagining Art, Nation and Heritage will combine decolonial feminist approaches to art history, museology and machine learning development, to address biases and barriers within and between collections.

The Institute is led by artist, writer and academic, Dr susan pui san lok, who was appointed UAL Professor in Contemporary Art and Director of the Decolonising Arts Institute in 2019. Prior to joining UAL, susan was Associate Professor in Fine Art at Middlesex University, and Co-Investigator on the AHRC-funded project, Black Artists in Modernism (2015-18), led by UAL in partnership with Middlesex. susan’s practice ranges across moving image, installation, sound, performance, and text. Recent projects include the solo exhibitions, seven x seven, Glasgow International Festival (2021); A COVEN A GROVE A STAND, Firstsite, Colchester (2019); and Diaspora Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale (2017). Recent writing includes texts in special issues of Art History (2020, 2021); Oxford Art Journal (2021); The Place is Here (2019); and Contesting British Chinese Culture (2018).