Simon Wallis: Art and creativity show us how to sculpt the future, writes The Hepworth Wakefield director

Simon Wallis is director of The Hepworth Wakefield.
Simon Wallis is director of The Hepworth Wakefield.
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A VIBRANT, crackling red neon globe and a series of delicate glass flutes suspended from the ceiling playing haunting melodies. These are just a couple of the works of art that featured in The Hepworth Prize for Sculpture exhibition.

More than 50,000 people visited the exhibition. The 
prize itself was created to encourage greater engagement and debate about sculpture and it has done just that.

Simon Wallis heads The Hepworth Wakefield.

Simon Wallis heads The Hepworth Wakefield.

Given our region’s long history of producing world-renowned sculptors – from Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, to Damien Hirst and Martin Creed – it was important to launch this prize here in Yorkshire and to give audiences in the North the opportunity to experience and be inspired by the work of internationally renowned artists.

The comments and feedback demonstrated that all our varied responses to art, and not just those of art world insiders, are valid. It shows, too, the power that art has to help us all question and understand our environment and experiences.

We’re building on the success of The Hepworth Prize for Sculpture this summer by working in partnership with the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds Art Gallery and Yorkshire Sculpture Park to deliver Yorkshire Sculpture International – the biggest festival celebrating and exploring sculpture in the UK – taking place across all four venues, as well as public sites in Leeds and Wakefield.

The Hepworth Wakefield will present our biggest exhibition to date, taking over all the gallery spaces for the first time. The participating artists come from all over the world, bringing their art to the heart of Yorkshire to be shown alongside great British artists including Yorkshire’s very own Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore.

However, it is not just about presenting inspiring exhibitions. Yorkshire Sculpture International also contributes positively to Yorkshire’s economy. Last year, the four galleries that collectively make up the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle brought a staggering 1.1 million visitors to Yorkshire to see and enjoy the region’s rich cultural offer.

We also want to foster and support the creative talent that lives and works here in West Yorkshire. As part of an associate artist scheme, the Yorkshire Sculpture International partners will each be working with one of five artists from across the region to develop their art and create new work. Opportunities for local young people will be created by working with Leeds Beckett University and the University of Leeds to provide placements for students. We are also working with 10 teachers in London and 10 in Yorkshire to look at the most effective ways of teaching sculpture within schools and to share what works best.

At The Hepworth, our work with local schools is crucial. Last year, students taking arts GCSE subjects had dropped to the lowest-ever level, while the number of students taking GCSEs overall had risen by three per cent. Businesses are reporting a severe shortage of people with the necessary flexible creative skills coming into the employment market place, while many of our less creative jobs are rapidly being replaced by robots and AI. It is a major challenge, especially for the UK where the creative industries are world renowned and make up a rapidly-growing proportion of our economy.

We have devised a number of new schemes to try and tackle this problem head on. We’ve launched our School Prints project – a five-year initiative bringing the work of contemporary artists directly to our local classrooms – which last year involved more than 1,000 school pupils in Wakefield, and this year will work with seven new schools. It’s been rewarding to see that in the previous 12 months we have more than doubled the number of school visits to the museum.

We’re working with the Burberry Foundation which is supporting us and fellow cultural partners at Leeds Playhouse, Northern Ballet and Leeds Young Film over the next four years on a major secondary schools project – Burberry Inspire – to provide pupils with an in-depth experience of the creative industries.

A huge part of The Hepworth Wakefield’s mission is to initiate positive change in the local community. Engaging with school children to help develop broader creative thinking, and to apply creativity to all school subjects, will better prepare them for careers in the widest possible range of industries.

So we urge you to come and see for yourself what some of the leading artists of our time are producing – it’s on your doorstep and it’s free.

Simon Wallis is director of 
The Hepworth Wakefield.