Who Decides? opened this week at The National Museum Cardiff, one of seven museums operated by National Museums Wales, after it invited a diverse group of people, who have all experienced homelessness, to select and interpret the art for the exhibition and be part of the whole exhibition process from start to finish. This included being involved in the design and installation of the exhibition as well as the creation of public events, a programme for schools and marketing.

The artwork has been selected from the large collection of paintings, sculptures, films, prints and drawings that the museum and the Derek Williams Trust have acquired over the past 10 years (the partnership is now in its 25th  year and has been central to the development of the museum’s collection of modern and contemporary art since 1992).

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Art displays chosen, designed and interpreted by service users of The Wallich homelessness charity

Who Decides? features contemporary artists such as Anthony Caro, Olga Chernysheva, Richard Deacon, Laura Ford, Richard Long, Paula Rego, Clare Woods and Bedwyr Williams.

Michael Pugh, of The Wallich group curators, said Who Decides? had been important in encouraging wider participation in culture: “I wouldn’t have come in to the museum before but now I’m here and I’ve loved it all. I’m now not afraid to come here by myself, I’m not daunted anymore.” Ian Harris, a service user from The Wallich, said: “I have taken great pride in my contribution to this exhibition.”

The Wallich service users selected and interpreted artwork as well as formulated the design of the You Decide? exhibition

Sian David, Head of Participation and Progression at The Wallich said the narrative ‘art is for everyone’ sits perfectly with the charity as it goes beyond getting people off the streets by trying to give its clients rich experiences and create exciting and innovative opportunities that are out of the ordinary.

“Many of the museum project’s participants have experienced hardship, but they’re on new paths to improving their lives,” he said. “We hope to continue making partnerships with cultural organisations, like Amgueddfa Cymru, to boost the skills, confidence and, ultimately, happiness of our clients.”

The Wallich curators

Visitors to the exhibition can also contribute to Who Decides? by voting for their favourite work to be ‘released’ from the store and placed on public display. These include an installation of more than 70 ceramic works from the private collection of the gallery owner Anita Besson (1933-2015). This collection, bequeathed to the Derek Williams Trust in 2016, features work by 13 makers including Lucie Rie, Hans Coper, Ryoji Koie and Claudi Casanovas and will be displayed together in the exhibition for the first time.

“It’s been a been a wonderful experience for everyone at the Museum to work with our co-curators from The Wallich group,” said Nick Thornton, Head of Fine & Contemporary Art, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales. “Their hard work and unique perspective on the collections has produced an ambitious exhibition that makes contemporary art accessible to all our visitors. It’s been a fascinating journey for all of us and underlines the huge benefits that can be had from creating opportunities for all parts of our community to contribute to the work of cultural organisations.”

Who Decides? runs until September 2, 2018. Entry to the exhibition is free and includes a series of lunchtime talks highlighting the exhibition and how it has been curated.

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