A Bristol resident will appear in a unique photography exhibition after being recognised by The National Lottery for her dedication and devotion to keeping the arts alive and accessible for all during the pandemic.
Penny Rawlings, 67, is involved in the Bristol Ensemble, which delivers music education to the most deprived areas of Bristol.
The digital exhibition marks the first time in history eight of the UK’s most iconic art galleries - including London’s National Portrait Gallery, Ikon Gallery in Birmingham and The MAC in Belfast and the British Film Institute (BFI) - have come together in this way.
The collection, titled ‘The National Lottery’s 2020 Portraits of the People’ celebrates the remarkable individuals, including Penny, who have worked tirelessly during the pandemic to bring creativity, enjoyment and enrichment to people in new ways
Thirteen powerful and poignant portraits have been created by Chris Floyd, who normally photographs celebrities such as Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Mo Farah and Victoria Beckham.
The exhibition was born out of National Lottery insights which indicate a ‘domestic renaissance’ in people enjoying the arts at home with almost 2 in 3 (61%) of those saying it helped their state of mind during the crisis, and more than half (51%) believing the positive impacts on their wellbeing would be long-lasting.
"The Ensemble started more than 25 years ago, maybe 30 by now. My brother, Roger, came back from Norway, he trained as a musician at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and decided he wanted to start his own thing in Bristol,” said Penny.
"The Education Project, which is called Preludes, is celebrating its 12th year. I don't think we ever anticipated it being more than three or four years but here we are.
“The schools absolutely loved it, they could see the value of it and doing what we did with kids in poor areas was really important.
"They're perhaps not the most academic, necessarily, and some of the children have special needs.
"They could easily feel like failures because they can't do the academic work. But then you stick them in a music class and the roles might be totally reversed.
“Music is a great leveller; we make sure that everyone can do it and not just those who are perhaps more academic.”
The Bristol Ensemble and Preludes delivers music education to the most deprived areas of Bristol both in person and online, giving much needed support to the children and teachers during the pandemic.
They also produced 16 videos for children and teachers. On the orchestral side they produced 45 online recitals, engaging with the Bristol Ensemble players all who are freelance and providing them with some paid work for their recitals, while also producing two videos dedicated to Covid-19.
"The journey that we were going on with groups and individuals suddenly ground to a halt because of the pandemic,” said Penny.
"Normally we get the ones who are leaving to do a concert for the younger year groups, which is just a really nice way for everyone to say goodbye and thank you.
"Suddenly, it all just cut off. We've known these children for seven years by the time they get to Year 6, so we know them, certainly more than teachers who will normally have them for a year-group at a time.
"We had some children taken into care during that time, some things got so bad during lockdown that they had to be taken into care which was quite distressing.
"Putting the videos together have been fantastic. For the staff, that was a good thing - it pulled us together, we couldn't be together in person but we could perform in our own space to create something special.
"We did two videos that involved all the staff, everybody had to do their own thing and for them that was very uplifting.”
National Lottery players raise £30 million a week for good causes around the country, funding thousands of projects that make a huge difference to people’s wellbeing.
"National Lottery funding is crucial for us, particularly this year,” said Penny. “A lot of charities who support us have had to cut back due to the pandemic so it's vital for us carrying out our work.
"We don't do it for the recognition so when you do get it, it's unbelievable. People noticing the work that we put in, especially in some of the areas in which we are working, is fantastic.
"Some of the better areas of Bristol do get the acknowledgement and recognition for what they are doing.
"That doesn't happen the same in the poorer areas, we're lucky if we get the parents there watching and seeing what happens, you don't get much more than that from people on the outside."
The digital exhibition in which Penny’s portrait features can be visited on the websites and social media of: The National Portrait Gallery, The National Museum of Wales, The MAC in Belfast, IKON Gallery in Birmingham, Summerhall in Edinburgh, Ty Pawb, Ruthin Craft Centre in Wales, The Photographers’ Gallery in London and The British Film Institute. The portraits will also be on display at BFI Southbank in London.
Photographer Chris Floyd added: “The journey to capture these artists of all varieties was an incredibly humbling one. I wanted to do justice to the ongoing and selfless efforts of these creatives and creators who have taken their skills within the arts and built accessible resources for those who needed it most. It feels like a small thank you in comparison to what they’ve done for their local communities and for the arts sector as whole.”
Darren Henley, the CEO of Arts Council England, said: “People in the UK have a great love of creativity, art and culture. We know these things can bring us together, enrich our lives, support our emotional wellbeing, and make us happier.
“Throughout lockdown we've seen that in villages, towns and cities, people have continued to participate and enjoy the arts whether that's at home, digitally, or through socially distanced activities within their communities.”
The works aim to create a ‘moment in history’, preserving the work of these unheralded champions for posterity and encapsulating the varied and innovative ways art can be expressed.