Ulster University's Belfast School of Art celebrates historic 175th anniversary with ambassador programme

Prominent figures from the realms of art, fashion and textile design, illustration and animation are rallying together to celebrate and champion 175 years of the Belfast School of Art and its influence, both locally and globally.

Seven distinguished individuals from the creative arts sector, most of whom are alumni of BSoA before embarking on celebrated careers, were announced as BSoA ambassadors at the preview of the anniversary Degree Show last night [6 June]. The event was generously supported by Carson McDowell LLP, which officially kicked off the 175 Anniversary Programme.

The ambassadors include: 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 and renowned textile artist, Irene MacWilliam.

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Throughout the year, these ambassadors will serve as champions for the celebrations and participate in the BSoA 175 programme. This includes the special, extended 175 Degree Shows, running from 7-22 June, through to the grand finale of the celebrations in December.

Speaking at the Ulster University Belfast School of Art's End of Year Degree Show, Oliver Jeffers reflected on the city's creative legacy: "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."

Celebrating a significant milestone, Niamh McCarthy, an award-winning fashion and embroidery designer, 175 Ambassador, and graduate of the Belfast School of Art, expressed her pride: "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, part of Ulster University, has been a hub for creativity and design since 1849. It boasts an impressive list of alumni, including members of the Turner prize-winning Array Collective, artist John Luke, and Game of Thrones photographer Helen Sloane.

At a recent event, world-renowned artist and Chancellor of Ulster University, 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, who are supporters of the Belfast School of Art Annual Degree Show, shared her thoughts 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."

As part of the 175 Programme of Events, this Autumn, Ulster University's gallery will host a series of exhibitions showcasing the work of alumni and friends of Ulster, including a specially commissioned piece by Turner Prize nominee, Phil Collins, an exhibition by renowned textile artist Irene MacWilliam and a special display offering a glimpse into the history of BSoA.

Later this year, the anniversary celebrations will include a two-week intensive programme from Wednesday 13 Friday 22 November, featuring a special series of events, activities and lectures under the theme of Celebrating Past, Present and Future. An impressive exhibit showcasing objects and memories from the School and its alumni will also be on display.

Kicking off the second week, University Chancellor and globally renowned artist Dr Colin Davidson will deliver a 175 Address on Monday 18 November. The following day, Tuesday 19 November, the Ulster Museum will host a talk on Joseph Beuys, the German artist, teacher, performance artist, and art theorist, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his visit to the then-Art College.

From Wednesday 20- Friday 22 November, the University will organise a three-day talk-series. The first day will be dedicated to the past, inviting art and design historians to discuss the contribution of BSoA over the 175 years.

The second day will focus on the innovative pedagogies and partnerships of the present, while the final day will look towards the future, exploring the potential social, transformative roles of art and design as well as the drive towards sustainability.

The Belfast School of Art (BSoA) is set to host a series of pop-up events and exhibitions from September to November. These events, which will celebrate the unique contributions of BSoA's subject areas from Painting to Product Design and Fine Art Print to Photography, will be advertised on the Ulster University and Belfast School of Art websites, attracting both students and the public.

Professor Paul Connolly, Pro Vice Chancellor and Executive Dean of Faculty of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences, said: "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, who leads the Belfast School of Art, shared: "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 practising 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."

Anyone interested in visiting the shows and exhibits or wishing to follow plans to mark the 175th anniversary of the Belfast School of Art can click here.

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