'Life in Cars' is an inter-generational project which helps the Museum create connections with local communities and enable them to engage with each other. This involves telling life stories with cars, through art.
We chose to connect with two communities. The first, a group made up of young people with autism and learning disabilities and people with other differences. They all enjoy art and creativity. The second group are the 'Elders'; a mix of two communities, one from an African-Caribbean Dominoes group and the other an isolation and loneliness group in an inner city. All the Elders have a story or two to tell us about their lives and cars!
A small team of our Volunteers collected and recorded stories from the Elders for the young people to create artwork from using various mediums such as storyboarding, hand printing and ceramics.
The finale is an exhibition of this journey to the general public on display until 2023. The exhibition showcases a series of work to bring to life the stories told by the elders then expressed by the young artists.
'Access to Heritage, Art and Culture' (Athac CIC) is a social enterprise providing cultural access support services to children, young people and adults with disabilities along with support for carers. They also support families from disadvantaged backgrounds to access enriching activities. Run by three devoted ladies with lots of great support, we could not of achieved this project without the facilitation from ATHAC for the Artists and groups - in particular Carol Reid.
Find out more about the various elements of the project below:
In December 2021 we introduced five young people to the collection at the British Motor Museum. Inspired by the collection, they took up their pencils and sketched their favourite cars.
Meet the Artists:
Mehar: I am Mehar the artist - I like Vincent Van Gogh and city graffiti, part of the urban tribe. Love who you are!
Alison: My art is influenced by my love of horror, especially Gothic Literature. This project has been a wonderfully interesting journey.
Adlin: I have always had an interest in art, particularly portrait drawings of famous people. With this project, I have loved having my artwork displayed at this Museum.
Safina: I enjoy making cards and I like arts and crafts. I have really enjoyed doing all the different activities with this project.
Ryan: I really like the old cars and sports cars at the Museum and really enjoyed the clay modelling session with this project.
The Elders and Stories
During several visits to the Museum, the elders delved into the collections and recalled memories of their childhood and their first memories of cars. The volunteers and the elders set about recalling and recording many of these automotive themed stories.
We chose a variety of stories from the crop but they were all fantastic. They had personal connections with cars, and told how cars had actually shaped the elders' lives in many cases.
Meet the elders:
Barbara has lots of stories to tell and has some old photos which really took us along with her stories.
Charles' story really ended up driving his life. From the Island of Montserrat to Lode Lane, Solihull and with transport going from donkeys to Land Rover Defenders!
Sam's story found him working in and around the car factories of the West Midlands and providing a living for his family.
Zakia's story had the car at the core, by escaping over the Afghan mountains in a car to live the life she does now; bringing up her family in Birmingham.
Cyril may not have recorded any stories but he attended every session at the Museum and took part in every single activity with a massive smile!
Many more elders took the time to tell their stories and share the delights of the motoring industry.
The Method and Skills
A range of skills were developed during the course of the project. Here's a detailed look at the stages:
Sketching in the collection
As a starting point to get everyone used to drawing cars and familiar with the Museum's huge car collection, we had sketching sessions in the Museum.
Storyboarding with Tom Tyrell
Following the sketching sessions, the next step was to get to know the fascinating stories from the elders. What better way to gain a full understanding and appreciation than storyboarding? Tutor, Tom Tyrell, helped the artists and they enjoyed the stories a lot as a result.
Photography session with Bridgewater Photography
After storyboarding, Donna Bridgewater led some photography sessions with the aim of getting some top quality photos of the cars. The photography sessions started with the simple taking of shots among the car collection in the Museum. The next session moved into a studio setting with lights, cars and the elders modelling! The third and final session took place during our Gaydon Gathering event in May. This was a great chance to practise outdoor photography with a range of different cars. The artists had to adpat to use different techniques and considerations compared to the previous sessions. The result from these 3 varied sessions was a suite of fantastic imagery, ready for the artists to use.
Lino printing with Alison Watts
Lino printing sessions were led by the young artist Alison Watts. The artists selected their favourite car from the Museum's collection, drew it and then printed it. In a follow-up session, each artist chose a story from the elders and turned it into a film poster. The sessions were a real test for the artists, having to reverse any words they wanted to use in order for them to be readable when printed but the results were great!
Ceramic cars with Ros Ingram
Finally, the artists, elders and volunteers all drew their favourite car from the collection but this time, the drawings were used to inspire clay model recreations of the cars. Ceramist Ros Ingram guided the groups through the modelling process, which everybody found to be very therapeutic!
The models were fired, glazed and finished off with metal work details such as grilles and windscreen wipers.
Artwork exhibiting with Grenade Grafix
The artists got the chance to learn about how to exhibit their work with Guy Hatcher from Grenade Grafix. Just like that another skill was added to the artists' growing palettes. The resulting exhibition of all the artists' hard work can be seen in the gallery on the first floor of the Museum. You can find a display of the clay car models as well as a series of exhibits decorating the walls.
For this project we decided we should have continuity with volunteers for both the elders and the artists. It worked perfectly and friendships soon blossomed.
The welcome is really important to the volunteers. They were delighted to hear that the groups felt so welcome, even saying "we are not even welcomed at a wedding like we are here!". Even just remembering each person's name made them feel part of the community, regardless of how many sessions they took part in.
Meet the Volunteers:
Alan: I have worked as a volunteer at the Museum for a number of years and have always had a keen interest in cars. My involvement with the Life in Cars project has been a real pleasure and so very different to normal Museum guiding. This project has been a whole new experience for me, and I am pleased to exhibit my modified clay model of a 1939 Morgan.
Robin: I became a volunteer at the British Motor Museum three years ago, after retirement from a 50-year career in architecture. The artwork skills – I have never experienced pottery making or linocut printing before and this has brought a whole new dimension to the art of expressing myself – a most challenging but rewarding experience of all of the project!
Andrew: It has been a true privilege to be involved in such a unique and exciting project. I learnt new skills from the team; I can draw (better), can now claim to be reasonably competent at lino printing and am now certainly a better photographer! It has been deeply humbling and difficult to put into words. I can simply just acknowledge a huge thank you for the opportunity to be involved and get to know such lovely people.
Malcolm: I have worked as a volunteer for over 3 years. Life in Cars has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. It took me out of my comfort zone in many ways but gave more back to me than I could ever dream of. It has been a pleasure to work with every single person. I have particularly enjoyed making my ceramic car; a Lotus Seven.
Stephen: I have enjoyed this long-term outreach project, especially getting to know the elders and young artists from Birmingham. The craft workshop sessions were also very enjoyable. I had never tried ceramics, so making a model car was a new experience. Harder than it looks. The lino cutting and printing took me back to school art classes in the 1960s. Good fun, and with great company to try out these skills. The photography workshops were also interesting, not least being able to take one of my classic cars to be experienced and used in the temporary studio.
The main aim of this intergenerational project was to create new connections between the Museum and local communities. This was achieved by telling life stories through the medium of art and resulted in a wonderful art exhibition. However, there are several other positive outcomes for those involved in the project and for the Museum:
- Young people with SEN have expanded their creative learning by taking part in the project and the results can be shown in their portfolios for future employment opportunities.
- The elders' life stories have been gathered and recorded to preserve their memories.
- Each person who took part has benefited in terms of their health and wellbeing. The project has allowed them all to make new friends, explore new perspectives and grow in confidence.
- Each person who took part has developed their practical skills such as art techniques, recording stories with oral history equipment, researching using archive material, curation and exhibiting art.
- Intergenerational connections have been built within the Museum's local community that will last beyond the completion of the project.
How have the various groups of participants benefited from the project?
Their confidence blossomed and both their artistic and social skills flourished during the course of the project. It was a joy to see them develop. The project has resulted in opening an online shop, going to art colleges and applying for degree courses. Their portfolios and CVs benefited greatly with an abundance of work and experience. As a token of their appreciation, the artists produced some lovely token artworks for Museum staff and volunteers.
Having a regular meeting as part of the project really helped the elders. They looked forward to every visit to the Museum and weren't afraid to step out of their comfort zones for the various activities. Charles said "Everything I put my hands to I enjoy here!".
The project was overwhelmingly rewarding and enriching for the volunteers. Their continuity and spirit went a long way in the creation of a familiar environment for the artists and elders to thrive in.