A Unique Partnership

Ulster University has today been announced as part of the Imperial War Museums’ (IWM) 14-18 NOW Legacy Fund, a national programme of 22 artist commissions inspired by the heritage of conflict and created in partnership with IWM and 14-18 NOW, the official UK arts programme for the First World War centenary.

This unique partnership will deliver a new artwork inspired by the resilience of Northern Ireland’s citizens in the face of conflict, and their role in sustaining the Belfast ‘Good Friday’ Agreement which will celebrate its 25 year anniversary in 2023.

Ulster University and IWM are commissioning world-leading French contemporary acrobatic and circus arts collective, Compagnie XY, to expand on their global project Les Voyages. This new work is inspired by and will be made with the communities of Derry City and Northern Ireland’s contemporary circus sector – In Your Space Circus and Circusful, themselves globally recognised for using circus to bring young people and communities together despite conflict since 1985.

Building on over 100 years of contemporary art commissioning by IWM, this new initiative continues the vision and reach of 14-18 NOW, and has been made possible thanks to the success of Peter Jackson’s critically acclaimed film They Shall Not Grow Old, co-commissioned by IWM and 14-18 NOW. A share of the film’s royalties – £2.5 million – will see investment in artists and arts experiences as IWM partners with 20 cultural organisations and 22 artists from across the UK. The fully funded commissions will each be inspired by the heritage of conflict.

Five major partners have been appointed by IWM as co-commissioners, each to receive £250,000:
  • Ulster University in Derry-Londonderry;
  • The Hunterian in Glasgow;
  • Glynn Vivian Art Gallery in Swansea;
  • BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead;
  • Leicester Museums.

Working with five world-leading artists, these joint commissions will be displayed between 2023 and 2024 and explore themes ranging from care work in conflict to the current refugee crisis.

Two additional commissions at IWM sites will each receive £250,000 and extend IWM’s rich art offer. Details of the commissions will be announced later this year.

Diane Lees, Director-General of IWM, said:

IWM is delighted to be working in close partnership with such a breadth of UK organisations on this ambitious programme of art commissioning. After a challenging couple of years for the arts sector, we hope that the unprecedented opportunities enabled by the IWM 14-18 NOW Legacy Fund will kick-start cultural dialogue as we recover from the wide-reaching impacts of COVID-19.

Cian Smyth, Ulster University’s Arts and Culture Programme Manager commented:

This is a great opportunity for Ulster University’s new civic arts programme, Ulster Presents, to work with IWM on an ambitious community-based project exploring the contribution citizens of this place have made to sustaining a peace in the face of conflict.

It is very exciting to welcome one of the world’s best modern circus companies, Compagnie XY, to Northern Ireland. Modern circus arts are very different to what people historically expect of circus and this project will bring something people have never seen before, connecting some of the best circus performers in the world with those at home to create what will be a beautiful celebration of human resilience – of many bodies in public space overcoming obstacles stacked against them and celebrating a place they love.

Cath McBride, Director of In Your Space Circus said:

In Your Space Circus is delighted to be involved in this exciting and innovative commission. We can see the huge potential in bringing Compagnie XY to communities across Derry and allowing for exploration, experimentation and collaborative creation to develop something uniquely special for audiences and participants. We hope that the project will also build the reputation of circus in Northern Ireland and encourage and inspire our teams of artists and aspiring artists to come together for a shared, collaborative experience.

Circusful CEO Jenna Hall says of the collaborative project:

We are very excited to welcome Compagnie XY to Northern Ireland and discover together how Les Voyages and the new work emerging from our collaboration can interpret and represent themes of peace and conflict through the medium of circus.

“Circus is such an inclusive and exciting art form, it is perfect for this project. Furthermore, our work together will offer development and engagement opportunities to both local artists and community members in a way that is rarely seen on this scale here in NI.

The IWM 14-18 NOW Legacy Fund commissions will go on public display across the UK between 2022 and 2024. For further information about the IWM 14-18 NOW Legacy Fund, please visit the IWM website.