A Glasgow 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.
Laura Aldridge, 41, who hails from Guildford but has lived in Scotland since 2004, is an established artist working with KMAdotcom - an Artlink Edinburgh project based in a collective studio in Dalkeith, Midlothian, which works with disabled and non-disabled artists.
The digital exhibition marks the first time in history eight of the UK’s most iconic art galleries - including Summerhall in Edinburgh, London’s National Portrait Gallery 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 Laura, 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 insights from The National Lottery indicating a ‘domestic renaissance’ in people enjoying the arts at home with 61% of UK adults saying it helped their state of mind during the crisis, and almost half (46%) of Scottish people believing the positive impacts on their wellbeing would be long-lasting
"Around 2007, I started working for Artlink, primarily on a sensory workshop, working with adults with profound learning difficulties and physical difficulties,” said Laura.
"On and off, I've worked in the studio workshop, which five years ago was renamed as KMAdotcom by one of the people that comes to the workshop. KMA stands for Kiss My Artist.
"Naming the workshop as opposed to it just being a studio workshop made it more of a collective – it’s become more about collaboration and all of us working together. The idea was to have a bit of ownership around it.
"I find it really nourishing, it gives me ideas. I've talked at the Art School, taught degree students, I've marked shows and am an external examiner but nothing is as interesting to me as the work we do at Artlink.
"Nothing has supported my practice in the way that it does. It's creatively stimulating, challenging, it shifts my thinking and pushes me in ways that other things don’t.”
Laura had been supporting fellow artist Leanne Ross with her work for an exhibition for the Glasgow International (GI) festival before the coronavirus pandemic took hold.
But Laura, who lives with her partner, Jon, and has two step-children called Matilda and Izzy, continued to collaborate with Leanne once the lockdown restrictions came into place.
Leanne has had to shield owing to underlying health conditions but Laura has been able to support her remotely via Zoom, admirably adapting to restraints to still produce a number of compelling pieces.
The pair created a colouring book to sell to keep people occupied during lockdown, while Leanne has also been commissioned by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Trust for their Rest and Relaxation Hubs across the Glasgow and Greater Clyde area.
Laura and Leanne have worked tirelessly in tandem and Laura has relished developing a deep personal connection with her artistic colleague from afar.
"Creativity is fundamentally important at base level for any human being. It's giving someone space to communicate their ideas and find a voice. It’s really empowering,” she added.
"It was lovely to hear Leanne talk about getting back to ‘my work’ and ‘my studio' after she was away for a bit of time. She had taken on this possession of her work about what she owned and that was really important.
"People with learning disabilities lose a lot of choice – they don't often get to choose what they wear, or what they do. So to have this space where it's completely free to them, where their eccentricity can be encouraged, is really great for them.
"She's a regular attendee of the workshop, and through that has developed her way of working. That's come about through experimenting, being up for trying stuff and she gets a lot of pleasure out of the projects.
"She really enjoys people being excited about the work, people are getting in touch with us to buy them now which is lovely.
"I love working with Leanne, we've been doing a project together and she's been excited about the prospect of an exhibition.
"She's thrilled by the idea of the opportunity, I've been able to work with her quite closely over the past year and a half, which has been really nice being able to get to know her.”
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 support enables us to keep going, whether it's a virtual or physical space,” said Laura.
“It's that room for collaboration and communication which is really important, something to protect.
"It's precious to me – I can only imagine how vital it is for the people we work with.
"Kara Christine is the glue that holds Artlink together. She looks after everyone and makes sure that everyone is doing okay and getting to the workshop."
The digital exhibition in which Laura’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.”
CEO of Creative Scotland, Ian Munro 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.
Image credit: National Lottery 2020’s Portraits of the People by Chris Floyd