Versatile Vic Brown honoured by National Lottery for keeping the arts alive

·5 min read
Vic has helped showcase New Urban Era's vast range of artwork across the streets of Tamworth
Vic has helped showcase New Urban Era's vast range of artwork across the streets of Tamworth

A Tamworth resident will appear in a unique photography exhibition after being recognised by The National Lottery for his dedication and devotion to keeping the arts alive and accessible for all during the pandemic.

Vic Brown, 47, who lives in Tamworth with partner Sarah, and daughter Lily, is an engineer by day but is also the founder and chairman of a street art group New Urban Era.

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, 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 Vic, 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.

“New Urban Era was established in 2011 as a small arts group just to showcase urban arts,” said Vic.

Vic's portrait will be one of 13 created by leading photographer Christopher Floyd
Vic's portrait will be one of 13 created by leading photographer Christopher Floyd

“For the last eight years we’ve just plodded along, but in 2019 we got our first Arts Council Lottery grant. From then, things started to change for the better for us.

“We work with beatboxers, street artists, break-dancers, local schools and we’ve set up lots of different projects. This year would be our tenth anniversary and then COVID struck, so all our big plans had to be reorganised

“I saw street art becoming popular in Tamworth so I thought it would be great if we got music involved and made a bit of an event for it.”

Vic spends his time trying to brighten up Tamworth with wonderful street art and now has three projects on the go; Art Crawl, Cycle pathways and his ten-year-old Tamworth Urban Arts and Sports fest.

He has also managed to keep all age groups engaged and entertained with online live feeds, particularly during a difficult few months caused by the pandemic.

“At first, I was quite panicked when lockdown first struck,” added Vic. “It holds a lot of responsibility having that money – I was concerned that we had made arrangements with artists and had to pay them so everything was a real concern.

“I contacted the Arts Council and they were really helpful again – they put me at ease and I couldn’t have done it without them. They told me to look at how I wanted to do things, and they were happy for me to carry on with the funding.

“We started with video tutorials on our Facebook page, and that’s given us some time to get our heads around how we’re going to do things.

“Everyone was painting in their garden and it was something else. It was very raw how we did it.”

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.

“Lottery funding has totally changed everything – it’s given me a lot of confidence, personally, by getting that funding in and the support they provide is fantastic,” said Vic.

“It’s the whole process – it’s not all about just the money, that helps you develop as an organisation and as an individual but the process develops you on a more professional level so it all works hand in hand.

“It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to New Urban Era. Every year has been hit and miss whether we’d go ahead and without the Lottery funding I don’t think we’d probably have lasted up until now.”

The digital exhibition in which Vic’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.

Image credit: National Lottery 2020’s Portraits of the People by Chris Floyd