2020 Commission

The Award is delighted to announce that the Judges have chosen Bethan Yates, an architectural glass artist who graduated from Swansea College of Art in 2019, as the winner of the 2020 Richard Seager Annual Arts Award commission.

Bethan encapsulates everything the Award seeks to support – innovative ideas regarding the use of glass, a desire to learn and excel in her craft, and a willingness to work with both the Award and the beneficiary organisation to design and make something which is inspirational and relevant to its setting.

In view of the impact which Covid-19 is having on our families, communities and cultural heritage, the Award decided to offer the 2020 commission to an organisation or community which has made a positive impact on the lives of people who have been adversely affected by the pandemic, in recognition of their contribution to society.

English National Opera quickly recognised the increased need for medical scrubs and pivoted its skilled costume department staff towards making significant quantities for use in London hospitals. Although many of their staff were furloughed, they increased their engagement with their supporters through their media channels, and they were one of the first arts organisations to find alternative ways of making live performances available to the public, notably through their outside performances of Puccini’s La Boheme at Alexandra Palace during the autumn.

Since September, Bethan has been working with members of ENO’s Youth Theatre (under the auspices of their Baylis youth and outreach programme), through a series of facilitated online workshops, to create a piece of glass sculpture for the Sky Bar at The London Coliseum. Members of the Youth Theatre listened to excerpts of music which hold special significance for ENO and expressed their reactions through a colourful mark-making exercise. Bethan is incorporating these ideas into her design. This commission has provided members of the Youth Theatre with practical experience of working with an artist throughout the commissioning process – another first for both ENO and the Award. It should be of benefit to those Youth Theatre members who choose to pursue a career in the creative industries, in which the United Kingdom is a world leader.

At the beginning of 2021, Bethan ordered the glass to make this commission. She will start making as soon as lockdown restrictions are eased, and it is safe to return to her workshop. The commission will be installed at the London Coliseum as soon as it is practical to do so. It is the intention of ENO to involve members of their Youth Theatre in the official unveiling event, which will give long-overdue recognition for the role which Lilian Baylis played in the life of this special theatre.

In January 2020, I was lucky enough to be contacted by a representative from Zealous – a submissions platform for creatives. They invited me to submit a design for a commission through the Richard Seager Annual Arts Award.

I am a Contemporary artist living and working in Wales and graduated from Swansea College of Art in 2019 with a first class honours degree in ‘Glass:Architectural Art’. I primarily work and experiment with contemporary techniques in glass. Creating tactile, art glass that engages a sensory experience with the viewer. I also incorporate my style into large scale architectural glass commissions. After graduating, I moved to Somerset to work in Holywell Glass, a stained glass conservation and restoration studio. Upon leaving the studio, towards the end of 2019, I moved back to Swansea to pursue my career in Contemporary and architectural glass. This is when I heard about the Richard Seager Award. I was excited by the brief and the timing was perfect so I jumped at the chance of entering a design.

I submitted my design and was invited to present it, along with samples and technical specifications to the awards’ board of judges. As we moved into March, we entered the first Coronavirus lockdown, so the presentations were moved to online meetings. Valerie Seager, who runs the Award along with the other judges, were so helpful and encouraging during this process and the online sessions went so smoothly. I was absolutely over the moon to hear that my design had been chosen for the commission and I couldn’t wait to get started with making the final piece.

Unfortunately, due to the circumstances with the virus, the initial organization had to withdraw from the commission. Although this was disappointing news, everyone working on the Award made every effort to find a new recipient for the commission that had made a positive impact on families affected by the pandemic. This is when the English National Opera became involved. I was invited to the London Coliseum, the home of ENO, to look around the building at potential sites for the commission. I visited in August last year with Valerie Seager, Dan Goode and Anne Boddington who, as part of the judging panel for the award, were supporting and mentoring me through the entire process. The London Coliseum was absolutely stunning and I came away with so many ideas for potential artworks.

Through the Award and ENO, I have been lucky enough to work with and alongside members of ENO Baylis Youth Company. We had a number of zoom sessions where I was able to discuss my practice and share my experience of working with glass with the members. I was able to get some amazing insight into the type of artwork the Youth Company would like to see in the building. Everyone gave great and detailed ideas and concepts and I found working with the Baylis Youth Company really inspiring. I thought it was important to have the members play a role in the creation and design of the artwork so we organised a creative zoom session. Everyone drew and created marks and patterns to opera music associated with ENO. I used the marks they had made, adjusting the scale and overlaying shapes and patterns as well as the colours they had suggested to create the final design, which will be hung in the Sky Bar of the London Coliseum. As an extra special detail I plan to etch each of the members own handwriting into the glass.

After finalising a design that I was happy with, I presented it via zoom to the directors at ENO. I shared digital images of the final design before going into detail about the idea and concept. I explained that the shapes and patterns had all come from the initial mark making exercise that the Baylis Youth Company had created. It was important for the members, who will be the future of the ENO, to feel like they were not only included in the work but had a part in designing it too. I also presented technical specifications regarding fitting and safety. The London Coliseum is a listed building so there were regulations to work through, as well as the actual fitting of the artwork. I decided to make the fixtures a focal point of the design and based them on marine equipment. In the early days of theatre, boat crew were hired to build the sets on stage and so I wanted to combine that piece of theatre history with the modern ideas that had been developed by the Youth Company members. I think everyone at ENO really appreciated the thought and extra details behind the design concept and were thrilled with the final idea. After I was given the green light for the design, I was able to share the final idea with the Baylis Youth Company members. They loved it and seemed so excited that they’d had a key role to play in the design. As I work on making the art work, I hope to have more meetings with the Youth Company to share the process and give them a bit more insight into working in a workshop as well as sticking to a timeline and budget.
Manufacture of the glass was due to begin in January 2021, but is currently on hold as I am unable to use the workshop due to the lockdown. Hopefully, in the coming weeks, I will be able to complete the piece and finally have it hung in the London Coliseum.

I am so appreciative to be a part of the Richard Seager Award. I have learnt so much about commissioning an artwork and how to present ideas and discuss technical specifications with a range of people, from designers to fitters. I’ve gained experience with sourcing materials, costing and working with other companies and workshops. Although at times, navigating around a global pandemic has slowed progress, it has also been a huge learning experience. I have had so much support from everyone at both the Award and ENO.

As part of the Award, I have received one-on-one mentoring from Dan Goode. Dan works with the creative community and helps makers develop their craft and realise their style and potential. Together, we discussed my style and artistic identity, I made a lot of changes to my website and I now have a very clear vision of my work and the kind of art I want to make.

I have also had amazing zoom sessions with Anne Boddington. Anne is the Pro Vice Chancellor at Kingston and has helped me with developing how I present my art as well as guiding me on every aspect of creating an architectural commission for a public space.

I’ve been offered so many opportunities through the Award, from being offered to exhibit my glass in Chelsea after lockdown, as well as other commissions. I’ve made lots of contacts in the craft world that I wouldn’t have made had it not been for Valerie, Dan and Anne. I’ve developed my craft extensively over the past year, pushing myself creatively as well as diving into the business and commissioning side, all with huge support from the Award. Taking part in the Richard Seager Annual Arts Award has been a fantastic experience and I would recommend anyone thinking of submitting to the award in future to seize the opportunity!

Bethan Yates