Charity art auction will continue Norwich's fine history of helping others

Norwich Cathedral by John R Davies

Norwich Cathedral by John R Davies - Credit: Submitted

It is almost exactly 100 years since an American advertising executive coined the phrase ‘a picture is worth a thousand words.’

That’s certainly true of a unique collection of art due to be auctioned in Norwich next Friday.

It just so happens that in this case it will also take around a thousand words to explain the story behind the art, the auction and the organisers.

So art, auction and organisers.

Art first.

It has been donated by some of Norfolk’s leading painters, sculptors and ceramacists, as well as contributions from nationally known figures including Antony Gormley, best known for his towering Angel of the North.

Was it all a Dream? by Colin Self

Was it all a Dream? by Colin Self - Credit: Submitted

The auction is being held online next Friday evening (March 19) to raise much-needed financial support for refugees and asylum seekers making their home in Norwich and Norfolk.

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And the organisers are the so-called Art Stream of the Norwich City of Sanctuary organisation.

Norwich has a long and proud history of welcoming ‘Strangers’ into the community. It goes back to the sixteenth century when refugees from the Low Countries flooded across the North Sea to escape religious persecution.

By then Norwich was England’s second city.

And here’s an extraordinary number.

By the late 1500s approaching half of the city’s population of 12,000 were refugees.

Fragments II by Ileana Hunter

Fragments II by Ileana Hunter - Credit: Submitted

Their textile skills made Norwich rich and prosperous. Even today, aspects of our architecture, customs and language speak of those early incomers seeking asylum.

More than four centuries later, that ethos of integration has found a new voice in our own City of Sanctuary.

Volunteers offer a welcome as well as practical support to refugees and those seeking asylum who have often lost their homes and their loved ones, fled persecution and abuse and are seeking safety and security in a new and alien community.

Some have come from countries riven by conflict and war, of which Syria is the heartland of unimaginable misery and where children have known nothing but suffering. Other refugees have fled domestic and sexual abuse.

Road to Nowhere, Happisburgh, by Keith Judge

Road to Nowhere, Happisburgh, by Keith Judge - Credit: Submitted

Norwich City of Sanctuary is part of a national movement which began in Sheffield in 2007.

Now there are more than 80 towns and cities in the UK which enjoy that title. And Norwich has embraced the concept enthusiastically. The University of East Anglia, a growing number of schools, the Art Centre and the Octagon Chapel have all pledged their commitment to refugees and been given Sanctuary status.

Widen that circle of support a bit further and there are a host of other voluntary organisations within the Sanctuary family offering all manner of grass roots assistance to those newly arrived.

Abstract in Steel by Andy Jarrett

Abstract in Steel by Andy Jarrett - Credit: Submitted

The need for that assistance has been heightened by the pandemic. Imagine arriving somewhere strange, possibly without language skills, and being thrown into isolation. For the local refugee charities that has meant moving English classes online, delivering food parcels, cleaning products, telephone top-up cards, supermarket vouchers and activity packs for children.

Which brings us back to the Art Stream. It was founded on the principle that art effortlessly crosses boundaries such as language and is universal. And that means children in particular can come together to draw, paint, learn and unlock their artistic imagination.

Like all her voluntary colleagues, the Art Stream Lead Madi Dutton is passionate about the role of Norwich as a City of Sanctuary.

She said: “We should remember that sanctuary seekers aren’t just refugees or asylum seekers. They are also people just like you and I, mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, brothers and sisters. They are artists, doctors, lawyers, bakers and homemakers. We should welcome them as new neighbours with warmth to our fine city.”

In the same way that Covid-19 has darkened all our lives, it threatened to put a stop to the Art Stream’s work.

Let the Light In by Alex Egan

Let the Light In by Alex Egan - Credit: Submitted

Realising that many young people didn’t have access to art materials, they appealed to local firms for help as well as raising funds themselves.

Member Maggie Wheeler spent many hours sourcing hundreds of pots of paint, brushes, scissors, glue, felt tip pens, card, books, flower pots to paint and activity packs and together with other volunteers assembled them in special hand-made bags.

The art packs were then delivered to 180 refugee and asylum seeking children.

The pandemic also stopped the Art Stream’s biggest project in its tracks. It was an ambitious idea to hold a giant auction of art donated by local and nationally known artists.

Once more the response was extraordinary. Madi Dutton said they were expecting around 20 artworks. Instead more than 60 of Norfolk’s best known artists, and others from further afield, offered paintings, drawings, sculptures and ceramics.

The money raised will go to those City of Sanctuary groups working with asylum seekers and refugees, including the Art Stream itself. But it has been a long road to Friday’s auction.

Nest with eggs by Sarah Bays

Nest with eggs by Sarah Bays - Credit: Submitted

Originally they had planned an art trail of some of the works to be put on display in public buildings throughout the city as a taster. That had to be abandoned. So too was the plan to stage the auction at City Hall.

But after two postponements the auction is going ahead on-line this Friday evening in much the same way as sales conducted by professional auction houses during lock-down.

And the best-known of all the Norfolk artists who’ve contributed was especially generous.

Colin Self, who this year celebrates his 80th birthday, has donated an original collage as well as three signed prints.

A contemporary of David Hockney and Peter Blake, he became internationally known during the Pop Art period in the 1960s, particularly for his haunting Cold War imagery.

His works are held by galleries and museums worldwide including the Tate and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. And Colin’s is enthusiasm has never waned. He still sits at his drawing board every day to create new work.

Colin is also a distinguished print-maker and two of the prints are of collages made in 2019 to celebrate that golden period in the 1960s. One features Hockney and the other shows Colin together with Hockney and two other well-known painters.

Tsubo with a Hakeme decoration by Ruthanne Tudball

Tsubo with a Hakeme decoration by Ruthanne Tudball - Credit: Submitted

In keeping with the auction’s ethos, the auctioneer is Simon Floyd, Art Stream Member and Director of the award-winning community arts theatre the Common Lot.

Bidding for the artworks is easy enough.

Just go to the Norwich City of Sanctuary website where you can find all the details about how to buy the £2 tickets needed to take part in the auction.

For those unable to attend, the Art Stream would also welcome donations to aid their work at

According to Madi Dutton, every penny raised will be used to help improve the lives of the latest newcomers as they make their home in a city synonymous with a centuries-old tradition of welcoming ‘Strangers.’