Case Study
  • Posted on January 16th, 2024

DearTomorrow: DearWolverhampton The Participatory Museum & Our Changing Climate

Model globe hanging over and empty classroom with the word 'Sorry' on it

Wolverhampton Art Gallery is an art museum, gallery and archives located in the city of Wolverhampton.

“I felt my attitude changing. What if I actually started to love this planet?”

Jan Henley, Wolverhampton

About Wolverhampton Art Gallery

Wolverhampton Art Gallery is nestled in the heart of the Black Country – a region that has been grappling with the complex legacy of the Industrial Revolution since its de-industrialisation in the 1970’s.

With a collection that spans over 300 years, the Gallery holds a unique range of works by artists who have sought to capture the changing landscape and its workers from industrial to post-industrial times. The collection provides a window into the past, present, and future and offers valuable opportunities to engage local audiences in conversations around Wolverhampton’s often uncomfortable history. Over recent years, the Gallery has used its collections to spark important conversations and debates with the goal of transforming the museum into a local hub, where diverse community members can see themselves represented in the gallery, connect, and engage with timely topics.

About DearTomorrow

In autumn 2021, Wolverhampton Art Gallery reached out to DearTomorrow–a global climate art, storytelling and public engagement organisation–to begin exploring a collaboration, and the two organisations began planning a dynamic partnership that would span more than 12 months. DearTomorrow has worked for nearly a decade to help people reflect on their climate legacy through the act of crafting personal letters to the future and inspiring entire communities to collectively envision a thriving future. DearTomorrow’s participatory exhibits, intergenerational programmes, and resources bring people together, foster resilience in the face of climate-related challenges, and activate sustained climate action.

Partnerships with local community groups and artists–including Gatis Community Space, Boundary Way, local artist Kom Achall, Wolverhampton Poet Laureate Kuli Kohli, Wolverhampton School of Art, photographer David Grandorge, and set designer Rachel Thomas–were essential to the depth, breadth, and success of the project.

“Working in partnership with DearTomorrow provided the opportunity for Boundary Way Project and our community to work on both a local and international scale to highlight the climate crisis through creative programming…This gave us increased opportunity to encourage our audience to raise their voices for a liveable future. Through the partnership we were able to commission local writers and artists to share their perspective on the climate crisis, and it allowed our monthly writer’s group to share their voice on the issue through poetry. The poetry from this partnership has since been performed at Wolverhampton Art Gallery as part of the City’s Literature Festival and during the ‘Get A Word in Edgeways’ Festival at Newhampton Arts Centre, with fantastic response.”

Boundary Way Project, Wolverhampton

About DearTomorrow: Dear Wolverhampton

Between April 2022 – February 2023, Wolverhampton Art Gallery and DearTomorrow reached nearly 20,000 individuals through interdisciplinary exhibits, intergenerational programmes, and community partnerships.

  • The partnership launched with an installation at Wolverhampton Art Gallery which featured DearTomorrow’s collection of climate stories from 50+ countries. Gallery visitors were invited to write and add their reflections to a growing cascade of letters. The DearTomorrow installation offered a platform for family engagement programming, school field trips, artmaking workshops for seniors, and other public programmes. In three weeks, nearly 4,000 people visited, and more than 210 added a message to the installation.
  • Co-developed partnership programmes engaged diverse community members in climate conversations, action, and artmaking. Working closely with DearTomorrow and Wolverhampton Art Gallery, community partners, artists, and educators facilitated numerous programmes – including future imagining workshops with young people, poetry writing sessions with The Punjabi Women’s Writing Group and community members, story walks, litter picks, and much more.
  • Professional artists and art students were invited to create pieces responding to DearTomorrow’s framework and global climate story collection, as well as the Gallery’s historic collection. Photographer David Grandorge documented the transformation of the sites that Black Country painter Edwin Butler Bayliss depicted in the late 19th-/early 20th centuries. University of Wolverhampton’s art students created powerful illustrations to accompany letters and poems from DearTomorrow’s collection.
  • The DearTomorrow: Dear Wolverhampton exhibition brought community voices into the premier gallery through audio, video, letters, poems, and works of art. More than 15,000 visitors experienced the exhibit, and 2000+ contributed letters, poems, reflections, and illustrations to the participatory exhibition. Visitors contemplated the past, present, and future of Wolverhampton through the immersive installation, the materials developed by community partners Boundary Way and Gatis Community Space, and UK-based artists, Grandorge and Achall. The exhibition served as a platform for deep reflection, programming, and dialogue about a shared vision of a thriving, livable future in Wolverhampton and beyond.

Learnings and positive outcomes

The impact of this collaboration continues to inform the Wolverhampton Art Gallery’s approach to participatory exhibition design and community engagement. The Gallery has since created a semi-permanent display Black Country Landscapes featuring depictions of Wolverhampton’s industrial outskirts from the Gallery’s collection. The display invites visitors to reflect on the artworks, and share their thoughts about the region’s industrial heritage in regard to environmental issues and climate change. Children’s activities are a key part of this exhibition, offering opportunities for younger visitors to engage in conversations around these topics. Wolverhampton Arts and Culture are also planning interactive projects and exhibitions at Bilston Gallery, which lies at the heart of what was once the ‘workshop of the world’, and which houses a semi-permanent display Fossil Fuelled, tracing the history of Bilston’s industrial heritage.

Through this partnership, DearTomorrow was invited to join a national coalition of cultural organisations working to integrate sustainability- and climate-related themes into their exhibits and programmes. The submissions that were generated through the DearTomorrow: Dear Wolverhampton partnership live on. Letters, poems, audio, video, and illustrations from Wolverhampton were integrated into DearTomorrow’s exhibit at TED Countdown in Detroit, USA in July 2023. These contributions will continue to travel and join DearTomorrow’s long-term, global archive, documenting this historic era of climate transformation.

“Actually, Tomorrow, I hope you’re old and wizened
Wise beyond our comprehension
That would mean that we will see you…

And we can carry on
Dreaming of you

– DearTomorrow poem excerpt, by Alison Reed

This case study was written by Wolverhampton Art Gallery and DearTomorrow.