Guest Blog – Angela Dawn Wright: Art & mentoring in the face of adversity
As a young girl, loving painting and drawing, I was told that it was ‘no way to earn a living.’ So, as I grew up, I still
created art and also loved fashion. The excitement of the fashions of the 80’s were all consuming. I was told “you
can’t do that” by family members. Then I always found a way to prove them wrong.
A few years on, I was mentored by my favourite theatre designer, Peter Docherty, and the designer – Saul
Radomsky. Both taught at Central Saint Martins. I met Saul when I interviewed him for an essay at college; and at
the same School of Art where I met Peter Docherty on a visit about the theatre design course. He opened up to me
and recommended I apply via UCAS to Suffolk College, because it is such a lovely place and he knew some tutors
there. Moving from Yorkshire to Suffolk to study at Suffolk College, that is the best thing I’ve ever done! My family
to this day still want me to move back to Yorkshire, yet here, I have achieved so much more than I would have
been ‘allowed to’ achieve in education and professionally otherwise. There are different ‘moods’ here in Suffolk. In
Yorkshire, there is a totally strange way of self-deprecation, whereby no one is praised unless they are a teacher
or a traditional professional.
During my HND in Spatial Design I almost died of a Pulmonary Embolism. I had been having trouble breathing,
and this led to my family blaming it on my mental health and ongoing grieving for my father, who died a few
months after I moved to Suffolk. My family pressured me to move up North, so I looked into studying in Leeds
and Manchester. I went up to look at universities in Manchester and I had a truly awful pain in my chest and it
turned out I could have died at any time. It was diagnosed at the Manchester Royal Infirmary next to the
university I was looking at. A blood clot was near my heart and I could have died instantly at any moment and be
unable to be resuscitated at all. That made me feel that I needed to grab any opportunity and go for it.
I contacted Richard Rogers after seeing an advert for a group of talks hosted by D&AD. My work at college had all
been so architectural and I felt that on meeting him at the talk he was approachable and innovative and inspiring.
I felt an enormous power of inspiration and hope again. After I wrote to him to ask him to chat to him about my
ideas of studying architecture and if it is something I could do, a Design Architect at his practice replied to me and
Andrew was truly inspiring and encouraging, yet my family were still saying that that they thought I needed them
to ‘look after’ me. Andrew totally grew my confidence saying I was a natural and that he could see me as an
architect. But my family were convinced of my Grandma’s view that it was ‘not a job for a woman’ and that I
should ‘be realistic and get a job’ and move back up to them. From Andrew’s mentoring, I went on to study
architecture in London. Sadly family pressures affected my mental health as well as bullying from other students.
This meant that I was unable to complete the degree.
After studying architecture down in London, I returned to Suffolk after a major breakdown. Due to the pressures
or insecurities I decided to cut contact with them. They did not know where I was living when I moved back to
Ipswich. Like a homing pigeon, I came back to the place I feel happiest in. Because of the state of my mental
health, feeling fearful and protective of my autonomy, I was suicidal and I chose to get rid of my belongings and
dump them in a skip. I hated myself for giving up on Architecture and Design. I thought that was the end of my
creative life and almost gave up until I had a massive breakdown at work in a charity shop. They took me to the
then St. Clements’ and looked out for me.
During my stay in hospital I was taking part in Art Therapy and I was drawing anyway, the nurses made sure that
I had pens and paper. So after rehabilitation at Bridge House (no longer operating) they enabled me to meet with
a Suffolk College Careers Advisor. She recommended that I study art at Suffolk College, which then became the
University of Suffolk. Now, nine years after graduating, being an artist is a ‘thing’ and you can make money from
art. If you describe yourself as an artist you are in a business, whether artists like that term or not – we have a
business or a very expensive hobby.
Since 2015 I have been giving talks and workshops and mock interviews in schools and sixth form colleges, in
some way to pay homage to society at large in gratitude…because of those great people as I mentioned who
mentored me. I now mentor teenagers considering higher education. During the pandemic and the current
funding cuts to arts subjects in schools, it has been very important for me to continue. Children need creative
industries support more than ever to help recover the economy and to give themselves a future that does not
include the negative bites I had as a young girl and as an adult. The dreams they have, I let them know that I
believe they can achieve them. I aim to give them faith in themselves…that they can achieve whatever they wish to