We are delighted that Cass Art, the UK’s leading art supplies retailer sponsored the New Art West Midlands exhibitions this year. As exhibition sponsor, they provided prizes for two awards this year. The Cass Art prizes were awarded to Lorna Brown (Hereford College of Arts) and Damian Massey (Staffordshire University), who were both awarded with £250 of art supplies. Mark Cass, Founder and CEO of Cass Art, answered our questions.

Cass Art’s Birmingham store is relatively new to the city. What prompted the opening?

Birmingham is a real beacon of innovation with a rich cultural heritage, major cultural institutions and a vibrant artist community. It’s a place we’ve wanted to be for a long time so we were thrilled to open our doors on Corporation Street. We’ve already enjoyed a year in the city, time flies when you’re being creative.

The motto outside the store is ‘Let’s fill this town with artists.’ What do you think that artists and the arts can bring to a town or city?

We believe art is beneficial for everyone, and we want everyone to realise they can do it. At Cass Art we speak to hundreds of artists every day, and we’ve seen that the arts have the power to change our society and enrich people’s lives in many ways. From professional artists making ground-breaking works that inspire their community, to the individual who prefers to make work for self-reflection or mindfulness, art gives people the freedom to explore their creativity and brings people together. All of our staff are artists, and they are able to help anyone from beginner to professional with friendly, thoughtful and intelligent advice.

Lorna Brown (Hereford College of Arts) with Sonia Bhamra of Cass Art. Lorna was awarded £250 of art supplies by Cass Art, the principal sponsor of New Art West Midlands 2017. Photo credit: Jas Sansi.

You have sponsored or contributed to a number of different art prizes nationally including New Art West Midlands 2017. What do you feel is the value in this approach?

Being an artist isn’t always easy! They need support, encouragement and of course materials to develop their practice and it’s important for organisations like ourselves to help them to do it. Prizes and awards can make a real difference to someone’s career and can be the kick-start they need to succeed.

The Cass family have supported artists for over a century, in 1905 my great uncle Paul Cassirer hosted the first show of Vincent Van Gogh’s work, at that time there was little interest in the artist. Supporting artists at the start of their career is an essential part of what we do, that still underpins our manifesto today. You can read all about the Cass family history on the Cass Art blog here.

Damian Massey (Staffordshire University) with Sonia Bhamra of Cass Art. Damian was awarded £250 of art supplies by Cass Art, the principal sponsor of New Art West Midlands 2017. Photo credit: Jas Sansi.

In what ways are supporting the practices of art students important to Cass Art?

Students are the lifeblood of Cass Art. Art students need to have the best materials to allow them to experiment. It’s a time for them to explore the kind of work they want to make and the kind of artist they want to become, so we want to help students to do that. Then of course when they graduate, it can be difficult for some artists to continue their practice, so we want to help ensure they have the support they need to realise their ambition.

We offer support in a number of ways, from providing various prizes and awards, to offering free Art Spaces to use for exhibitions and events across the UK. We also offer a 10% discount to students with a Cobalt Blue Student Card, and those who have just graduated can sign up for our Rewards Card for a £10 reward every time they spend £100, plus discounts for exhibitions, museums, art magazines and more.

Visit Cass Art Birmingham at 19 Corporation Street, Birmingham. B2 4LP www.cassart.co.uk

New Art West Midlands 2017 continues at Worcester City Museum & Art Gallery until Saturday 3 June 2017.