Graduating to the Heights of Art

By Marianne Curphey

An office without art feels decidedly under-dressed, so it is usual to see work by famous artists hung in prominent positions. But Aon has gone one better.

Some of the UK’s most promising young artists have been given the chance to showcase their work and sell it at a live auction thanks to the Aon Community Art Awards.

The programme – now in its second year – supports and mentors fine art graduates from Glasgow School of Art, Leeds College of Art and Manchester School of Art as they begin their professional careers.

With the help of workshops, seminars and coaching, the graduates can benefit from the expertise of Aon staff, and from experts in the art and business worlds.

The pieces are selected by Aon experts including specialists in fine art insurance from the Private Client team. A specialist curator then shortlists the works and advises on how and where they should be displayed in Aon’s London headquarters in Leadenhall Street. All are available for viewing within Aon’s Client suite.

Deckchair, by Molly Brocklehurst - Leeds College of Art Deckchair, by Molly Brocklehurst - Leeds College of Art

Almost 100 pieces of art from 33 students were chosen for 2016. The young artists are then invited to choose their favourite and see it auctioned live on May 10 this year.

Ian McManus, Managing Director of Aon Private Clients, said the inspiration for the programme came when Aon moved into its new offices in the building known as the Cheesegrater.

“In our Client suite we had huge walls with no art displayed on them. We had the idea to choose art from new graduates and support them in their transition from students to professional artists,” he explains.

“We chose three art colleges that were not supported by any other companies and which were close to our regional offices in the north.”

The DePARTment, by Rebecca Lindsmyr - Glasgow School of Art The DePARTment, by Rebecca Linsmyr - Glasgow School of Art

This year has seen the launch of the mentoring programme where Aon employees with specific business skills help students with business, legal or insurance matters.

“We have such a wide range of talent among our staff and we wanted to use that to help artists who were just starting out,” he says.

“For example, they can ask for legal documents to be explained or tap into our knowledge of how to improve their selling skills or improve their website to showcase their work more effectively to potential buyers.”

The students also enjoy access to a year’s worth of workshops with industry bodies. Topics include how to get their art displayed in other buildings, how to price their work, and legal and insurance matters. They are also offered the opportunity to have an hour and a half-hour career coaching session with an art expert on a one-to-one basis.

One of the highlights of the programme, which will run for three years, is the live auction. This year, the chosen art will be auctioned by Harvey Cammell, group director of Bonhams Art Collections, Estates and Valuations department.

Ahead of the live auction, art collectors and enthusiasts will be able to bid for work via an online auction which opens in mid March. All proceeds go directly to the students who have set guide prices for their works.

Their art encompasses a variety of styles and media and this year, for the first time, the works include sculpture, as well as charcoal drawing.

Chimney, by David Howe - Manchester School of Art Chimney, by David Howe - Manchester School of Art

Ian says: “There is such a wealth of talent at all the colleges. Some pieces we loved but they couldn’t be accommodated in the space available.”

The works on display include Satin Sheets, a photograph mounted in Perspex by Birk Thomassen of Glasgow School of Art; Millbank Tower, an oil on canvas by Charles Eden of Leeds College of Art; and Dress Sculpture, which is made of copper wire and created by Jairaj Lall, also of Leeds College of Art.

The Awards Ceremony

Just before the live auction on May 10 there will be an awards ceremony. Students from the 2016 cohort are eligible for two awards: most promising student and the Aon employees’ favourite piece.

The first award will be chosen by a panel of judges consisting of industry experts and the winner will receive a cash prize of £5,000. The second award will be chosen by Aon staff and the winner will be awarded £2,000.

The 2015 winner of the Aon Community Art Award for Most Promising Student was Steven Ellis, of Leeds College of Art, for his striking black and white portraits.

Sophie Keogh, of Manchester School of Art, won the Aon Community Art Award employees’ favourite prize for her photograph The Tiger Who Came to Tea. It was the most popular work with Aon staff.

If you wish to be notified when the online auction opens, or if you would like to be invited to the live auction, please email

To view the pieces and learn more about the artists and their visions while creating the art, please click here.

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This article has been compiled using information available to us up to 13.03.17