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Grantham Journal Big Interview: Diana stars as mentor on popular BBC show

Grantham College course leader Diana Ali who can be seen on The Big Painting Challenge on the BBC.
Grantham College course leader Diana Ali who can be seen on The Big Painting Challenge on the BBC.

Diana Ali has found herself in the spotlight after being asked to become a mentor on the popular BBC TV show The Big Painting Challenge. Diana works as a course leader at Grantham College as well as on other projects. Here she tells the Journal how she got the job on the show and what she tries to instil in her students and the contestants on the show.

How long have you been at Grantham College and what is your role there? Does Grantham have a number of talented artists?

The Big Painting Challenge with Mariella Frostrup and the Reverend Richard Coles. (C) BBC - Photographer: Ed Miller
The Big Painting Challenge with Mariella Frostrup and the Reverend Richard Coles. (C) BBC - Photographer: Ed Miller

I have been at Grantham College for five years and I am the course leader for the BTEC Foundation Diploma in Art and Design. It is such a valuable course where students from Btecs and A-levels learn how to see themselves as emerging artists ready to go into the arts industry and higher education. Grantham College has many talented budding artists who have received a fully backed education by lecturers (from level 1 to 5) who have and still are in the arts industry. Our students have gone on to have careers from fine artists, shoe design, theatre design and production, blacksmithing, illustrating, graphic design and so much more. It’s a privilege to work at Grantham College and see students progress from nothing to everything. Students and teachers are very loyal to each other.

How did you get involved in The Big Painting Challenge and what do you enjoy most about it? Will you be doing more of them in the future and perhaps more TV?

I was asked by a BBC producer who had been following my work to be involved. I obviously said yes and I thought what a privilege when one has been working so hard to make an art career, especially when the current government has little belief in arts education and making money for the arts. I loved nurturing people on the programme and teaching them how to bring their personalities out through what they painted. It was about listening to them and tutoring where it’s hard to say it out aloud. I hope there will be many more opportunities for TV but at the moment it’s about the students realising that if you work hard and have a passion in the arts, they can get somewhere.

Art has obviously been a big part of your life, but when did you realise it would become your career?

Coming from Salford in Manchester there wasn’t much ambition for kids to believe in education as it was a very ambitious thing to do and it was difficult. For me, living in Bangladesh and coming to this country, something visual was a way to communicate. It was my language. I teach students from all sorts of background in Grantham, some with English as a second language. I also teach, mentor and do workshops with people from different backgrounds, abilities and ages. I realised it was career when I wanted to have a voice and say something about the world. It was free speech and a chance understand the world. I want to give our students that chance.

When you teach students or when you are a mentor on The Big Painting Challenge what is the underlying message you try to get over to people?

Listen and if you can’t talk, make a mark to express your passion, anger, being cathartic and having a voice. It’s all about personal interpretation and how we see the world. It’s taking that one thing someone wants to say and guiding them in how to visually communicate that. Also, don’t be scared of making art, have fun, play and un-follow a system. People say they don’t have time for art, but no one has to look just enjoy it.

Do you have any ambitions you want to fulfil in your career?

I’m doing it now after hard work over the years and believing in this is what I want to do. It is a privilege to be asked to be a mentor and all I want to do know is to share my knowledge and let the younger generation see that the arts is important in the world.

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