Surface Gallery places artists at the centre
AIR Communications Officer Jack Hutchinson speaks to volunteers at Surface Gallery, an independent, artist-led gallery and studio complex in Nottingham. Their expansive programme involves exhibitions, talks and residencies and this month they hosted AIR INSIGHTS: Curating.
What is Surface Gallery?
Founded in 1999, Surface Gallery is a volunteer run, contemporary art organisation based in Nottingham. Surface Gallery exists to support the professional development of early and mid-career artists, curators and people wishing to work in the arts or voluntary sector. Surface Gallery's accessibility and open method of working is integral to its ambition to be a training ground and community led space.
Surface Gallery is split into four areas:
Surface Volunteers: Volunteers have the opportunity to gain new skills and to be involved in different aspects of running an arts organisation, from marketing and installing exhibitions, to curating exhibitions and developing and delivering an education programme. The volunteer office is housed in the building's basement.
Surface Gallery: Based on the ground floor, the gallery provides a creative and varied contemporary exhibition programme featuring both local and international, emerging and established artists. Throughout the year there are also a range of in-house curated exhibitions, including the Open Show, International Postcard Show, East Midlands Graduate Show and a Volunteer Exhibition.
Surface Studios: Since November 2009, Surface Studios has been based on the first floor of the organisation. There are eight studios available, for artists to develop their practice, their professional network within the city and their critical understanding of their work through the studio community.
Surface Project Space: Based on the second floor, this is the newest development in the organisation. This space is used for a number of dynamic and diverse projects. In autumn 2010 we hosted site-specific exhibitions and a group residency as part of Sideshow Festival, the official fringe to British Art Show 7. More recently, over summer 2011, our first solo Artist-in-Residence programme, entitled "Site&Situ" took place with emerging artist Frank Kent creating work responding to the environment during a three-month period. We are looking to develop the space and residency programme further in 2012.
Who runs the gallery?
Surface Gallery is run entirely by dedicated volunteers, who are all responsible for the general administration of the organisation and the invigilation of exhibitions. Many of the volunteers are artists themselves, arts students and graduates or people with an interest in developing a career within the arts. We are quite unique, run as a creative Cooperative, each volunteer has an invested interest and responsibility in the direction of the organisation. The organisation is split into teams; including Exhibitions, Projects, Marketing, Finance, Technical and Community Engagement, offering volunteers the opportunity to take on individual roles. The committee currently consisting of 10 experienced volunteers, ensure work is consistent and carried out in line with our ethos and business objectives, and offer general support to newer volunteers.
How are you funded?
We are a self-sufficient arts organisation and do not receive any regular funding in order to remain running. We raise funds through hiring out the gallery space, renting our 8 studio spaces and through donations we receive from visitors of the gallery. On occasion, we do apply for funding in order to further develop some of our projects/exhibitions. We have just received funding from Arts Council England for our annual East Midlands Graduate Exhibition, which this year incorporates a two-month residency and mentoring programme for five artists who have recently graduated from Universities in the region.
How has the current economic downturn impacted on the gallery?
As we have never relied on funding, we have not been greatly affected by the economic downturn or lack of funding opportunities that has resulted in some not-for-profit and charitable organisations closing. Due to the current lack of job opportunities we have had an increase in volunteers, of all ages and from across the East Midlands, wishing to join Surface Gallery to perfect their skills and gain new experiences. Following volunteering at Surface Gallery, many volunteers have secured jobs working for a number of larger organisations, including, Nottingham Contemporary, WEYA, Whitechapel Gallery and Tate. We continue to have many exhibitors and event organisers wishing to work with us on projects. We recently worked in collaboration with Nottingham Castle and Nottingham City Council, to present an exhibition as part of a recent major Street Arts festival programme, and later this year we will be working with London 2012 Olympic Park Artist-in-Residence, Neville Gabie on a new project commissioned by the Nottingham City Council. He is working with Contemporary Art Society; Nottingham based artists and organisations to mark the re-launch of Sneinton Market, which has recently been revamped by Patel Taylor Architects'.
A vast array of different artists have exhibited in the space. What is the selection process?
Artists and Curators are invited to submit proposals to hire the gallery space. The proposals we receive are discussed at length at quarterly exhibitions meetings and voted on as a group. We seek to actively encourage new talent and facilitate experimental, innovative and ambitious work; and the criterion for selecting work follows this. Following selection, we then work closely with the artists to organise and develop the exhibition. We also have in-house curated shows and projects, which give our volunteers the opportunity to select to curate individual exhibitions. These exhibitions are also selected following a group selection process, and are scheduled into our programme, which is planned six - nine months in advance. One of our in-house exhibitions is our annual Open Show. This year we received over 300 submissions, these were whittled down to just 21 artists following several group selection meetings. Following this three local established arts professionals were invited to join us in discussing the exhibition and selecting an overall winner (Ting-Tong Chang), who will be given a solo exhibition in the gallery in 2012.
Can you explain a little more about the Nottingham art scene?
Surface Gallery is based in Sneinton, which is a developing cultural area on the east side of the city and is home to a number of artist-led independent gallery's and studios, including Switch Studios, Nottingham City Artists, Backlit and One Thoresby Street, housing Trade and Annexinema.
The city's art scene is flourishing, with new organisations such as Nottingham Contemporary and New Art Exchange bringing national and international artists to the city and attracting more audiences interested in the arts. Our universities also offer highly regarded undergraduate and postgraduate arts courses and are very supportive of graduates, resulting in a high number of arts graduates staying in the city, taking up residence in local artist studios to continue their practice, or setting up artist-led spaces and collectives.
Over the last several years there has been a great increase in contemporary arts, music and creative festivals that have brought together artists, local businesses and the community; and provided a unique platform for individuals to promote themselves and sell their work. We were recently involved in an independent arts festival NOTLOST, which aimed to develop audiences in the local arts scene by hosting a programme of exhibitions and events across the city's independent spaces. The diverse arts events, exhibitions and performances that occur regularly across the city are collected in publications Artnot, Nottingham Visual Arts and LeftLion, which enable audiences to easily find out what's going on.
In December, we are working with artist, Neville Gabie, on his major new commission for Nottingham's recently regenerated Sneinton Market. For the project entitled "Orchard", he will plant a series of apple trees in the market and will donate 100 apple trees, through his apple adoption scheme to local residents, schools and community organisations of Sneinton and St Ann's in order to create a diverse urban orchard spanning the east side of the city.
Neville Gabie and curator, Jennie Syson, have invited Nottingham based artists and organisations to contribute to creating a varied programme of events to celebrate the planting of the apple trees. For the duration of this programme, open from 9th - 22nd December, Surface Gallery will showcase a group exhibition as part of this diverse programme. This exhibition will feature Oliver Dalby, a Nottingham-based research scientist and photographer, who employs a scientific approach to his photographic practice, investigating unusual and unfamiliar aspects of apples; from cryogenic graft wood banks to family trees made up of 250 apple varieties. Rebecca Beinart will be displaying her extensive work with the local community through a series of curated meals to discuss the impact of regeneration in the market place and Mat Trivett's innovative mobile apple press will be fully functional throughout the programme. Writer, Wayne Burrows will present his slim-volume of new poems about the history of Sneinton, in celebration of planting the 100 trees in a new urban orchard. Neville Gabie is also working with local creative organizations, Trampoline and Dance4 to present a series of outdoor projections and performances for the launch of the square, adjacent to the gallery itself. This exhibition also plays host to a reading room, documenting the publications and live artworks, and a stage for talks and curated dinner events.
More info on Surface Gallery can be found here »
Follow Surface Gallery on Twitter »
Watch video highlights of AIR INSIGHTS: Curating at Surface Gallery.
Jack Hutchinson is an artist, writer and educator. A specialist on the role of digital technology within the visual arts, he is Communications Officer for AIR: Artists Interaction and Representation through a-n The Artists Information Company. His writing has featured in a diverse range of publications, including Dazed and Confused, Garageland, Guardian Culture Professionals, Twin Magazine, a-n Magazine and Schweizer Kunst. Based in London at Bow Arts Trust, he is an active campaigner for artistic, legislative and economic measures that enhance artists' working lives and professional status. His drawings have featured in solo and group exhibitions across the UK.
First published: a-n.co.uk November 2011
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