After a long break spent working and being distracted, one of the big projects I have been involved in was the conception and realisation of an exhibition exploring drawing in contemporary art practice. I’ve written a bit of a review:

Looking to reflect on the experience of working on this project from its conception to completion, now is an appropriate time after just having posted the last piece of work back to our 40 strong group of artists.

After confirming back in March, Draw-In opened last month at St.Margaret’s House. The show lasted for just over 2 weeks and had an integrated programme which took place alongside the show – in an attempt to allow the wider audience the chance to learn through workshops and talks and really be accessible to all.

Undertaking organising an exhibition of this scale is not to be underestimated and I am really grateful for the support from St.Margaret’s. They are a non-profit organisation keen to meet the needs of the local community. One of these is the provision of low-cost quality space for artistic activities. Working together and using the space was ideal – I have maintained a studio space in the building since February and could see the potential for our collective to work together. To me, this relationship really highlights the need to make good contacts and cultivate a good supportive network around your own or group’s artistic activity. Collaboration is one of the key messages we aim to promote in 2|1|4|1 and by working in this way, it not only strengthens this message but paves the way for future projects. It should be not just a case of turning up and putting on an exhibition and that is that – more of a process of consultation and partnership. Being a small collective without its own space can be restrictive, but in working in this way with people and places like St.Margaret’s, can only be positive and its effects seen for some time.

Deciding upon participating artists: we suggested all of the collective would take part and furthermore nominate a peer to be invited to show. We then had an open call to make the opportunity to be involved as wide and accessible as possible. Having been the first time I had dealt with an open call, it did surprise me a little just what was waiting in our inbox. First and foremost, it was wonderful to see such a variety of submissions and from such a wide range of fields and locations – it just shows you the power of the internet in advertising. Having submitted for numerous exhibitions and opportunities I have plenty of experience in writing statements and proposals and so on and had always expected that people would, like me, stick quite strictly to the guidelines of the information required. How naive! While most people did indeed follow what we had asked for, it did take quite a while to go through each application. Being on the receiving end of a number of rejections, we really felt we had to do each application justice by spending time reading and looking. However, it’s tricky when there is just too much information to look at – but perhaps the learning point from that is to be more strict with guidelines or have an online form for applications which limits quantity of information. It seems like that should be a fairer way of assessing application too as everyone really does have the same chance. Never the less we made our selection and finally we had just over 40 artists confirmed.

The administration for a project like this takes up a lot of time. Although delegating lots of jobs was possible, especially for things which are not my strengths, there was still a lot of it to do. What is fantastic about being in a collective with so many talented individuals is that if you cannot do something or don’t know how, there is bound to be someone who can. Poster design, writing, layout, curation, documentation, cleaning, marketing  are just a few things which everyone got involved in. It is also about giving people the chance to try something – I knew I wouldn’t have time to take part in the curatation of the show, and others were really keen to give it a go. When things work organically like that it just shows you how good working relationships are developed and there is space for everyone to play their part and make the thing work as a whole.

After the usual last minute worries about preparations for the opening night, it all came together and was a really successful night. Getting a drinks sponsor was a real boost for the evening. These kind of things can sometimes seem a bit daunting, applying for help to large companies. However, if you can find the person to speak to, most will be quite sympathetic to your ideas and get excited about your proposal – possibly people don’t like asking for something for free but perhaps it is about changing the mindset and thinking of it as a partnership. By promoting in these kinds of events, larger companies can show what they are interested in and take all the marketing which goes with it.

In the planning and conception of this project I was always really keen to have some sort of programme of events which ran alongside – in order to give people the chance to engage with the work further, not just in an exhibition setting. Some of the work could be considered as potentially challenging and the idea of opening up a forum for discussion really appealed to me as a way to get people talking about the work and asking questions – when so many can be put off this in more traditional exhibition spaces. The events were really low-key but for all of those who ran them, it was such a great opportunity to get involved. Although I have worked in education for years, I hadn’t ever ran a drawing workshop – changing from the familiar ground of a classroom was challenging but exciting to try to see what kind of cross-over there might be and how the different environment would work out.

There are a number of things I would do differently the next time we work on a show on this scale, but you can’t get those insights without having tried. Most things worked out and on the whole the show was very successful and I’m so pleased about  2|1|4|1’s contribution. I’d say my biggest tip for next time would be not to work full time whilst attempting to plan and work on a project like this…but it can be done.