For almost 19 years the RED Gallery of Contemporary Art has nestled on a back street behind Hull city centre’s Princes Quay Shopping Centre, overlooked by a large multi-storey car park. Its cheerful red-painted frontage has been a regular haunt for the city’s artistic community, who would spill out onto the pavement of the usually deserted street for busy private views and celebrations.

Now RED, as it is affectionately known, has handed back its keys to Hull City Council, having rented its Osborne Street space at a peppercorn rate since 1997. The move makes way for Hull Venue, the new £36 million music and conference centre, that is earmarked to become a cultural and commercial legacy for the city following Hull’s year as City of Culture in 2017.

This does not signal the end of RED, however, and gallery committee member Lou Hazelwood is upbeat about the artist-led organisation’s future, while acknowledging the challenges it faces.

“RED as an organisation is still committed to supporting emerging artists and showing site specific and challenging/experimental contemporary art in the city,” she said. “Without a permanent space this could be seen as a challenge or a freedom… I do fear, however, that… we may become vulnerable to not being able to get another permanent space either before, during or after the City of Culture year.”

The artist-led group has been temporarily re-housed at another city centre site and will continue its immediate programme. Compensation from the council for the rateable value of the Osborne Street building will allow them to pay the artists who they are programming.

Said Hazelwood: “RED has been supported well by Hull City Council for many years on a ‘peppercorn’ rent and in return has maintained the building and programmed an extensive range of exhibitions during its time housed at Osborne Street.”

A spokesperson from Hull City Council said: “A notice was served on RED Gallery as the building, which is owned by the council, is set to be redeveloped as part of Hull Venue… we tried to source alternative accommodation for the gallery, however, none was appropriate.”

Artist-led legacy

Despite the lack of a permanent home, the RED committee have plans to be visible during the Year of Culture and are in the process of devising a programme for what will be its 20th anniversary year.

RED began in 1997 after final-year fine art student Martin Lauer approached Hull City Council to use a space for his Hull School of Art degree show. Following his solo project, with fellow graduates he co-founded the voluntary-led contemporary art laboratory, loosely based on the Transmission Gallery model of a rotating curatorial committee.

Numerous artists have passed through the RED gallery committee, in part down to the DIY influences of Hull School of Art, which in the 1990s and early 2000s counted former members of the London Film Makers Co-op and City Racing among its lecturing staff.

At one time the only artist-led space in the city, several hundred artists have shown at the gallery. Early shows featured artists such as David Kefford, Matt Hale, Paul Rooney, Roland Miller and Andre Stitt. A controversial performance by Ross Birrell saw the gallery almost lose its space within the first year of its existence.

With an international outlook and regular grants from Arts Council England and the city council, RED Gallery was an important rite of passage for the city’s art graduates.

In the mid-2000s, Hull’s art scene was badly knocked by the temporary closure of Hull School of Art, with many local arts organisations failing to recover. Now run by Hull College, the city’s main further education provider, a new lease of life has been brought to the city as the art school has grown. Over the last few years, new artist-led activity has burgeoned, with numerous spaces opening in the Fruitmarket area of Hull Marina.

“I gave RED Gallery its first grant when Martin Lauer and a group of friends came to see us,” says Paul Holloway, arts development manager at Hull City Council. “We’re sad to see any artist-led initiative go.

“The City of Culture year has given a new dynamism to new groups to set up and we want to hear from people. We want to see artists making things in Hull, making their own stories and making things happen.”

1. RED Gallery of Contemporary Art at its Osborne Street space during the opening of Stuft all over again exhibition, 2014. Photo: Lou Hazelwood

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