“We have always moved around,” says artist Jonathan Powell, a director and curator at Elysium gallery in Swansea. “This is the fifth venue for the gallery in 12 years; seven overall with our studios projects.”
Powell and the rest of the gallery team are settling in to what is perhaps the most ambitious incarnation of this artist-led space since it began life in 2007. Starting out in a small two-storey building on the city’s then run-down High Street, since then it has evolved into an important presence on the south Wales visual arts scene, as both a gallery and a studio provider to more than 100 artists.
The new gallery at 210 High Street is housed in what was previously Champers nightclub. It features three exhibition spaces, workshop and activity areas, bar and café facilities, and will also host music and performance events. The upper floors provide scope for further artist studios.
How Elysium came by such a spacious venue in the centre of the city is a familiar story, as Powell explains. “As is usually the case for many artist-led organisations such as ourselves, we tend to inhabit buildings that landlords find hard to rent out, or in areas that have become so impoverished and neglected that local councils or building development projects always call on artists to plug a gap for a cheap alternative.”
The new venue is definitely a step up the property ladder, however. “Our previous gallery, also in a former nightclub, was in the basement and so proved a barrier for people having difficulties with stairs, or even just put off venturing into an underground lair!” Powell explains.
“We wanted to have a space that was ground level, accessible and enable us to expand on our exhibitions and events programme. The new building certainly does that.”
While the move will provide much more space to programme exhibitions and other events, Powell stresses that the gallery’s approach will not be changing. “The ethos of has always been the same: to showcase Wales’s artists to the wider world and to bring national and international artists over here. This will continue on a spectacular scale with various exhibitions, residencies and events happening throughout the year.”
A smaller third gallery features a drawing installation by Hazel Cardew, while the first show in the Art in the Bar series is a selection of new paintings by Fran Williams. Future performance events include comedy and live music, and the venue also forms part of a-n’s Assembly Swansea programme on Thursday 23 May.
Powell is clearly relishing the new opportunities the increased space and visibility will bring the gallery. “It just enables us to do so much more in terms of reaching out to new audiences and offering the facilities for people to stay in the building and get more involved in the arts,” he says.
“Throughout our 12-year history we have always adapted and rolled with the punches. An art gallery/organisation should never sit still, should always embrace change. It’s the only way we can survive.”
Elysium gallery, 210 High Street, Swansea SA1 1PE.
1-3. Elysium gallery, Swansea, April 2019. Photo: Elysium gallery
4. Ruth Murray, Duff, Oil on canvas, 150 x 210cm, © Ruth Murray
5. James Moore, Elbe Sandstone Mountains, After Friedrich
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