In the aftermath of Congregate Mike Gould and myself started to reflect upon the success of the art room. In the run up to the convention we had known of about four local artists who would exhibit and through various contacts we ended up with eight who worked in a variety of media. The display had been well received and so in the months following the con we started to discuss the possibility of mounting an art exhibition.
In the autumn of 1988 I wrote to local venues that we considered possibilities. These I found out about through an old school friend who now works for the local arts council. First I wrote to the local museum with whose curator I had worked on some local digs when I was younger. Unfortunately their gallery space was booked until mid 1990, too far in the future for us. Two more positive responses came from a local Arts Centre and from a local National Trust monument. So on a rather wet and windy day last autumn I trudged over to the Arts Centre with some examples of two of the artists work. The director's response was encouraging and she offered us the use of one of the galleries. On a rather sunnier weekend following this Mike and myself went to look at the facilities offered by both the Arts Centre and the National Trust. Now, while the Trust offered nice facilities with good advertising, we felt that the gallery in the bar of the Arts Centre would possibly get more members of the public into our first exhibition.
Following this I drafted out a letter to the artists we already knew about which Mike improved upon and typed out. Time passed and we started to hear from both them and from others that they knew. We started to look at examples of art and to select what we considered to be the best. At this time the Arts Centre had no cabinets available so we couldn't show the sculptures which had aroused so much comment at Congregate. As well as "straight" pictures we managed to secure pieces by a mask maker and a ceramicist. With a few months to go before the start of the exhibition the director was going to leave the Centre and so I had to meet her successor, the same day I also had to look at some work by another artist - so I left work early that day. Unfortunately, before leaving I decided to help lift a pile of heavy cases off the floor and the inevitable happened: so I had to do these meetings with my coat pulled down as far as possible to hide my, er, embarrassment. Anyway, I started collecting the work together, often at lunchtime which allowed my workmates a chance to judge the work.
Come the day of setting up the exhibition I had forgotten the two rules I should have remembered from hanging pictures for my art teacher's exhibitions:
1) Thin frames always split and
2) Pictures weigh a lot when you've got a bag full and you're carrying them to a distant bus stop.
When I eventually got to the Centre they seemed quite surprised to see me - the galllery I was supposed to be using was in the middle of being painted. Fortunately it was only an hour and a half to sit in the sun until the decorator left. Two of the artists then turned up to give me some help in putting up the pictures. The next night was the reception and this did not go smoothly at all, due to mis-understanding on both our and the Arts Centre's side.
I think I would like to organise a second show, hopefully I have learned from the mistakes I've made. One of my problems is that I tend to put off jobs, so next time I'll try to timetable the work better. Only time will tell as to whether our first show has fulfilled the aims of promoting both the club and the artists.
((The idea of offering displays to local libraries and Arts Centres as a means of promoting either a convention or local group is certainly worth thinking about. However, as you have read above, it does involve a fair amount of donkey work and someone must be willing to get it done. In Glasgow we offered a display to the library service which they accepted. They provided the artboards and display case, we supplied the artwork and had to transport it from location to location ourselves. In the end we had three boards covered with prints and book jackets (we couldn't guarantee the security for original work so we didn't use any) and a display case with a number of spaceship models and Lego creations. Each board had at least one flier advertising the next convention of course. The exhibition lasted the best part of a year, travelling to a different branch every 6 weeks in the back of my school minibus. I don't know if we got any new members through it, but our art show did get an extra three boards and a nice display case! We didn't do another one the following year because my school got a new minibus with seats that couldn't be tipped out of the way to make space. Such are the details that constrain all brilliant ideas.....
Another idea I haven't had a chance to try out is to offer a display to various insurance brokers and building societies who have the problem of filling their windows with something a bit more visually interesting than policies or money. One local broker currently has a display of old maps of the area, and I'm sure they'd much rather have a nice Ed Buckley painting or Keith Edmonds air brush picture. The Alliance and Leicester has a collection of stuffed animals made by children at the local school which replaced a road safety display. Why not check out the possibilities in your area for similar sites.))