Sunday, 29 November 2009

The history behind my interest in rural arts

I was born and brought up in Somerset and ever since a young age I remember going to different arts venues with my mother, who is a keen thespian. The first production I remember seeing was at Bridgwater Arts Centre and it was a production of Fantastic Mr. Fox. The other times I remember going to see productions or exhibitions would be outside of Somerset, in Bristol, London or Birmingham.

As I grew up my passion for the arts developed and at age 16 I decided to go to Somerset College to do a National Diploma in Fine Art. During my two years there I visited the local arts venue once and would constantly go out of the county to see contemporary art.

Whilst at Nottingham Trent University, where I studied a BA hons in Fine Art, I started to question why people in Somerset, including myself, feel the need to go outside the county to get a cultural experience. Alongside this I also began to question the provision in Somerset for artists - where are the galleries? where are the studios? There are so many highly accredited arts colleges in the South West, but where were all the graduates going? Why are there not more groups of artists making movements in the South West?

On graduating I decided to move back to Somerset to help change my perceptive of rural arts and to make a difference to contemporary art and provision within the county.

On my return I started working as the Learning and Participation Co-ordinator at The Brewhouse Theatre and Arts Centre based in the county town of Taunton. There I worked alongside many arts professionals both in that organisation and others including the rural touring scheme Take Art. It was after two and a half years that I started to wonder whether my venture had been successful? Yes I had developed the Learning and participation department at The Brewhouse and worked on county wide projects, but had I created more opportunities for artists to make work and to be challenged to make high quality contemporary art? Not only that but had I provided events and opportunities for the general public living in rural areas access to the arts to help combat the need to leave the county to engage with the arts?

These questions led me to start thinking about my future as an arts professional in a rural setting. It made me realise that I want to provide space for artists in the Somerset to use as studios, of which there is a lack and to create spaces that house high quality contemporary art to go into rural environments.

Enter the idea of the shed - On thinking about space that is already available in Somerset I started to think about how space could be created that didn't need to stay in one venue or spot. How could I provide space that could go to the artists, could act as an individual space but also form a collective of spaces? I began to get keen around the idea of these spaces being responsive, going to areas of need, participating in projects and being spaces in their own right. I started to consider sheds that could house artists studios, could be used as exhibition spaces and project spaces. They could be moved to different rural areas and could come together. By taking the sheds to certain areas not only would it provide arts provision for artists but it would look at issues of access for those living in rural places.

During the year in which I will be doing my MA in Arts Management at Dartington I plan on looking into the ideas of artists, spaces and audiences in rural areas to try to sustain the answers to my original questions that I was asking during my time in Nottingham. I hope that this will provide not only myself but the rural artists and organisations in Somerset with information and findings on creative provision in a rural environment.  

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