Writing and Press

Interview with Becky Hunter about Core Gallery

Article text
What prompted you to set up an artist-run gallery in South East London?
Cor Blimey Arts Studios was an active collective, having group exhibitions on and off site, with Gillian Best- Powell our studio manager playing a key role in networking orgnisations such as DNA ( Deptford Network of Artists).
Elizabeth Murton and I moved into CorBlimey Arts studios in Deptford, South East London in September 2009 and thought we could make even more of the space we had. We also wanted to have dialogue with external artists, curators and studios and contribute to the contemporary art scene in Deptford, in turn this would also have a positive impact upon the studio, getting new audiences and becoming a key place to visit in Deptford.
At our open studios events in December, just 3 months after Elizabeth and I had moved in, with the support and enthusiasm of our Cor Blimeyites, Core Gallery became a concrete plan. Our first hurdle however was convincing our trustees to let us create the name Core Gallery to work interdependently with Cor Blimey. Cor Blimey is a cockney phrase but we wanted something more universal for a our gallery.
I have an extensive network in the art world and knew of several curators, art professionals and artists that would be interested in showing with us and so began approaching them. Nick Kaplony, a curator and practitioner came on board with an exhibition proposal for our launch show; ‘Exquisite Corpse’ which invited twenty two artists and curators in a curatorially collaborative’consequence’ exhibition. We had about 600 visitors to our space in 2 weeks which was an incredible amount and we gained quite a lot of respect from our peers in the area for our ambitious start.
Core Gallery, London
Is this a self-originated project or is the workload shared between a group of artists? If there’s a group involved, how do you organise roles, do you have an administrative structure?

Core Gallery is an artist led space with the involvement of about 15 artists at any one time. It is a group effort to run the gallery but there are 7 or 8 key members that make up the main committee. All of the roles came naturally to us- we did what we were already good at or worked in an area we wanted to challenge ourselves in; we all muck in. Luckily we have a wealth of skills between us to utilize and we all wanted to be part of something larger, more collaboratively engaging rather than just concentrating solely on our own individual practices.
Elizabeth and I head up the team as the Gallery Managers; The workload is considerable! I am a project co-ordinator, curator, producer, administrator, manager, all thrown into one but a main role is in planning exhibitions. I liase with the team, external curators and artists, delegating tasks, writing content for press releases, setting up shows, uploading content to websites and everything and anything in between being assisted by anyone who can help. Elizabeth Murton manages these tasks with me and is very good at wording things; she created our mission statement and we work on funding applications together. Also she is very enthusiastic which is key! We are both interested in bringing more educational opportunities to the space.
We have a fantastic marketing/press officer in Chantelle Purcell who has been making sure Core Gallery has been getting plenty of publicity and has a fantastic awareness of the contemporary art scene in London.
Gillian is our, trustee, advisor and guardian Our rock of support.
Enver Gursev sorts out fantastic music and performances for our private views ( last week we had a belly dancing performance! ), advises me ( and feeds me! ) and brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm in.
Kasia Fijalkowska works tirelessly on graphics for our printed material.
Arnold Borgerth, Leyla Folwell and Kelda Hole are always helping to put up paintings, advise, paint walls, ask favours of friends who come and pitch in, and even mop the floor on occasion!
We now have gallery interns to assist us too, a blessing!
We could not do this individually and as long as we continue to pitch together then we can continue to make it work.
How long did it take you to find a suitable building?
We already had a great warehouse space in CorBlimey Arts Studios. We have natural light and high ceilings, a lighting tracking system, a movable partition wall which we can use. But the space was being under utilized. The challenge was to turn studios into a professional and respected exhibition space
Deptford is a vibrant and thriving community of artists, studios and galleries and we wanted to place ourselves firmly on the map so we knew we had to raise our game and make ourselves more visible.
“Professionalism, publicity and perseverance” is my motto and it is a fruitful and rewarding one.
What sorts of legal and financial stuff did you need to learn about in order to set up and co-ordinate the space? Did you find this part of the work challenging, interesting, terrifying? Did you have any outside help with this side of things?
Luckily, Gillian our trustee knew all of these things already. We had to amend our insurance policy and write a general guide for exhibitors. I have been involved to a great extent and I’m grateful for that. It would have been a steep learning curve and if you get something wrong – which seems easy to do – your screw it up for everyone. It would have been terrifying to have had to be in charge of all of that!

What about the manual labour involved in things like putting up false walls, plumbing, painting floors, etc? Was this all done in-house?
Yes, all done in house: Enver Gursev and Neil Kelly, two of our artists, put in some hard graft to make the space good. With exhibitions we work with the invited curators and artists to put up and take down shows. We have a rule that the invited exhibitors have to make the space good after the show.
We have been very ambitious with our exhibition programme for such a new space and there has been quite a lot of time pressures getting so many shows ready.
We are going to be thinking about our exhibition programming for next year soon and I think we will have learnt a lot about what works and what does not and how to make things more manageable for ourselves and sustainable for the gallery.

Can you briefly describe the process of organising, installing and promoting your first exhibition in the space? The highs and the lows…
Nick Kaplony, chief curator of our first exhibition Exquisite Corpse, was extremely well organized and liased with the 21 other curators and artists to get all the necessary artwork and texts for them. We made a couple of mistakes along the way – printing 200 postcards with the wrong date for one! Despite several people proof reading the final version! Whoops!
The main low was that we did not have a website up and running properly which was very frustrating. We had of course planned to have a website but it was under construction- it was meant to be ready and was on all of our press info. So we could have had even more of an audience if they had been able to get hold of us! It is now inches away from being finished.
The ‘high’ was the complete success of the show, meeting all the curators and artists involved in the show and the new audience that came into our space We also sold a piece on the opening night by Lucy Newman to a major collection: University of the Arts.
When you get stressed, exhausted or tired of filling in funding applications, what do you do to relax and regain your motivation?
Hmmm…….hard question for a workaholic. I like to be able to do some of my work for a change; painting and embroidering as opposed to managing and coordinating. To lose myself in my own work for some blissful hours, the utter absorption in something I am creating. The working through of ideas, the triumph of resolution over problems that occur in the work, the excitement of an idea coming to fruition. The experimentation that leads to a new perspective is all motivating.
I also love to go to exhibitions and be absorbed, challenged and thrilled by others work. I have seen some very great shows lately in Deptford at Arch Gallery, Utrophia, BEARSPACE and Creekside Artists so I do not need to even go so far to get my fill!
Occassionally I meet some of my poor neglected friends. When I am too tired for any of that its either going to the gym or contradictorily watching a film/ reading a book with a large glass of red wine!
What are the benefits for an emerging artist in setting up a space like yours?
The gallery is increasing our networks, creating dialogue and engagement, all of which creates opportunities for future collaborations and opportunities.
The gallery is profile building for us as individuals too in managing the space. I am being interviewed by AIR and yourself as a result which is all fantastic exposure not just for the gallery but my own practice as well, as inevitably as an artist this is examined.
Since we have opened Core Gallery, our studio neighbours Creekside Artists and ArtHub in Creekside are opening up their own artist led gallery spaces which is heartening as the more interesting shows we have in the area, the more audiences we will attract to Creekside itself, although as I mentioned there is already a lot of interesting things going on here which is why we wanted to start something up ourselves.
Also as an artist led space we are in charge of the exhibitions we would like to have in the space, so that is very liberating; we can choose the work which excites us which has led to some very dynamic shows being planned for the space.
Having exposure to other artists work within our space has also been inspiring to our studio artists.
How important is the internet (blogging, twitter, email, online networking, research tool, etc) in your work as an artist and as someone who runs a gallery?
Really important especially as we did not have a working website – we used Facebook a lot, to attract fans and keep the press information rolling out and momentum going. Also, through my blog I was able to keep a pretty steady flow of information pouring out there to keep people informed about the exhibitions we have.
Chantelle worked tirelessly and got us featured listings and press on art websites and the DeptfordArtMap is a great tool for visiting the area.
For my own work the internet is a blessing for the research and information I can access. I can research buildings and locations across the world, find out their backgrounds and history, research artists and galleries without having to leave the studio. It saves me a lot of air miles

Rosalind Davis, 'Well Hall Road'

Would you like to divulge any future plans for your own work or for the gallery?
We are running a Core gallery open submission competition for Deptford X, an international arts festival. It has been a learning curve, from creating the competition in the first place, the parameters we need to put in place, then spending a considerable amount of time working out FAQs for applicants!
We have a panel of prestigious judges to select the works so I am very excited about working with them. Graham Crowley is one of the most distinguished living painters in the UK today; Matt Roberts is a Curator and Director of Matt Roberts Arts; Kate Jones, art collector, patron and Marketing Director of John Jones
You can find more info about the competition at the Core Gallery Blog and at Deptford X.
The submissions are already pouring in and the standard is high which is great for our first competition. Again, it helps that we have such an exciting exhibition programme, as people can see who we are working with and that we are maintaining a high standard in our exhibitions.
We are aiming to get funding to run more educational workshops in the space and to set up a sustainable peer critique network/professional development for local artists. We have got a little bit of funding from Lewisham council’s Take Part Fund and Be More fund to set up a drawing experiment day with the local community. Another string to it is that we are doing a cross studios collaboration to deliver the day with Creekside Artists, Utrophia and The Old Police Station – all studios in Deptford so we are sharing resources and hope it will open up further dialogues and collaborations between us all.
As for my personal work: the goals in the future are constant, to keep learning, and developing my practice and to work with exciting curators, galleries and artists. I would like to try and get funding in order to travel across the UK (and further afield) and research different communities. Also to sustain my practice and continue to lecture.

What advice, that’s not already been mentioned, would you give to a young artist or curator looking to establish a similar space in their area?
Sort out your mission statement first and foremost: who are you and what do you want to do? Are you a commercial or not for profit gallery? What kind of art will you show? Is there a particular area you will focus on? This will help you define your gallery and be a good guidance for you and the group.
Who do you want to involve? Do they have any experience? What skills can they bring to the space? What would they like to be in charge of?
How can you become part of the artist community that is already established in this new space? Can you collaborate, even as peer critique networks?
How are you going to make your gallery sustainable? Could you have a membership scheme?
Are you going to run educational courses?
Do you have a website?
You will need someone to design your promotional material.
Share your workload.
If you can, get an intern in to assist you from day one, just one day a week is a major help and make sure you interview them first!
Emily Chan is our first intern and we are very grateful to her. Although unfortunately we cannot afford to pay staff (or ourselves) I think our passion for the project is infectious and the fact that we are grass roots means that interns are benefitting from a very hands on experience and are involved in the day to day running of the space which is a lot of responsibility and I hope pretty insightful.
Be nice, be professional, be organized, reward people and reward yourself.

Read more: