One sunny afternoon in July, Jane and Moira had a final meeting to close The Eye account, and over a coffee, take a look back at the whole Eye Exhibition Project experience….
How did it all begin?
Jane: At Tim Fowler’s solo show at LCB Depot, in May 2016. We were reminiscing about the City Gallery…
Moira: And what a shame it was that there was no permanent art space in the centre of town….
J: Yes; and something accessible. I’d had recent experience illustrating how hard it can be for (disabled) artists to access affordable venues.
M: Certainly. So we looked around town for a space, a disused shop maybe, that we could get cheaply.
J: Our original idea was to run over a year; 50 artists having a week each plus a 2-week group show to launch the project. Artists would do their own set-up and invigilation….
M: We were going to call it the 50:50 Gallery. We can laugh about that now! We were advised that a weekly changeover would kill us…
J: So we thought again – we could have about the same number of artists, but showing in groups, changing over every month or so.
M: Then we were put in touch with the Adult Education management team, who wanted to use their basement as an art space but didn’t have anyone to organise it…
J: And so it began…..
How did you come up with the themes for the shows?
J: We were keen to create something that would have repeat visitors, not just a pop-up one off show.
M: Yes, we imagined a series of linked but varied shows so people would want to come back.
J: And Moira came up with the idea of opposites….
M: Yes, using the idea of ‘Intersections’ as an overall theme. So we sat and thought up as many pairs as we could, then cut it down to the 8 we thought most thought-provoking. Then asked the artists to vote for four, which were the ones we used.
J: Then we designed the brochure to show the whole series, so people could keep it and know what was coming next. Also the information boards in the gallery with longer statements from each artist. It helped to create a buzz and some excitement about future shows.
M: Jane put a lot of work into that brochure, it was a mammoth task!
What are the pros and cons of doing a collaborative project like The Eye?
M: We made the brief very broad, so we had a wonderful range of artists. Very different styles of painting, and great range of 3D work in different media. I loved that we had a couture milliner, an archaeological illustrator and and a chef painting with food!
J: I loved meeting so many wonderfully diverse artists, with so many different skill sets. Having people willing to undertake specific tasks and those who took on the roles of group coordinators helped a huge amount with the workload – we would have been exhausted without them.
M: It wasn’t always easy to get 48 people with their own ideas to co-operate! And it was a challenge to create some coherence given the variety of the work: the Intersection themes helped with that.
J: It wasn’t easy getting information out of everyone for the publicity. I had to contact a few people repeatedly – it made me feel like a bit of a nag!
What challenges did you face during the project?
J: Living up to people’s expectations was sometimes difficult, I think sometimes people forgot it was a volunteer project…
And the scheduling of the whole project, working around Bank Holidays and times when the building was shut – that was hard. I still remember sitting with Moira, with sheets of the months in front of us, and trying to find a fair pattern, so each show had the same amount of time, and with Moira’s brilliant, logical mind, we got there!
Another challenge was dealing with the paperwork of the insurance and LASALS regulations, as it was a unique project so had different insurance factors – so we had to talk through a lot with them, and do very thorough risk assessments. But the team at Adult Ed were marvellous, and things got a lot easier as the project progressed.
M: Ha! Yes, the risk assessments! I had to have formal ‘ladder training’, which made me responsible for any falls that happened during the hangs.
And all the sudden surprises we had to cope with. Like the awful gap that appeared to the left of the fire doors when a school artwork was taken down – we had to go out and buy a display board – it was up and painted by the end of the day.
And the building work in the middle of the first group show – that was a real blow, we had very little warning.
What did you find most scary and difficult?
M: The finance! We had to set a figure that people would be willing to pay, but would cover everything, we had no outside funding. If we got it wrong, it would be a disaster…
J: Yes! And the problems we had opening a cash account. We went to both the banks where we had our own accounts, and they told us it would take at least 6 months to get an account open.
M: So we tried a Building Society – the Yorkshire, on Horsefair Street. They couldn’t have been more helpful. We had an account in a week. Such a relief!
J: But then there was the scary moment when we had the account, we’d collected the money – and realised we actually had to do it and make it all work!
M: Yes, that was very scary! We were very much alone with this, without a safety net. It was all a great idea, but would it work?
What were your favourite parts of The Eye project?
J: The launches. It was so exciting seeing the work up, and the room filled with people.
M: I liked the hangs. Starting with a bare room, then people arriving and working together to fill it with art. There was something magical about it.
J: Yes, and I loved the way every show had a different identity.
M: The food! It was excellent.
J: Meeting so many wonderful people who are now friends. It was also lovely seeing other artists make connections and friendships.
Learning new skills – I’ve learnt so much about myself, working to very tight deadlines and also graphic design!
Also seeing the positive effect our shows had on the Adult Education Centre, a lot of the tutors have enthused to us about how good it is for the students, how it has inspired them. The feedback has been heartwarming. And now we hear the gallery is booked to the end of 2018.
Do you have any advice for someone taking on a project like this?
M: Don’t underestimate how much time it will take – it’s a big chunk out of your life! Even with the help we had from the group coordinators, we spent many hours every week on planning, logistics, queries, decisions, design work, publicity and so on.
J: Don’t do it alone – have a partner. Make sure you have a good skill mix between you. But not more than two, or it will be hard to negotiate decisions.
And try to take time to enjoy it!
M: Yes! We spent a lot of time in the early stages too terrified of failure to enjoy it properly!
Would you do it again?
J: Again? No. I really enjoyed it and got a lot from it, but I want to get back to my illustration work now as I have lots of projects that are needing my attention. This gallery project, although wonderfully enjoyable, confirmed that I am an illustrator and artist, not a gallery manager.
M: Me too! I found it very rewarding but now I want to get back into the studio.
J: I also see this as question that can be interpreted two ways, the second way being “If I could visit myself a year ago and change things, would I still do it?”, then yes, of course! But first I would give myself a hug, and say don’t worry, it will be alright!
M: Yes, I’m the same. It was a demanding experience, but we’re both very proud of the project and glad we did it.
With hindsight, is there anything you’d do differently?
J: Relax a bit, try to enjoy it more and not worry so much.
M: We made a few mistakes along the way, but I can’t think of anything major. I think I needed the worry to help me focus!
Now it’s all over, what are your future plans?
M: A rest! And I had a lovely holiday, in Rome. Then back to the studio, I have some interesting ideas I want to develop in Pate de Verre, as well as work I put aside that needs finishing. You can see more of my work over on my Flickr account.
J: I have work to finish, and send off to galleries. And two books to finish and get off to publishers. I am setting up an Etsy shop too, so I can get my work to the widest possible audience. To keep up to date, you can find me on Facebook and Instagram.
M: That’s a point, I can re-start my Etsy shop…
J: This year we’d like to enjoy the summer in our gardens – which we were both too busy to do last year.
And read books!
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
J: I thoroughly enjoyed working on the blog, and uploading everyone’s posts. It’s nice to think that this blog will stay available as a resource in the future. People wrote a lot of interesting things about their work and working processes, it’s inspirational.
M: We were very grateful to the Adult Education team – basically we came in off the street and they let us have free space for 6 months, with remarkably little interference.
J: Yes, a huge thankyou to them, they were wonderfully patient with our endless emails! It made the whole experience manageable. And our huge thanks to everyone involved.
M: We never did the quiz! I spent hours writing that. Four rounds, each with 12 questions, to link to all 48 artists. I thought it would be fun for the last night party, but after the presentations people were leaving and it felt like the moment had passed…
J: Well, if people want to, we could have an Eye reunion gathering at the Phoenix in September, a year after the first big group meeting, and do it then….
To read more about the beginnings of the project, please visit our About page. And to read more about the artists, you can visit our Artists page and also explore the many inspiring blogs. The project is now closed, but if you wish to book the gallery space for a project, you can find all the relevant contact information on our Contact page. A huge thankyou to everyone involved and those who offered so many wise words of advice throughout this project.