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28 February 2013

Pop up Venues.

The original plan for this post was to focus on Pop up Venues and empty shops...

But I cannot write a blog without acknowledging what a devastating hole the closure of Taunton's Brewhouse Theatre will leave within Somerset's creative community. Natalie has written here many times about exhibitions visited, community projects and her own involvement with the venue. Hers and Michael Fairfax's Snout and About project was, still is hopefully, a fund raiser for the venue. Many of you reading this will have attended a performance over the years, maybe even stepped onto it's stage or hung art on it's walls. My only hope is that 'someone' will recognise this incredible sense of worth, and the administrators find new custodians to carry on with the show. It will be a sorry, reflective picture if an asset such as this, is left to languish and be boarded up in the centre of our county town.

The sight of empty shops on our high streets is sadly becoming all too familiar - however some towns and individuals are turning a negative into a hopeful positive. Minehead's Chamber of commerce realises how detrimental empty shops can be to the outlook of the community and those who visit the town. If a place feels like it has no soul, is neglected and empty, people will turn away to find a destination that fulfills their needs and head to a town with more bustle and trading shops. So how has Minehead attempted to tackle this issue? Well a few windows now display large prints depicting local beauty spots painted by Leo Davey. He has a very distinct style and his paintings encapsulate early 20th Century travel posters. The scenes are very welcome as they remind us of the stunning landscape that surrounds this little seaside town, plus nudges tourists to other potential days out.

Another artist with strong Minehead roots is Pembrokeshire based, Julia Rees, her family still live in Minehead and when one of their business premises recently became vacant, rather than leave it empty and neglected, Julia has filled it with her prints and textiles. 

So these empty shops and buildings do have potential for artists who at more affluent times would not be able to afford such rents and rates. Some landlords do realise the benefit of having a temporary tenant rather than an empty shop, they are out there, you just need to knock on doors and approach them with your idea. You will discover though that in some larger towns and cities many of these empty premises are held by property portfolios and they will naturally be that much harder -  if not practically impossible to contact. 

Julia Rees
Long before the phrase 'pop up' was used to describe such ventures Chris and I organised an exhibition in the centre of York. The owner allowed us to use his empty premises for six weeks. The venue was quite daunting and surprisingly large. We worked hard painting the walls and clearing rubbish. Located on a prime corner plot, the immense windows took a huge amount of effort to clean; however the light they let in was much needed as there was no electricity. The exhibition proved to be a success and gave us the confidence to organise future events. 

With any venture like this you need to have an amicable agreement with the land lord. Due to the current circumstances, many smaller business premises are rate free at present, but do obviously check this. Also if you plan to welcome visitors you will need public liability insurance. It may be that you find a shop window to simply display your work, create attention and promote your website. If you do decide to do this it is incredibly important to keep it looking clean and fresh, free from spiders and dead flies - because a sorry looking, faded display will not bring you custom or add the vibrancy that was initially wished for. 

So if you are sussing out venues for the forthcoming art week or just generally seeking out alternative venues to exhibit your work then this may be the cheaper option to hiring a village hall or gallery space? 

From a need, artists throughout history have always sought out the less expensive areas to live and work, creating vibrant communities that then draw those with more money who wish to share this 'fashionable' lifestyle, these areas over time often become incredibly expensive to live in and the new emerging artists then need to seek out the next place that will grow and thrive - the trick is knowing where that is going to be. It's not something that can always be invigorated by funding, but one that needs to happen 'naturally' - it's knowing where, when and how to catch that wave...

Going back to the unknown future of the Brewhouse, my hope is that if it is unable to reopen, then art initiatives like the incredible Take Art will benefit and grow, bringing more performances and concerts to those of us out in the sticks - otherwise it is going to be a long drive for some to visit the theatres in Exeter, Bristol and Bath, and for many that is completely unrealistic.

These are times of uncertainty, our catchphrase or mantra at home to help get through them has been, 'Art will save us!' 

Culture matters!

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