2020 was always going to be an important year for the gallery, with our plans to celebrate in style the 125th anniversary of the opening of Newlyn Art Gallery. But, of course, we didn’t know the half of it! It has proved to be a year none of us will forget, and it would be easy to let events overshadow the positives we’ve seen over the last 9 months, and the sense of communities coming together to support each other in any way they can.
A PROGRAMME FOR OUR TIMES
In 2019 we secured support to join the Arts Council Collection National Partners Programme. Our bid, entitled New Voices, aimed to address the lack of diversity in the sector and to give voice to diverse communities through the curating of exhibitions from the Arts Council Collection and to test whether this approach would lead to changes in the profile of the audiences we reach.
Closure forced the suspension of much of the early part of that programme, including our Arts Council Collection exhibitions Go On Being So and Hippo Campus: Where We Learn, and other programmes including our weekly Tea, Cake & Art sessions for older people living alone, and outreach work with Intercom Trust LGBTQIA+ young people and WILD Young Parents. This led to a rapid expansion of both our digital and non-digital work, as ways to reach audiences who were remote from us. Mindful of issues around digital poverty, we created postal projects, some equivalents of online resources, and some existing only in postal form.
One of our most important online events explored Black history in Cornwall, inspired by work in Go On Being So, but given fuel by the Black Lives Matter movement – an event reaching audiences of over 400, but this was just one of many such projects.
When the gallery was able to safely reopen in mid-August, we extended the run of Hippo Campus and Go On Being So, both of which prompted a warm response from visitors.
A CELEBRATION OF 125 YEARS
Measures imposed to reduce the spread of Covid-19 required us to radically rethink our approach to celebrating Newlyn Art Gallery’s 125th anniversary year this October. With plans for a gala dinner and large public gathering cancelled, we focussed energy on delivering an autumn programme that reflected our values, addressing the real needs of our communities.
During the first lockdown we initiated a project entitled Extraordinary Postcards For Extraordinary Times which involved posting out oversized blank postcards to the public, with an invitation to them to use the card to illustrate something of their experiences during lockdown. The response was incredible, with requests from a Doctor in Taipei, a nunnery in Hong Kong and individuals in Norway and Canada, as well as from all corners of the UK. We invited participants to return their cards to the gallery, on loan, to form the centrepiece of our anniversary programme.
Alongside this exhibition we presented an Arts Council Collection exhibition of huge tapestries by Grayson Perry; an artist whose television programmes during lockdown contributed significantly to the nation’s sense of wellbeing at a hugely challenging time for many.
Whilst, like most galleries, we were anticipating a big drop in visitors numbers, in October and November attendances were up by over 140% on last year.
The whole staffing team, including our volunteers, has risen to every challenge they faced during this extraordinary year, and has positioned us well to respond to future eventualities, so my heartfelt thanks to them all.
Most of all though, thank you to you, our visitors and supporter for sticking by us during the most difficult of years, and I look forward to seeing you in the gallery again in 2021.
Christmas and New Year celebrations will be so different this year, but, on behalf of all at the gallery, have a relaxing break, keep safe and let’s hope for the most wonderful of years in 2021.
NEWLYN ART GALLERY & THE EXCHANGE