What now?

November 2010.

Who needs a real gallery anyway? From a hallway to a bit of spare space in an office, Edinburgh’s independent art scene is growing in exciting directions. Perhaps on the back of such successes as Collective, new organisations are attracting attention with innovative projects and quirky locations.

“We just wanted to give new artists a chance to show their work. It’s a very hard industry to break into, and if we can help at all, that’s great” says Craig Cross, co-founder of the independent and not-for-profit organisation Artspace2let, which showcases the work of four new artists every month. The twist is that these exhibitions are held in the hallway of Cross’ Marchmont flat: why pay for premises when the high, white-washed walls are perfect for displaying art? “The artists can do what they want with the space they are given, as long as it doesn’t involve drills! Although my walls are pretty pock-marked now…”

Oliver Chapman of Schop gallery also decided to give his existing premises a fresh lease of life and display art in the window of his architecture practice. “Obviously art overlaps with architecture. We know a lot of artists who take architecture seriously in their work, so we started running a programme of four exhibitions a year in our room, but it’s growing”. Small spaces do not prove a problem for the purpose of showcasing new artists, as Cross explains: “New artists don’t need a lot of space because of just that – they are new, they often don’t have that much to exhibit”.

Being independent and not-for-profit allows galleries to be free from the pressure of selling pieces, and display work that may not find an outlet otherwise. Michael Bowdidge of Total Kunst gallery appreciates this: “To some extent we can put on what we like … there is a certain adhoc spirit to what we do. We don’t set out to reach a particular audience or demographic”. Similarly, Artspace2let describe themselves as “organised spontaneity”.

This attitude, shared by many small galleries, undoubtedly results in plenty of new and exciting exhibitions but funding does remain a major problem. “We can’t carry on as volunteers”, says Jenny Carr, chairperson of the volunteer-run Scotland-Russia Institute, “We have more and more visitors to every event. It feels like we are snowballing and we will need to employ people … but any funding we did receive would have to be on the basis of no interference. We want to retain our independence”.

Many of the independent galleries forge links throughout Edinburgh: Artspace2let have had exhibitions in cafes and the Scotland-Russia Institute are currently working on an exhibition with the National Portrait Gallery. On working with a much bigger institution, Carr says “We’re working with just one curator, so at the moment it doesn’t feel that big, really”. Bowdidge believes that Total Kunst’s work doesn’t have to be exclusive to Edinburgh and would like to make connections further afield, saying “the fragmentation of the Edinburgh art scene has been ongoing for a number of years now … we’re just interested in forging links full stop”.

Consistent throughout all these galleries is a genuine desire to promote and further new art by allowing opportunities to artists that may be ignored elsewhere and exhibit work in fresh and exciting ways. Whether it be Russian photography or textiles pinned up in a Marchmont flat, the independent scene in Edinburgh is certainly thriving.

Originally published in The Student.

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