A new art gallery has opened in an old space in Coventry city centre.
Roots gallery is in what people have known for years at the glass box or glass showcase opposite Browns and The Herbert in Earl Street. It was owned by the council and pretty much anyone could exhibit there as long as they paid the low hire cost.
The result was a bit of a mish-mash – some very good, some interesting discoveries, lots average and some quite poor.
A change of policy has resulted in the decision to support a Coventry University graduate, Sian Conway, in taking over the space for a year with a properly curated programme of exhibitions. Officially, the plan is to build on the gallery’s existing links with community groups, local artists and students, while adding a new vision and making it a “dynamic space for contemporary visual art”.
The gallery won a grant from Coventry City Council’s Small Arts Grants Fund to pay for some decoration, hanging equipment and a rebrand of the space as the Roots Gallery.
Sian Conway, originally from Hull but who has stayed in Coventry since finishing her Coventry University Fine Art degree in 2011, will be supported by the city council’s Arts Development Services with her plans for the future.
Two hours before the official opening yesterday evening Sian and a team of volunteers were putting the finishing touches to the gallery, which despite the sprucing up still has an authentically paint-splattered floor.
She explained the artists in the first exhibition had answered an open call for work and the successful pieces were chosen by herself, plus Mead Gallery curator Sarah Shalgosky, and Laura Davies and Amber Merrick-Potter from Arts Space, which =provides the council’s Arts Development Service and is helping to support Sian’s work.
Sian said: “I wanted works that embraced this space and what it had already been and what I want it to become, and it was also to acknowledge the history of this space.
“I wanted artists with a connection to Coventry to respond to the idea of Roots, essentially what it meant to them and what I want this gallery to be. I think it’s come together really nicely.”
Sian got interested in curating during her degree, and in the final year curated an exhibition by four artists at ICE, the Institute of Creative Entrepreneurship, and also a friend’s exhibition at the Lewis Gallery at Rugby School.
“I have known for a long time this was what I wanted to do. I am really excited about this and it’s a good opportunity to regenerate the space,” she said.
“I want there to be more consistency. One of the first decisions was exhibitions should be the same length, four weeks, with a week between. The idea is there’s time to bring in and take out work and a couple of days the space is empty for events and happenings and I want to get micro-residencies, artists can come in and showcase work and take it down in two or three days.”
Sian said Laura and Amber from Artspace had been “fantastic”, and the council, in pointing her in the right direction, for funding and volunteers.
She was helped in the set up by artists, students, sixth formers and other volunteers, all keen to get gallery work experience.
Sian added: “There’s been such a positive response, it’s been amazing. People have said thank you for doing something contemporary in the city centre that they can get involved in.”
The resultant exhibition features small-scale works by 10 artists. It’s an ongoing debate about how much labeling artworks should have, but some would have worked better with something to explain what their ‘roots’ connection is.
My personal favourites included photographs on Perspex by established photographer Jo Gane, whose carefully composed pictures keep out all extraneous material from their subject, what looks like an archaeological dig. Vertical c.60AD shows a string round a peg in the ground, while Circle c.40AD is mounted on the floor showing what looks like a found well, and Horizontal c.200AD a rope marking depth of digging. I was dying to know where it is.
Spring by Kim Min Kyung, who came here from South Korea in 2003, is a lovely ethereal oil painting of plants including dandelions, and butterflies. The artist, whose name is sadly spelled wrongly on the accompanying information, explained: “I am here to study painting so I have done an MA and now I have got children so I feel very lonely here and I feel warm memories from my past and this was my childhood memory. I have four children born here so this is home for them.”
That seemed a poignant comment on the real meaning of roots.
The enthusiasm around the gallery’s opening is obvious for all to see, so let’s hope it continues and is a new vibrant addition to the city’s art scene.
*The exhibition is on until August 3, and to real more about the other works in the show see the art column in the Coventry Telegraph on Friday.