The beginning of an artistic journey

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Art for Guernsey has secured a gallery in the heart of St Peter Port’s Old Quarter, which presents a unique opportunity for the charity to provide a much-needed, long-awaited key creative asset for the island.

Art for Guernsey is a charitable initiative managed by a team of passionate professionals who share a belief in the transformative power of art to bring communities together, provide educational opportunities and support local tourism. The team believes that Guernsey possesses a high degree of integrity and an incredible set of community values – indeed, Art for Guernsey was founded by David Ummels in response to these special assets.

‘Working for the community is in our DNA,’ explains David. ‘It’s what motivates us to work for the greater good to bring people together, provide educational opportunities through multi-curricular projects, support local artists and welcome visiting artists whilst nurturing creativity, promoting Cultural Diplomacy and creating an artistic legacy for Guernsey. We have a strong remit to bring art where it is most needed, to inspire people and try to make them happy.’

In its first five years Art for Guernsey has delivered many inspiring, entertaining and innovative local and international art events and exhibitions. Having its own gallery space is a game-changing development which marks the first step of an exciting new journey. When the team looked around the expansive space, which spans over two floors, they could see the potential to create an art centre with a gallery space, library, children’s wing, workshops and a strong room for particularly valuable artworks. The AFG Academy will be established, enabling students to develop their talents on the island. This will bridge an identified skills gap between secondary education and art school, and its non-prescriptive approach will connect local art students to local and visiting artists through workshops and mentoring programmes run in parallel with exhibitions.

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Inclusivity is crucial, so the charity will work with the Disability Alliance to ensure that the gallery will be fully accessible. Art for Guernsey has a strong record of inclusivity, including multiple collaborations with 18 island schools, Arts for Impact, the Sovereign Art Foundation, Guernsey Cheshire Home, the Ron Short Centre, the Princess Elizabeth Hospital, Les Nicolles Prison, the Youth Commission and Guille-Allès Library. The charity has further reinforced its ability to deliver on its inclusivity narrative by joining forces with Arts for Impact to create one sole organisation.

Earlier this year, Art for Guernsey staged a unique exhibition, Transformation, to introduce islanders to the AFG Gallery and to raise funds for the redevelopment of the building. Five of the UK’s top contemporary street artists – Daniel Hosego, Teddy Baden, Leo Boyd, Charlie Mcfarley and Vesna Parchet – were in residence for six days, during which they collaborated with a select group of local students to cover the walls with their sensational, colourful and often irreverent works of art. The artists were given free rein to transform the gallery and the results were remarkable.

A number of the visiting artists have been involved in rejuvenation projects, which tied in perfectly with Art for Guernsey’s desire to provide a catalyst to help to revitalise the Old Quarter, once a thriving part of town but now in need of investment. For the month that Transformation was open, there was a buzz in the area that had been lacking for many years. Art For Guernsey’s Jock Pettitt reports: ‘The exhibition saw a steady stream of visitors all day, peaking on the weekends. Many came back several times and almost everyone commented how much this was needed, and how they loved this part of town and were keen to see it coming back to life.’

David adds: ‘Around 2,500 visitors came to the show and many neighbours operating shops in Mill Street and Mansell Street reported an uplift in their trading during the exhibition. We welcomed our neighbours in the gallery to discuss how collectively we could creatively improve the Old Quarter and raise its attractivity. The States of Guernsey, the Guernsey Retail Group and the Chamber of Commerce were all represented at senior level at this informal gathering, and an excellent momentum has been set for further collaborations between us, in particular around art and food and the concept of street festivals.’

The exhibition itself was a huge success, so much so that many of the artists sent new artworks and received a number of commissions. Not only was it an opportunity to view and buy art, but it also provided an ideal platform for the team to engage with the community and communicate their plans. ‘The exhibition was incredibly well received, in particular by the younger generation, whose favourite phrase was “this is sick”. We managed to run a number of community events over the duration of the show, including engagements with the Youth Commission, Arts for Impact, the Mill Street Community Café, the Disability Alliance and the Guernsey Skate Parks – the last weekend was dedicated to street art and skateboarding,’ says David.

Work has now begun on the fit-out of the AFG Gallery, which will reopen in the autumn with an exciting exhibition, A Renaissance of Victor Hugo, which will celebrate the legacy of the great French writer, who spent 15 years in exile on the island. Curated in collaboration with Hauteville House, the exhibition will feature works by Daniel Hosego and Oleg Mikhailov, both AFG artists in residence.

The Art for Guernsey team is convinced that an inclusive and inspiring home for the arts, which nurtures independent thinking and creativity, will be a valuable asset for the island, and that the rejuvenation of the Old Quarter will benefit islanders and visitors alike. David feels that the future looks bright: ‘With the help of all our supporters, benefactors and sponsors, and the amazing passion and drive animating the team, I am confident that we will succeed to deliver this for the common good of the island.’

Photo credits to JR Photography and Leading Light Photography

www.johnrossphotography.co.uk

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