There is no sizeable, permanent art gallery in Chester. I repeat, there is no sizeable, permanent art gallery in Chester.
We have a spectacular performing arts space in the shape of the award-winning Storyhouse. We even have a cinema and library inside. Everyone’s talking about how great it is but, what about the visual arts? Where do they call home?
As a city, we are culturally vibrant. Outdoor passion plays, winter watch parades, lego displays. Comedy, musicals, ballet, literature, modern dance.
But if you want to take in a bit of art, off you have to, mostly, trot to Liverpool or Manchester.
With more and more visitors interested in the arts coming into the city, it seems madness to think we don’t make more of this by giving them and art-deprived local residents, a gallery.
It’s true, we’ve been treated to some amazing art exhibitions. Look at the Ark exhibition in 2017 in the cathedral. It truly was arresting and such a coup for the city. It was also the largest free to enter contemporary and modern sculpture exhibition to be held in the North West, attracting 138,000 visitors.
Another fantastic exhibition in 2017 was ‘Pop Art in print’ from the V&A. Held in the old library on Northgate Street, it housed printed art from famous artists such as Andy Warhol and Patrick Caulfield. The display of art was a huge success; more than 15,000 people checked it out and it led to an agreement with the V&A that Chester would be part of its touring programme of exhibitions for the next five years. Go Chester!
The famous V&A museum, from London, recognising Chester as an important place for its exhibitions to be set up.
The people behind the V&A coup are not stopping there. Ian and Cynthia Short of Chester Visual Arts, a registered charity based in Chester supported by various local organisations such as Chester and Cheshire West council, are on a mission to make sure that the city continues to attract a programme of quality visual arts events and exhibitions.
The five-year agreement with the V&A is obviously the cornerstone of this mission but it’s only the start.
The ultimate aim of the charity is to secure a permanent space large enough to attract high-quality art exhibitions from local, national and international artists on an ongoing basis.
At the moment, with the agreement of the council, the old library on Northgate Street is being used as the home of its second V&A pop up exhibition; a modern craft exhibition, showcasing the finalists from BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour Craft Prize to mark the 70th anniversary of the BBC’s Woman’s Hour. The works on show really get you thinking and are not what you think of when you think of crafting in the traditional sense. Phoebe Cummings’ ephemeral floral clay fountain and Celia Pym’s ‘Where Holes Happen’ where she uses darning and knitting to draw out memories in people’s clothing are just two examples
But currently, the space is only usable until this Summer. After that, there is no space available to house the V&A’s ongoing programme of exhibitions as well as any other art exhibitions.
Rectifying this is the charity’s core aim. Ian and Cynthia, the board and the limited number of staff and volunteers, are working as hard as possible to find somewhere permanent to position the visual arts as central to Chester’s ongoing cultural renaissance.
How you can help
Visit – the Woman’s Hour Craft exhibition is on in the old library on Northgate Street for free from Wednesday to Saturday, 11am – 5pm. Now until 16 March 2019.
Volunteer – help Chester Visual Arts keep the exhibition open by volunteering as an exhibition invigilator at the gallery.
For more information see www.chestervisualarts.org.uk