I’m so pleased to bring you this guest post by one of Spreadsheet and Moxie‘s Associate Artists, the very wonderful Vanessa Gebbie. Sharing this sort of information – not just WHAT people are doing but HOW they have done it – is exactly what Viccy and I hope to do with our project, and I couldn’t have asked for a better beginning. It’s a privilege to have this honest account of how an arts project was set up, the things learnt and all the tips to pass on to others. And it’s a great project too, on at HURSTPIERPOINT until 30th September. Details are at the end of the piece, but for now, over to Vanessa (nb all the photos here were taken by Vanessa and show the work on display at the exhibition)…
Last Friday, a disparate group of people met at a church in West Sussex. Armed with wood, wire, glass, slate and board, they worked all day, assembling the products of creative work that had taken months.
By 6 pm all was ready for the opening of Reflections, the response of four women artists to the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme. The church is Holy Trinity Church, in the village of Hurstpierpoint. Designed by Charles Barry, who designed the Houses of Parliament, it is a glorious, high and airy space with beautiful stained glass windows.
So, in a beautiful edifice of stone and glass, four women created something else of beauty. But it was not all plain sailing!
It started just before Christmas 2015 with a poet (me) and Elizabeth Lamont, a maker of painted glass art – discovering a mutual love of stained glass, over a pizza. Before the bill came, we were airing thoughts of collaborating on a ‘something’ in which her glass artworks would respond to my poems.
With a slightly clearer idea of what the ‘something’ was, an approach was made to Hurstpierpoint Festival to see if it might be something they would like to host… and it was agreed that the ‘something’ could be shown in the church for the duration of the festival.
But what was the ‘something’? Elizabeth Lamont has experience of working with the National Trust, and she had brilliant ideas. Visits to consummately experienced exhibition designers helped to firm up the ‘something’ into a brilliant, professional plan. But brilliant professional plans, with help from brilliant designers, cost money. A call to the Arts Council indicated it was something they might look favourably on – so, cue much excitement as everything was costed within an inch of our lives, and I was delegated to negotiate the Arts Council Grant Application systems. At this stage we were three – poet, glass artist and Jane Willis, a photographer. Who also happened to be Priest in Charge of Holy Trinity Hurstpierpoint.
TIP: PLAN WITH CARE AND COST WITH CARE
The Grantium portal is not your friend until you learn to negotiate the twists and turns and requirements of the system… and we were on the brink of a holiday. In deepest Extremadura, Spain – where the internet is not known for its speed or reliability. Or, in many places, even its existence. The Grantium portal requires six working days to validate you before you can so much as begin to enter your information, so Extremadura it had to be, with dropped connections, wobbly connections, and worse – no connections. I did not know what information the Arts Council would be asking for as each page opened on the portal – and did not have a list of necessary info, all ticked off and to hand – even if the laptop stayed connected.
TIP: DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE TIME THINGS TAKE
TIP: IF YOU ARE COMPLETING A GRANT APPLICATION, DO IT WHEN YOU HAVE SUFFICIENT TIME, ARE IN THE RIGHT PLACE AND HAVE ALL NECESSARY INFO TO HAND
It took three weeks, but it got done. I heard back from the Arts Council very fast – Application Declined.
We had, thankfully, already considered what we’d do if this happened. We had already decided that it would not stop us, so we’d rethink.
TIP: HAVE A PLAN B
Bless Hurstpierpoint Festival Committee, who decided to still give us the contribution they had promised to help the application along. Bless a friend or two, who did the same. Bless whoever suggested inviting another woman artist to join us – Helen Mary Skelton, a stonecutter, whose work is legendary. Patients at The Dene special hospital were also invited to contribute. I led a poetry workshop there, but the patients’ resulting work was too raw and personal for them to want on show. So instead, they created two stunning wall hangings along the themes of the exhibition – and it is moving in the extreme to see them.
TIP: DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK, INVITE AND SHARE
The exhibition opened last weekend. It is different and, dare I say it – in many ways better than it would have been had we stuck to the original plan. Without funding, apart from a relatively tiny amount, we had to go back to the drawing board in many cases, and the need for increased creativity in response to the drawback has served us well. The inclusion of stonecutting has added a new beauty – a strength and solidity to the exhibition, which was already beautiful. Instead of looking at techinically clever acetate prints, visitors are actually seeing the original glass art in all Elizabeth’s exhibits, set on lightboxes. It is glorious.
Standing in the midst of all this gorgeous work at the opening last Friday, and watching visitors, glass of wine in hand, oohing and ahhing at the exhibits, I felt unashamedly tearful. It has been an extraordinary journey, and a privilege to work with Elizabeth Lamont (glass artist) Rev Jane Willis (photographer) and Helen Mary Skelton (stone cutter). I will miss them when this is over.
TIP: LOOK BACK, SEE WHERE YOU’VE COME FROM, SMILE!