Visitors to a gallery viewed the abstract art on the ground floor. They got up-close and personal with the interactive sculpture on the first. The featured-exhibit was housed on the top floor. As punters filed into that arcade, however, many kicked aside a dusty pile of bricks, unaware that was the actual exhibition.
Sadly, many people viewing art don’t always recognise what they’re seeing. And helping people understand isn’t the artists’ job. That’s where Natalie Pace comes in. Curator of Smiths Row art gallery since 2013, she’s ready to help anyone better appreciate art in all its glorious styles.
I put it to Natalie that artists often come across as highbrow, keeping art away from Joe Bloggs. Not a bit of it, says she. In truth, most artists are Joe and Mary Bloggs, as I found out by spending an open day watching Natalie and her colleagues helping local artists get their art out to the public.
Natalie admits art is subjective. Too true. As my old Italian grandmother used to say, There’s no accounting for other people’s taste. Having said that, art is important because it focuses our minds on everything from economics, to religion, to politics. “Artists can offer a window onto a different world,” explains Natalie. “More broadly, the influence of artists, makers and designers affects our creative industries – the fastest growing sector of our economy – as well as helps shape our environment.”
What? Art helps a town prosper? Yup. Just think of New York, Paris or Florence. But what about little old Bury St Edmunds? Definitely, says Natalie. “A strong reputation for the arts and culture can create a sense of pride within and help foster other creative industries. In addition to attracting tourists, we have been made aware by a number of local estate agents that both the town’s gallery and the theatre were reasons cited by people for moving here.”
With imagination, flexibility and a bit of panache, art may also rejuvenate everything from redundant docklands, to derelict factories, to empty warehouses as seen in former wasted spaces in London, Bristol and Swansea. “Now that we’re transitioning as an organisation, there is a lot of strategic planning, and no two days are the same. Recently I have been working with artists to research the development of artist studios at Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket railway stations.”
This vision is to create Europe’s first rail line dedicated to contemporary art here in East Anglia. The programme would work to connect contemporary artists with audiences and communities along and through the Ipswich-to-Cambridge line. “Our work would be rooted in two key sites – a redeveloped Station Master’s House here at Bury St Edmunds’ train station and also at a building at Stowmarket station.
“At both sites, artist studios and activity would be at the centre of the work, and in Bury, a platform-level gallery, education space and community garden are part of the plan. In terms of programme exhibitions, public art, events at stations and on the trains are all being researched.”
So whether it’s Tracy Ermine’s unmade (and grotty) bed or a sophisticated Ron-Ronaldson seascape or anything between, art has its own unique contribution making people see stuff in new ways. Natalie Pace unreservedly agrees. “I believe the work of artists to have considerable value to individuals and communities which is why I work to support them.”
-- Michael Apichella is an award-winning writer and an artist who’s made the UK his home for well over 30 years. Visit his website at www.michaelapichella.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MApichellaPhD.