Moving in, Nerves, Friendship & Community

I’d like to dedicate this blog to all the recent art graduates finishing up their degree shows and heading on into the working world. Good luck to you all, we hope these blogs inspire you to get creative, think up individual DIY projects, keep things social and change the world for the better.

Carrying on from blog number 4 ‘Empty High Street Shop Hell‘, in this blog ‘Moving in, Nerves, Friendship & Community‘, I tell the story of moving into our first empty space and the community which emerged from digital to physical.

Moving in, nerves, friendship & community

The decisions I’d been making over the last three months were starting to dawn on me. I was excited, in one of those – ‘f*** what I have done?’ sort of ways. Preparations frantically began. The deal was we wouldn’t be given the keys until the move in date, and because we barely knew the space, I’d cycle over and look through the dirty window and take notes.

And so, two weeks before the move in date I began ordering the mundane necessities online that I thought might come in handy. Things you imagine you’d need opening a gallery; filler, white paint, rollers, trays, a till, plastic bags. The list was vast and unorganised. There were so many intangible necessities too; insurance, advice, advertising… time.

The night before we moved in, I packed my gallery purchases into a big suitcase. I was nervous, all the challenges we’d faced had been mostly digital and online. We’d been problem solving and making decisions with the artists in our secret Facebook group, we’d been raising money on Kickstarter and spreading the word with videos, interactive games, giveaways, events and sending press releases to blogs.

I knew how to prep a room’s walls to make them more ‘gallery’. What was alien to me was the unknown and how I’d react leading 20 artists into a project with no experience. We didn’t know the space, so I’d potentially have to become an electrician, plumber or physician. I hoped nobody would hurt themselves, because if they did, they’d come to me. I was in charge of this whole fiasco and I don’t have first aid training. I had to become a physical leader instead of just a digital leader. A digital leader has time to type a well thought response, but physical leaders need to stay calm, think fast and make sense in person even though I was only 2 steps ahead of everyone else.

In the morning, Nicole my best friend and exhibiting artist picked me up. I remember our conversations in the car were made up of me stuttering through my list of things we might have to fix, paint and organise. She sweetly listened and dropped me at the gallery to meet the landlord and pick up the keys.

We arrived, while Nicole dodged a parking ticket I waited outside for the landlord who lived upstairs. He came down and handed me the keys. I unlocked the door and flicked the light switch. The two fluorescent tube lights crackled on illuminating the strange desolate shop. The dirty, cracked red & white tiles reflected the fluorescent lights and there was distinct smell of charity shop and mould.

Once upon a time the shop had been a traditional butchers, which then it became vacant, then it was squatted in and the squatters sold vegetables from the shop. After the squatters had been evicted, blood red words were spray painted on the metal security sheets boarding up the windows saying, “But what about the vegetables???” The shop had been empty for a year before we moved in, you could really tell.

Our little butchers shop was hardly glamorous and there was a lot of work to be done. The mould on the filler between the tiles needed to be painted. We had to axe down the half broken mint green wooden cabinet filling one stretch of the room. The blood from the butchers hooks needed a brave soul to clean it up. The back room with rotting ceilings and butchers hooks needed some love.

Over the space of a week we cleared, scrubbed, fixed and decorated. Half the room’s walls were made from ceramic tiles, so we designed alternative hanging solutions for the art to hang with the help of a carpenter exhibiting with us. Billy Mather painted butcher themed murals on the windows. Because only one plug socket worked (that occasionally smoked), we called in help from the community to fix the plumbing and electrical problems.

We gave out flyers and put posters up in the community. We made videos and created a Facebook event for the not so private, private view. A real sense of togetherness emerged. We’d sit and drink together in the evenings. People we didn’t know would put their face up against the window, curious to see what strange happenings were taking place in their dormant butchers. And the artists would send me home to sleep when I could no longer hold together a sentence from tiredness.

It was wonderful. Reaching out to the community of creative friends and the general public who wanted to help. Everyone chose to be involved for no other return than kindness, generosity, fun and to learn something. I completely understand why, it’s one of the most rewarding feelings I know.

I’ve talked about this before in previous blogs, but seeing as the new graduates are emerging from their university studios and entering the working world as I type this, I’ll say it again. I’d just graduated from Brighton Uni when I did this project, and the rewarding sense of community was such a different feeling from uni’s educational bubble. We did it on our own.

After institutional education finishes, it’s up to you as individuals to carry on educating yourselves. There’ll be no one marking your progress or monitoring your participation. When it comes to community outside of university and college, it’s up to you to seek out or create opportunities and learn about the community and ultimately the world you live in. It’s difficult to motivate ourselves sometimes, but know, you’re in charge now, it’s going to be awesome if you push yourself.


If you missed the last stories, click on the titles.

Story 1 We Learn By Doing So We’re Doing It
Story 2 Work Hard And Be Nice To People
Story 3 All We Needed Was The Money
Story 4 Empty High Street Shop Hell
Story 5 Moving in, Nerves, Friendship & Community

Sophie Giblin is the director of Kollektiv Gallery.

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