Based at Trinity Theatre and managed in association with Town & Country Foundation, Trinity Gallery works with the charity to create a space where people prosper through ideas, inspiration and action. Artist-in-residence Jane Churchill and T&C’s Rachel Branson tell Fred Latty how it all works
TELL US THE BACKGROUND OF THE GALLERY AND ITS RELATIONSHIP WITH TOWN & COUNTRY
Jane: Town & Country Foundation has been a supporter of Trinity as part of its work to support and encourage art and creativity in the town, from both professional artists and community showcases. The project, which has run for several years, has highlighted the talent and creativity of local people, as well as raising awareness and giving a creative voice to many important issues and groups who could remain hidden in our community.
WHEN DID IT ALL BEGIN?
Jane: We first started putting on shows in 2006, and there are a number of ways of working. We develop projects and then use the gallery to showcase them. We realised we were doing that an awful lot, so we suggested partnering with Trinity. At the time, Trinity had just had some of their funding cut, so they were really having to find ways of doing things differently, which I think they’ve done really successfully, and part of that was the partnership working. We talked about whether we could partner with the gallery more fruitfully, because we were doing so many projects and it was so successful. It’s so empowering for people to take what work they’ve done somewhere; there’s something about that process that’s really exciting.
AND HOW HAS IT DEVELOPED SINCE?
Jane: My background’s set design, so I’ve worked with Trinity in different ways over a long association. We have 42 weeks of Trinity’s programme, and Trinity has 10 weeks in which they can hire the space out to whichever artist or corporate event, so it allowed them the flexibility to actually be able to keep a funding stream through the gallery if they needed to.
HOW OFTEN DO YOU PUT ON SHOWCASES?
Jane: We have about three a year, which are quite big, and we have lots of groups working towards that, so that could be installation painting, video installation, or anything the foundation’s worked on with various groups. Around that, we have a professional artists’ programme.
WHAT MAKES THE GALLERY UNIQUE AS A CHARITY?
Jane: There are very few spaces that offer sustainability to an artist. There are lots of spaces you could go and hire for a huge amount of money, or the commission rate is so big, so this space is offered to artists. They don’t have to pay for it, so they can take a risk, which means we’re quite lucky as an arts venue, because we’re not having to necessarily sell like a commercial gallery.
IS THERE MORE ROOM FOR ARTISTIC EXPRESSION AND EXPLORATION?
Jane: You can take people on a bit of a journey, and we’ve had relationships with artists over several years seeing their work grow, so that means this is a really expressive place that has everything. All those artists who get the space get to do their body of work. They’ll then offer back to the community through a Town & Country workshop, which goes out to various groups we have other links with, or new groups that we make links with.
CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT HOW IT’S FUNDED?
Rachel: The funding comes from the partnership between Town & Country and Trinity. We hire it out for various things, so in some form or another – not just the gallery – there’s money coming in from Town & Country Foundation to put on different events and use it as a venue. Commercial galleries need to make their money all the time, whereas we can have a slightly freer, more expressive desire to see the gallery inspire people. Art cuts across all demographics.
WHERE DO THE ARTISTS YOU WORK WITH COME FROM?
Jane: It could be anyone, but it’s largely local. In every season, we try to get someone from outside the venue bringing something in, so we’ve had everything from international to emerging artists. I’m really keen in almost every programme – there are three in a year – that there’s a chance for an emerging artist who has never had a show before. That’s really vital to be able to then expand, so somebody local who’s doing something for the first time, and then more established artists from Kent or the South East. We’re very open; it’s got to be of a certain quality, but the beauty of it is that we’ll look at anything.
DOES THAT DIVERSITY EXTEND TO TOWN & COUNTRY’S CHOSEN CHARITIES?
Rachel: We use it as a great space for Town & Country to work with. We can work with various charities, whatever they might be, working in partnership with Jane to create the art. It gives a different dimension to the charities out there and builds awareness in a different way. For Town & Country, it’s a great medium to be able to use to support the community work we’re doing. Town & Country Foundation is all about very much community-based projects improving the lives of the people in Tunbridge Wells and it’s residents.
BEING BASED IN A THEATRE MUST IMPACT ON THE KINDS OF AUDIENCES YOU ATTRACT…
Jane: We get a really interesting audience in that, someone who’s coming to a comedy café isn’t the same audience that comes to a Shakespeare play or a French film. But invariably, they’ll go to that space for a while, and if there are big, big shows, the interval drinks are in there. People are going in at the interval and before the shows, which is interesting because people are coming to see other things, so they get both. The audience is often challenged by what they might find in there, and it feels like this place is a real mix and open to everyone, and I think the audience reflects that.
IN WHAT WAYS DO YOU GET THE WORD OUT?
Jane: Under my remit of the programming, there hasn’t been any marketing. It’s always been with the understanding that the artist will have to do their own marketing for their own particular show. The foundation has been different because it’s got an organisation behind it that has been able to get things out in a different way.
WOULD YOU SAY CULTURE IS THRIVING IN THE TOWN?
Jane: I think it’s huge. It’s on the rise and there are more and more artists producing amazing work in this area. We’ve got a lot here, but perhaps people just don’t know it. There are lots of things that have come in and it just feels like it’s exponentially growing. There’s a market to buy art, there’s a market to sell your work and there’s definitely room for creative industries, which produce people who are doing really amazing things with their creativity in business.
AS AN AFFLUENT AREA, IS THERE A RISK OF ART LOVERS GOING TO LONDON OVER TUNBRIDGE WELLS?
Jane: Attracting the wealthy to stay within their town rather than go to London and spend their money there is quite a challenge, because there’s a lot going on here. It’s about reaching the people here to come to private views or get involved in their local art scene. It might feel a bit too small for them, but it’s not; the work is of a high standard and quality. It’s not always wealth that’s the advantage – it’s where the money gets spent.
WITH SO MANY ART GALLERIES IN TUNBRIDGE WELLS, IS THERE ROOM FOR THEM ALL?
Jane: I always think there’s room for everything. If an artist is coming here for three or four weeks, it’s not in direct competition to someone who’s being represented by a commercial gallery. It’s set apart because the artist has a really sustainable chance to sell their work. There aren’t many spaces that artists can approach directly, so I’m really keen on nurturing people through that process of how they can exhibit what they’ve got and make a show work.
FINALLY, WHAT ARE YOUR HOPES FOR THE FUTURE OF THE GALLERY?
Jane: I would love it to be known more, which is something we’ve been talking about. So much brilliant stuff goes on here, so I’d like to see more artists coming in to do more. We need to apply for more funding to give it a much bigger profile. I want it to continue, and think there’s a response, a want and a need for exhibition space, which we’re able to provide.
To find out more about Trinity Gallery, visit www.trinitytheatre.net/plus. If you would like to be invited to opening events, or find out more about Town & Country Foundation or gallery events and workshops, please contact Jane Churchill by emailing email@example.com