by Laura Potts

The noteworthy Norwich art scene is home to many small gallery-like spaces that have a fast and frequent turnover of shows. Spaces such as Yallops, Nunns Yard and Studio 20 are home to a diverse spectrum of work, and as we enter the spring months they have become hives of activity swarming with artists and viewers. These spaces are important, vital – the work and people they house are integral to cultural independence in the city.

The commodification of culture, especially the arts, has dictated our creative institutions and systems since New Labour. Pressure is exerted upon artworks and art programmes to progress toward social, environmental and economic improvement, which reduces immeasurable cultural depth to a monetary figure. An enduring elite, colonial, western perspective retains a firm grip around art, instilled not only through the work shown in big mainstream galleries, but also through the funding sources available to artists.

Small spaces and small shows are often funded by the artists themselves or small government grants and produced on a low budget. These spaces do not have any vested interest in terms of corporate loyalty, as galleries such as The Tate do; their intentions are not to line the pockets of wealthy bosses but to get people involved at the grassroots level. Smaller local shows give artists a platform untroubled by ironic undertones of profit and commodity. But much like in other industries, the mainstream and chain galleries trample on the underdogs.


‘Real Exhibition’ at Yallops. Credit: Nunns Yard

In a world ever reliant on the market, anything truly free is very rare. Small independent exhibitions are often free or very cheap to visit, refusing the orthodoxy that marginalises anyone who is less wealthy and opening up community communication in a country where a core aim of the government is the privatisation and destruction of community spaces. While individualism takes hold of so much in the modern world, these meeting spaces harbour conversation, interaction and questions. This is especially true for student exhibitions. For student artists, exhibitions are very much part of the learning process. Until they have viewers to interact with their work there is very little advancement that can be made. Research that takes place as part of these creative degrees relies very heavily on how the viewer, often the public, responds and absorbs their work. The ‘white cube’ gallery space is long been questioned for its implications. As that tradition fades away, new, inclusive, experimental art is begging for the public to get involved, to join a creative revolution where art opens up new channels of progressive possibility. Art tackles the issues and asks the questions that so many of us are thinking, bringing them out into the open.

Unfortunately, in a system designed to busy us with work, personal worries and financial stress, many feel they have no time to attend such events. We should try to make the time. The positive implications, networks and conversations that can circulate as a result of the deep yet simple shared experience of encountering art together could lead to the positive turn so desperately hoped for by many. Student shows in particular should not go overlooked and undervalued. Although they often show work in its early experimental stages, they are no less capable of generating a conversation, and the support and feedback that comes out of that generation is invaluable to student artists. So next time you are passing one of these spaces or come across information detailing these events, go along – the work on show may just resonate with you in ways you didn’t expect.

Featured image credit: Studio 20 Norwich

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