Where do we stand with the visual arts in Leicester at the moment? There are clearly cogs turning and initiatives working towards the collective aim of platforming and improving the visual arts offer in the city.
This has been happening both in the city’s venues and on an individual artist level. The Attenborough Arts Centre paves the way with exhibitions on international scale, such as the recent Claude Cahun and Laura Swanson co-exhibit or the nationally recognised Ryan Gander’s Night in the Museum curation of the Arts Council’s collection, whilst also offering an inclusive youth arts programme.
Then, there’s Phoenix’s Cube gallery that has been expertly curated by the team that has continuously paved the way for a digital revolution in Leicester’s arts scene, showing the likes of Kitty Clarke, Benedict Drew, Layla Curits and MSHR.
Each artist studio in Leicester is working within their own individual and distinctive style too. Two Queens support a broad range of early – mid career artists, hosting the bizarre and brilliant in their newly revamped spaces. The Makers Yard have their craft orientated studio and the new kids on the block, Studio nAme, are ambitiously driving their artists to the fore of what’s hot in contemporary art in the UK, looking beyond the bounds of Leicester and the Midlands.
But it now seems that there is a need to reorganise. As impetus and ambition grows within the city, artists and creatives are seemingly collating with power in numbers. Initiatives like Art House, Leicester Art Week and the city’s variety of arts and cultural festivals (Bring the Paint, An Indian Summer, City Festivals) have driven the city’s wider population to recognise what their home has to offer. What next to keep hold of this recognition and maintain the energy and interest that has been generated?
Most recently an idea has been proposed of a white wall gallery space in the city centre of Leicester. The idea is one of a large, inclusive and accessible space that works across mediums in an experimental manner – visual arts, music, dance, performance, installations and that can accommodate the early to mid-level artist exhibiting in a professional setting. A group is currently being set up to explore this avenue that aims to collate artists and organisations that are looking to generate some interest in the creative energies and offers of the city into one place, potentially keeping it privately funded and maintain a feel of self, rather than insularly arts funded. Could this be a chance for artists in the city to focus on a common objective? Artists helping artists who have so far, been left feeling isolated in their efforts.
The utopian dream? Or a possibility? Some are asking for an alternative – for further investment into the arts spaces that are currently on offer and to contact their gate keepers if you believe them to be inaccessible, with the fear being that this utopian ideal could just become a variation of the same theme. Only time will tell, but I certainly hope that Leicester’s artists and arts organisations keep their confidence and continue to revitalise and energise what has been recognised so clearly in the city’s cultural capital.
Photography by David Wilson Clarke