Open Sesame

I volunteer at the local collective art gallery, (HAF), a bright, double-galleried space overlooking the sea in St Leonards.  Of the 9000 people who live here, as opposed to Hastings, on the other side of the recently refurbished pier, (we are the equivalent of Hove to Brighton), it is calculated that as many as 600 are creatives.  We need to do more to highlight that we are a very creative town.

HAF is directly on the which runs from the Jerwood in Hastings, to the Towner in Eastbourne, via the De La Warr in Bexhill.  St Leonards also competes heavily for attention with Hastings, so has a need to distinguish itself.  I am on the committee for the annual family festival in St Leonards, but Hastings has a festival most weeks, so it passes almost unnoticed.

The recently appointed chair of HAF, Christine, is keen to make a difference as to how the organisation is perceived within the local art community.  To this end I organised a meeting for her with a friend who heads up the Coastal Culture Trail.   HAF has also been rebranded, but it is not enough.  HAF needs to demonstrate a reason why it deserves to be on the trail.

During the research for my contextual study last year, it became apparent that in spite of watercolour being one of the oldest mediums, it is considered to be the realm of amateurs, of genteel ladies with time on their hands, avoided by professionals, with reputations to protect.

There are currently three national exhibitions, the Royal Institute, Royal Watercolour Society and the Sunday Times, which through membership or intent, err towards the traditional.  Earlier this year I presented a proposal to the trustees at HAF regarding the opportunity to seek out and showcase the very best in contemporary watercolour.  This week they have finally agreed to proceed and meetings have been held with the chair and chief curator.  IT, judging and sponsorship issues, timescales and roles are being considered, with possible names to assist, being suggested.  I have also had a meeting with Alison Bettles at the Towner gallery, who managed the East Sussex Open, to identify how best to approach such an undertaking.

We will be looking for innovation.  That may be with surface, scale, subject matter, who knows, I await to be amazed.  The application, judging and acceptance will be online.  it will only be when the work is delivered that we will see whether it lives up to expectation, for the first time.

A serious, high profile undertaking, which is exciting and challenging.  If we succeed in attracting artists who are pushing the boundaries with the medium, curators and gallerists may be prepared to revisit watercolour with a degree of enthusiasm that has been sorely lacking for a generation.  Planning is key, failure isn’t an option.



Author: susanmilleruk

Watercolour painter living, working and loving Hastings and St Leonards on Sea. MA in Fine Art.

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