BOSSES BEHIND CHESTER’S NEW INNOVATIVE ARTS CENTRE WHICH AIMS TO PUT CITY ON THE MAP, INVITED CARMELLA DE LUCIA TO SEE WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT.
If you’ve got a passion for art, you’re going to want to read this article.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that when it comes to the arts, Chester’s not exactly lacking with places where you can find quirky and eclectic offerings; in fact the city is home to some truly exceptional unique galleries and exhibitions.
But entrepreneur and self confessed art lover Clive Jones wants to ensure that when people think art, they think Chester, and hes hoping his new project - the transformation of Watergate Street’s Grade 1 listed Booth Mansion into a stunning, large-scale art centre, will do just that.
When Clive took over 1260 Gallery last November, he knew he wanted to create something amazing, but it took him a few more months and the recruitment of a specialist team including cartoonists and photographers, to help turn his dream into a reality.
Because 1260 Gallery is not just an art gallery. It is an experience. With the aim of becoming ‘the biggest art centre in Cheshire’, Clive has big plans for this project, including exhibitions, workshops, shopping, fashion, painting and dance to name a few.
“This building has a lot of history - it dates back to 1260 when it was built as two townhouses,” explains Clive. “The building is Booth Mansion which is important, but it’s a project and we have so many other things going on.
“My keen interest in art has given me this plan to launch a new concept of selling and promoting art which I’ve been working on for the past five years. I’ve always found it quite sad that the general public don’t understand how many facets there are to art.
“There are many great commercial galleries but lots of artists can’t get their work shown in them because they are all dominated by print publishers. We want to offer that opportunity. Most artists want to be creative but a huge percentage of them have day jobs just to make ends meet. It’s sad that some artists have no chance in normal galleries. They need to be encouraged.”
“We already have a waiting list of artists who want to showcase here, and we are very open-minded about material; we don’t just want to see pretty pictures,” adds Clive. “Work can stay in the gallery for around a month, and each month we plan to hold themed exhibitions.”
In April, Clive enlisted the help of Polish-born photographer and artist Karolina Skorek who operates from a specialist photography atelier and 19th century photography workshop upstairs at the gallery, much of which is already open to the public.
Karolina, who has worked around Europe but prevalently in Florence, says she takes photography ‘to the next level’ and her work focuses mainly on empowering women of ‘any shape, size or colour’ through her images. She is one of the key figures in the photography workshops the centre will be offering.
Cartoonist and comic writer Giles Livsey who runs Pawcasso productions, will also be on hand to teach people digital photography.
A focus on the 'education' of art
“I want to focus heavily on the educational side of art,” says Clive. “We have sponsorship from both the High Sherriff of Chester Bill Holroyd and another major corporate company that we will say more about at a later stage. Because we have this sponsorship it means we’re able to utilise some free workshops and will make it our priority to allocate time and resource.
“We want workshops running alongside the gallery; 1260 is not just for people who already know art. People see something and say they’ve always wanted to do that. We say, come and have a go. Or if you’re an artist studying you can come and borrow the use of an easel for example - we have the resources to be able to do that.”
Although some parts of 1260 are already open, the grand unveiling will come in November at an exhibition that Clive says he hopes will ‘let the world know we’re here’.
“We’re targeting very high-profile artists from all over Europe for the exhibition and promise the venue will be totally unique,” he says. “We wouldn’t say we’re in competition with anyone; we don’t tread on people’s toes. We just aim at different things like contemporary art. Yes, we’re a commercial gallery, but we will be run as a ‘not for profit gallery’. We still need support.”
Elsewhere at 1260 is a gift and print shop, Italian coffee lounge, and The Contempo, a unique women’s fashion boutique that looks to introducing talented designers from all over Europe, where you can even take courses in the history of fashion with artist Annabel Hewitt.
Social space for the creative minded
And as if this place couldn’t offer any more, Clive is also planning to give the buskers of Chester the chance to showcase their work in light of potential restrictions imposed by the council, by implementing a live music area,
“Between 5-7pm in the evenings we want to get the best sheet musicians in here for people who can use the gallery as a stepping stone on their way home from work, instead of stopping at the pub,” he said. “Even though other coffee shops are open late I hope to create a nice place to come and have a coffee and listen to live music - to give the people of Chester a place to chill out.
“And eventually there will be a space which has alternate old films playing, a social area for creative people to meet and hang out,” promises Clive.
For more information about 1260’s official exhibition on November 3, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Class prices are on a case-to-case basis but for example, a 2-3 hour drawing or painting class costs around £10, while a full day photography course will cost around £50.