"I think Leicester is ready to show and be shown what is actually here"
Six weeks after the Summer Art Trail, we speak to Leila Houston and Fran Sanchez of Silver Vine Arts about the experience, what they achieved and what’s coming next.
2015 has been a good year for Leicester. After the discovery of a beloved Richard led to a huge boost in tourism, the positivity has rippled throughout the city. Leicester has always been vibrant, but now the wider world is starting to take notice.
Despite government cuts to the arts and the knock back of losing the City of Culture bid to Hull (it still hurts), Leicester’s art scene has brought crowds from far and wide this year for the Summer Art Trail, which took place alongside Leicester’s City Festival. Organised by local art collective Silver Vine Arts, the trail saw exhibitions taking place in not only local galleries, but in more in conspicuous, unknown spaces.
The organisations involved included Attenborough Arts (formerly Embrace Arts), Two Queens Gallery, Graffiti HQ, Leicester Print Workshop, My Workshop, Unit 1 at The Great Central Gallery, Leicester Lo-Fi Photography, PVC & Myoptik, Crafty Sew & So, Magic Teapot, Feel More Love Boutique, The Western, The Queen of Bradgate and The Cube Gallery at Phoenix Cinema.
“People at The Queen of Bradgate would come up and see the exhibition, when maybe they weren’t out that day to see art. And it works the other way with businesses too,” Leila explains.
Part of the beauty of the trail is that it took art out of its traditional gallery context; different spaces allowed for different types of art and a different type of viewing experience. Not only this, but it brought new audiences who may not have chosen to go to a gallery otherwise.
“If people knew exhibitions were going on in places like this, they would definitely come as it’s such an interesting space,” says Fran. “I think it can be more difficult if you have to travel somewhere especially to see something, whereas if you can just go and do your shopping on the market and then come up to see something, that’s fantastic.”
The project’s Open Call took submissions from all artistic mediums, everything from painting to live art, to exhibit in LCB Depot, New Walk Museum and the top floor of the Queen of Bradgate. Selecting work proved a challenge, with so many high quality submissions it was a matter of finding out what suited each space.
“What we chose was intuitive to the space. It just seemed to fit really well. We could just see straight away, what would be great for New Walk for example, the feel of the spaces came together really well,” explains Fran.
What seems to be at the core of Silver Vine Arts, in its attitude and in how the trail was curated, is the idea of the importance of the relationship between artists and the spaces they are working and exhibiting in. The trail not only offered opportunities for both established and new artists to exhibit through an Open Call, but also offered a residency in collaboration with LCB Depot and paid internships training and working with graduates and other volunteers. This helped those involved explore how the selection process takes place, learn how to curate and how to consider your art within a space.
“This year we were awarded some money from the city council for the trail, and welcomed in to the ever-growing City Festival,” Leila says. “With some of that money, I wanted to pay artists, photographers, videographers and some of my team to help coordinate the project. This generated some much needed employment for creatives who make a difference to the city all year round.”
Those who contributed to the art trail got something in turn, whether that was paid work or a studio space or learning how to further their trade, and the project proved a platform for new artists to learn, network and develop their skills professionally. Artists and local businesses combined, sharing their respective crowds and therefore increasing them.
“That was something that I wanted to prove, or show. There’s a massive thing about the power of the arts - what is it, why should it be funded,” she continues. “It seems really obvious but to help independent organisations earn money by using the arts, which in turn helps the economy, is an all-round positive thing to do.”
After the success of this year’s trail, 2016 looks hopeful. Silver Vine Arts are applying for funding to turn The Queen of Bradgate into a fully-fledged, electricity-equipped studio space eight months of the year, reverting back to a space for artists exhibiting in the 2016 art trail.
If there’s one thing we all agree on, it’s that there is not enough publicity of what’s happening culturally in Leicester. By taking art right into the heart of the city and into some its best-loved establishments, the art trail has succeeded in showcasing what the city has on offer to the wider public.
“There’s something very special about Leicester,” Leila says. “There’s an open-mindedness and a positivity towards the arts. I think Leicester is ready to show and be shown what is actually here.”
Visit the Summer Art Trail website here.
Follow Silver Vine Arts on Twitter at: @silvervinearts