Monday, 21 September 2009

Being a steward has opened up my world

The value of the Gallery Steward has been under debate at New Brewery Arts (NBA). What role does the good old-fashioned gallery steward serve? He or she sits quietly in the corner, trying to look open to questions and discussion without imposing on the visitors’ private contemplation of art. He or she must be more than a security guard, more than a visitor counter, yet both these practicalities are necessary. But the exact definition of how much more he or she must be, and what this ‘more’ consists of can be a grey area.

Volunteer stewards at New Brewery Arts have been asked about their stewarding experiences, what volunteering means to them and the role they feel they serve for the visiting public.

The role of the volunteer can be looked at as one of giving and receiving, a role that is ‘interesting, refreshing and stimulating’ (Anne). For the time and enthusiasm he or she gives the volunteer is not financially rewarded, but the position offers rewards beyond the material.

Though the volunteer is ‘not quite an employee and not quite a visitor’ (as Rachael writes), he or she can still feel very much part of New Brewery Arts and offer a welcome to any visitor to the gallery. For visitors it is pleasant to be greeted by a human face rather than just an introductory panel on a wall. Pauline writes that ‘a smile helps to engage in conversation with folks from all nationalities and walks of life’.

Not only does the volunteer contribute a friendly and helpful face as a gallery steward, but he or she also has so much to offer throughout Brewery Arts. Barbara writes: ‘Doing a rough calculation I have matched the 90 hours stewarding so far this year with 90 hours doing other things at NBA such as painting (walls not pictures), cleaning, doorman and bar in the theatre, hanging and striking exhibitions, organising NBA’s participation in the Plant Fair etc. I hope that this additional work frees up NBA staff to do work more appropriate to their skills’.

In terms of reward, volunteering at NBA offers a rich yield. Terry has found great fulfilment in ‘making a contribution to something both professional and really worthwhile’. Stewarding offers the chance to expand one’s knowledge of contemporary art and craft and to enjoy the exhibitions on display in the gallery, which is a wonderful light and airy environment to work in. ‘It can be anything from a time for quiet contemplation to engaging conversation with like-minded people, but most of all it makes me look at the work in an entirely different way – through other people’s eyes’ (Rachael).

Gaining an understanding of the exhibitions on display in order to communicate this to the public can be one of the most intellectually stimulating parts of the job. Fielding awkward questions about the meaning and value of contemporary arts can be a challenge, but a thought provoking one. Laura writes ‘I enjoy the disciplined sharing of knowledge and learning from visitors and colleagues and thrive on the variety of interactions’.

Above all there is a great community spirit among the volunteers, who find that to take part in the running of their local arts centre means to own it and be fully ‘connected with a wonderful community based centre’.

With a last word from Sheila: ‘Being a steward has opened up my world’.

Ruth Burgon

Image 1 the New Brewery Arts Gallery
Image 2 visitor contemplating an exhibit in the gallery
Image 3 setting out an exhibition
Image 4 anything can happen in the gallery - including spinning!
Image 5 socializing in the café

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Spotlight on: Katherine O'Connell

In a small path behind New Brewery Arts are hidden several studios bursting with life and innovative creations. Completely open to the public, each studio holds something unique as their owners all belong to a different craft. Together with the gallery, shop and café they make up New Brewery Arts.

On the second floor in a quiet room opposite the brewery arts offices Katherine O’Connell creates quirky notebooks and sketchbooks perfect for travel journals, fitness diaries, sketches and Ideas or anything else that your heart desires. Katherine binds new books hardcover and soft cover using a method called ‘upcycling’. Everything inspires her and she is constantly looking for castaway fabrics and papers that can be turned into a vibrant handmade book.

After a hint from her father, Katherine got her start in bookbinding at the London College of communications studying book arts and crafts. After graduating, she took on an apprenticeship where she learned the trade of bookbinding. It was there that she gained confidence in the art and became the wonderful bookbinder that she is today.

Bookbinding is the process of physically assembling a book from a number of folded or unfolded sheets of paper or other material. It also usually involves attaching covers to the resulting text-block.[1] Katherine does everything herself; she folds the pages herself and binds them together, finally covering them with whatever material caught her eye.

Although she does not repair books, she does a huge amount of custom work, so if you have an idea for something, pop by her studio and she might just make it for you! She has tons of readymade stuff sitting in her studio ranging from small journals to photo albums all unique in design. Many of her products have removable pages so if you are journaling and mess up a page, you can just rip it up and not ruin the work!

New Brewery Arts is an exciting place to work, but for Katherine, the sense of community is the best part of working there. There is always someone to talk to and the numerous artists around provide a creative and inspiring environment.

You can contact Katherine O’Connell at 07739 313 348 or . Feel free to pop by her studio during the week: Studio 8, New Brewery Arts, Cirencester, Gloucestershire, GL7 1JH. Check out her website at to see some of the wonderful creations yourself!

A close knit group

The first Friday of the month holds a woolly secret at Brewery Arts.

Each month a lively group armed with knitting patterns, wool and needles, ventures into the invigorating atmosphere of the Brewery Arts café.

There they sit, knit and chat, drinking freshly brewed cups of tea and every now and then sampling a tasty treat from the café’s selection of delectable delicacies. For over a year these knitting fanatics, ranging from beginners to 'dyed in the wool' experts, have made the journey to the café, 'adding on' new members every now and then.

If you are interested in joining, yet a little hesitant – 'cast off' your worries. The group is filled with warm people, delighted to accept new recruits into their ‘close knit’ community. Each constituent brings something fresh and intriguing to the group – a few have even teamed together to create several installations celebrating Darwin’s Bicentennial. One woman sat looking at a picture of a bat and started to procure the same animal from her needles - with no need of a pattern!

Come along next time (Friday, 2nd of October) and see for yourself how fun the group is. No experience is necessary, just pop on over to the New Brewery Arts café from 2 – 4 and see what you can bring to the group.

Bethany Haller

Ellie Davies: Winner of the Public Choice Award and the Charmian Adams Award

Sometimes things just stand out. Ellie Davies’s series of three photographs entitled Silent, Dark and Deep, one shown below, certainly did that, so much so that she was chosen both by the public (Public Choice Award) and by the critics (Charmian Adams Award) as the winner of this year’s New Brewery Arts OPEN competition.

Her pictures seem to draw the eye, to lure us in, the very real yet magical space within them receding as if it stretches beyond the surface of the photograph. Each photo seems ‘like a fish tank’ one visitor remarked. Perhaps we are drawn to them in a child-like way, fascinated at what lies behind the glass. Each photo seems beautiful and threatening all at once. It seems we can smell the earth, hear the autumn leaves crunching beneath our feet. Davies has captured our imaginations through the use of this modern medium.

Ellie Davies has enjoyed a flush of success, having been shortlisted for several prestigious international photography awards over recent years. If you would like to know more about her work and career visit

Runners up for the Public Choice Award were Tracey Elphick, with her quirky collaged Scilly Fishing Boats and Jane Hunt with her beautiful small glass sculpture Connection Across the Void. The critics’ shortlist meanwhile consisted of Pauline Solven’s array of colourful glass pieces, Barney and Lucy Heywood’s DVD work The End and Louise Parry’s gem of a clock, Crossing Time.

Thank you to everyone who voted in the Public Choice Award. The interactive element to this exhibition proved enormously successful and with over two thousand of you casting a ballot, every artist in the competition had a healthy sweep of votes.

Ruth Burgon