Andy Shaw's Experience

In February I applied to the Curatorial Traineeship at the Stove, as part of the Blueprint 100 team, then travelling to Scotland in March. It was something I didn’t follow through to the final stage, but was something that I felt helped get to where I am now. Managing and running a small community and contemporary arts space (Convenience Gallery) in the market in Birkenhead in the Wirral. Something that if you had told me then I wouldn’t have believed.

Why did it help?

When I made my application I didn’t know anything about Dumfries. I knew that I wanted to curate and this was an opportunity to train in not only curation, but in developing a wider programme. At the time I was struggling to get anywhere with a career and the opportunity to attend an open evening as part of their interviewing process arose. So I researched, found out about Robert Burns, Queen of the South and the Camera Obscura and then all the amazing things The Stove and Blueprint were doing and made the trip. Travelling that far felt odd, but I knew I couldn’t just sit and wait for an opportunity to come to me. Being able to see how a space like this worked and is run was also really great to see in practice.

I felt embarrassed when I arrived, I couldn’t help but wonder what I was doing there. Whether it was really the right place or whether I was just looking for somewhere to escape to. I stuck my things in a Bed and Breakfast next to the station and went for a walk, it was wet and cold, and the light was fading fast. I located where the Stove was and then headed for a pint of Tennent’s and a pub Dinner. I very much had psych myself up into going.

Its about the only place lit up in the evening in Dumfries, other than the Pubs. Brandished ‘Sometimes its sunny’ on the shop front. We’re told to enter through the back. I remember sitting on a chair alone considering what on earth I was going to say. Whether I could even do a job like that – which now I find really silly.

What I discovered was a space that was welcoming, engaging and offered support. I saw it as somewhere that fitted my principles, and somewhere that I could benefit from by being a part of it. We had to discuss our goals for the next year, it wasn’t necessarily to share, but to consider, to think about in relation to my future. I knew during that night if I wasn’t going to do that job there I needed to do it somewhere. I was unsure whether I could afford the move and give everything to the role with having a second job alongside it. I spoke with Katharine Wheeler before leaving, about how unsure I was about coming and that I wouldn’t be able to afford the move, and left with an open invitation to talk the following day. Which I took up.

Before heading to the Stove in the afternoon, I went out early to explore. I travelled down to Caerlaverock. There’s one bus that goes to Caerlaverock and it runs twice a day. So stranded there I decided to make work. For the first time in a long time. It really got the ball rolling again for me. I was fascinated by the landscapes, the castle walls and the way that the pigeons floated in the spaces between them, in the people on the bus there, Jimmy, who everybody knew, and sound of it all. I filmed in-between pigeons, and wrote haikus. Photographing points of interest and describing the place around me.

After a few hours I realised I had no way back. I didn’t have the number for a taxi so made the very long walk back to Dumfries. On the walk I figured I wasn’t going to stay. I was going to do something similar but back home. I had the invitation to work with my friends on Small Steps Events CIC (SSE), which I jumped into. 

Before heading back I still went and spoke to Katharine Wheeler at the Stove about my decision and my future. I am still impressed by the kindness and time she took out of her day to speak to me and help me. I am thankful for this.

From that point on it snowballed. With everything coming to a head in May. I exhibited at Fringe Arts Bath, Curated and developed a show with Pianist Shai-Li Paldi at Output Gallery, and was given the opportunity through SSE, to run a space at Birkenhead Market. I have worked mostly with Ryan Gauge on the Convenience Gallery project, with honourable mentions to Joel Dipple, & Niamh Mitchell too. Thanks to our collective efforts and the support of the public we’ve grown really quickly too.

During that month I had to learn fast. Insurance, programming, call outs, and the big question, How do you make money in the arts?; disclaimer still haven’t figured out the latter. 

What we did from the off, was create a manifesto to stick to. Which thus far we have. 

“Convenience Gallery is a community and contemporary arts gallery in Birkenhead Market. Offering a space for early career and local artists to exhibit, create and meet. As part of Small Steps Events CIC we offer support and access to creativity through workshops, tutorials, exhibitions and communal hot desk. – Our space must also benefit the Market and local community too”

Since opening officially in June, we have ran an open call, a show with Manchester collective TV Babies, joined up with the mental health charity Open Door Centre, to run weekly affordable evening workshops at their Bloom Building space. These workshops support an emerging artist and offer access to their specific art practices at an affordable price. We received the July grant from the Awesome foundation too to run free workshops on Saturdays in our space too. Coming up we will be working with painter Joana de Oliveira Guerriero, 2019 Liverpool John Moores Graduates on a show and with the Look Photo Biennial too before the years out. Along with plenty more workshops and talks too.

I can’t wait to see what the future brings to our space.

I wrote this as a thanks really. Blueprint 100 and The Stove were one of the few places that gave me a response, and the drive to not give up on where it is I aiming to get. There is still a long way to go but I feel as though I’m getting there. Hopefully I still get to work with the team there at some point in the future in some way. 

Andrew Shaw


© 2020 Blueprint100 in affiliation with The Stove Network

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