Words and photographs by Beth Gaffney
OUTPOST is a volunteer-run, artist-led charity with a gallery and studio complex based in Norwich. Their programme takes a unique position in the city, focusing on production – offering contemporary artists the freedom to take risks and experiment with their work.
Last week, I saw their most recent exhibition Sadé Mica ‘It Teks Time’. Sadé is a multidisciplinary artist who explores their experiences of navigating the world as a fat, queer, black person. The works produced for OUTPOST problematise ideas surrounding identity and nature or what is natural. One of the pieces hanging on the wall is a white bed sheet handstitched with notes from their counselling session. The phrases ‘my body’s given up one me’, ‘is it a boundary or am I just rude’, ‘self-inflicted’ feel honest and raw. In the corner sit two office chairs positioned facing each other on a bed of grass and soil.
I met with Charlie and Jade who are the Secretary and Chair of the Steering Committee to learn how they run the gallery. This is because we, the Young Norfolk Arts Collective, are in the process of curating an exhibition at The Undercroft Gallery in Norwich. Both artists studied at Norwich University of the Arts, are not long graduated, and work full time at City College Norwich.
Jade invited participants to explore how we talk about class, race, gender, disability and care in art and politics.
OUTPOST’s mission is to show emerging, contemporary artists, who push ideas and art-making processes in new directions. These artists are at a turning point in their career. There are five exhibitions a year. Four are solo shows, and one is a group exhibition made by artists signed up to the members programme.
The charity values diversity and inclusivity. Membership costs £25 per year and is open to anyone to join. The OUTPOST Creative Programme supports artists from lower socio-economic background and/or individuals that consider themselves as a working-class artist. This scheme facilitates a series of exhibitions, events, residencies and workshops. The Graduate Scheme provides residency opportunities for two NUA students.
Charlie and Jade select artists to exhibit for the Core Programme. First, they undertake independent research, through networking, attending shows, visiting artist-studios and searching for artists online. Then, they present their proposal to the other three members in the Steering Committee. This process ensures that decision making is inclusive, dynamic and collaborative.
Charlie and Jade see themselves as facilitators who set up the framework for artists’ to experiment and engage with audiences. The Steering Committee select an artist rather than works of art to exhibit. They invite the artist to take on the exhibition space and use it as their medium for 3 weeks. The artist decides whether they would like to create new work, brings works from their collection together, and how they are displayed. For example Tulani Hlalo painted the walls orange for her solo show ‘Thanks Dad’. Each exhibition breaks new ground. The role of the Steering Group is to help make the artist’s point of view become a reality. This is an alternative model to the mainstream commercial or institutional artworld.
I was incredibly impressed by OUTPOST’s work. We also chatted about how they secured funding from the Arts Council England, what is a Steering Committee, and their relationship with the general public. They gave me a tour around the studios which is home to artists at all stages in their career and working across all media. They are light filled, accessible and offer a vibrant community for peer support.
Charlie and Jade gave me lots of helpful advice for young creatives. They stressed the importance of making connections through volunteering, going to events, being curious and asking questions. They both agreed that we need to tailor our applications; do our research, stick to the word count, and, most importantly, show that we care!
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic OUTPOST gallery has taken the unfortunate decision to postpone all upcoming exhibitions and events. OUTPOST gallery will therefore be closed until further notice, this decision has been made to keep all artists, volunteers, and visitors safe. Whilst the gallery is closed and public programmes suspended, our work continues and digital channels remain open. Find out more at www.norwichoutpost.org