There are fewer and fewer galleries on the high street these days. So many I know have closed in recent years, and of course there is so much talk about the death of the High Street.
Before lockdown I was talking about this to our fantastic framer, Tim Tenant from The Art Shops, when he came to deliver. We were musing on how the High Street has looked like it’s dying -although in Masham right now (despite the virus) three* new and exciting shops are opening. Tim’s reaction when I voiced my worries was perfect - and that was reflecting on the fact that we’re not JUST shops, that art and craft is not JUST a product.
And he’s right - in fact I often feel I’m far from just a shop. People come in to chat, to find a calm space, to experience, to feel part of a creative community. Experience on all sorts of levels, some visitors come to experience an exhibition, with no intention of buying, but perhaps to understand the viewpoint of the artist who created a work, to experience the emotions that went into it, and to react emotionally themselves.
For some people, lots of people in fact, buying art is also buying an experience. It connects with an emotion, it represents something we sometimes can’t put into words and it goes home with them and they connect and feel that, through the art in their own homes. When you buy a piece of art, or craftwork, you buy a piece of an artists skills, the love that goes into making, their perspective on the world - and often at a crazily reasonable price. It’s often something that stays in your home forever and eventually gets handed on to children or friends.
I’m finishing this blog the day before we reopen after lockdown and I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to being part of that experience. I know Masham Gallery is not another shop selling just another consumer product that can be disposed of on a whim or will go out of fashion, or even have some kind of built in obsolescence. It’s an experience, whether you choose to take that home with you or not.
* The Curious Merchant (right next door to us - looks very exciting), The Lunchbox - just 2 doors down and a refill shop just behind us on Park Street.
Simple Pleasures - an exhibition March 2020.
We tend to plan our exhibitions at Masham Gallery around 18 months in advance, so the title and concept for this show came about around late 2018. It was later in 2019 I think that I had listened to this BBC programme that a friend had kindly sent me. At that point I felt all our exhibitions in 2020 needed to be around the ideas of what makes us happy - content - or how we can find moments of joy in life.
That’s not easy when life is as tough as it has been for many of us this year, or as it was for Brecht in 1954. But somehow we all need to find those simple pleasures, if only for the safety of our mental health. So four of us got together who work in the gallery occasionally - all of us artists - and listened to the programme again and discussed our own (ever growing) lists. Then we looked at artists work which represented those pleasures, and I took great delight in bringing together a cohesive exhibition of these lists (SO much harder than I expected).
I hope you’ve had a chance to see the exhibition in real life, or perhaps online after we had to close on March 20th. It’s staying online and on our walls for the foreseeable future right now. Please do listen to the programme as well, maybe make your own list, and I sincerely hope that it helps you get through these dark uncertain days too.
I’m small in all sorts of ways - in stature as well as business! But over the years I’ve grown to appreciate and even love it. Often when you’re in business there’s a feeling of an unrelenting pressure from all sorts of places that growth is part of what you sign up to as soon as you have keys for a business door.
It takes a bit of bull-headed independence and spirit to make your own goals and image of how you want your business to look and feel. Being small doesn’t mean not being the best you can be, or ‘settling’ for something. Not for me anyway. I didn’t settle for a small space in a small town, I actively chose it. I chose to be a sole trader too.
At Masham Gallery it means I choose to have a conscious relationship with the artists we show, with the suppliers who work with us. It means that I choose not to manage a gallery from afar, that I’m hands-on in all aspects, not every day, but part of every week. Being small for me means that I can develop, as a business, and as a human, relationships with customers, sometimes their children and even grandchildren who have been visiting us for years.
Being small means we can have symbiotic relationships with other local business. And crucially when times are difficult I have far fewer hoops to jump through to change quickly accordingly.
All these things to me have been, and remain, more important than reaching a VAT threshold, or increasing profit year on year. I keep a close eye on all finances of course, being small doesn’t always leave a lot of wriggle room. Of course we all need money for our basic needs, and I’m certainly not denying the importance of it, but it’s not the main motivator. And somehow without money and growth as a primary motivation business is much more fulfilling, fun and creative.
So I really am happy being small, I really like it - in fact more than that I love it.