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Hastings Arts Forum.

New chapter opens for Hastings Arts Forum

It has not gone unnoticed that Hastings is changing – new shops, cafes, good quality art. Hearing murmurings of things stirring behind the establishment pillars of Hastings Arts Forum, HOT reporter Lauris Morgan-Griffiths went to find out what was going on. 

The gallery has a new chairperson, artist Ian Welsh, who recently landed in Hastings. From his first encounter with HAF he could see the gallery’s potential and was impressed by its set-up. “I wouldn’t be surprised if HAF isn’t unique in the country. The fact that it has independent funding, run by its members for its members by volunteers. It has been an amazing feat to survive and retain total independence without going down on bended knee to the Arts Council.”

Ian Welsh

Ian Welsh.

Ian is an artist, has run commercial art galleries, been very involved in higher education  – former head of the painting department at Bergen Academy, head of printmaking at Chelsea. He is well-connected, well-poised and determined to push Hastings to being part of the national, if not international, art scene – forging links with other organisations up to the M25, around to the Kent coast and over to West Sussex.

He is excited by the prospect of steering the gallery into a new phase. He has already persuaded art world contacts to visit the town. The initial idea to come and meet some resident artists was greeted with cynical reticence – noses turned northwards and, with silent shock horror, “In Hastings?”  And then the cynics were knocked sideways that there were seriously good  artists hidden around the town who should, in their opinion, be nationally acclaimed.

No one likes change and HAF members are no different. To begin with there were grumblings that HAF would change into a Hoxton or Shoreditch Gallery; that he was bullying the membership. But the Hastings-ites are resilient and apparently now welcome the fresh air blowing through the gallery. Something must be moving in the right direction since 100 new members have joined HAF.

There have been criticisms in the past about the standards of exhibitions. And no longer will exhibitions be a given. In future, all proposals will be scrutinised and the answer may come back that the artist is not ready to exhibit but would they like some help?

At a recent meeting of the board of trustees Ian was delighted when it was mooted to introduce mentoring to the Forum. Something close to his heart. The general thrust is not to exclude but positively support and encourage the artists as well as the gallery. It would be wonderful if the Jerwood Gallery fostered a similar attitude. No one disputes that the Jerwood has put Hastings on the map, but the local artistic community feels somewhat shunned by the gallery.

There are also plans to look for sponsorship for specific projects. One such might be funding a season of serious lectures with renowned artists, art historians, musical directors, theatre directors and writers. The recent Big Draw attracted 100 people to HAF in two days. From that level of activity it is possible to apply for funding retrospectively from the Big Draw national organisation.

So the schemes are ambitious. Ian has enviable links through his longevity in the field. He is visiting professor to a University of East Anglia London Campus course for creative entrepreneurs, which mentors and helps creatives succeed in business in the art world. He is art consultant to an international firm of lawyers who support prize-winning graduates from Wimbledon, Central St Martins, Camberwell and Chelsea art schools. Similar relationships could be built from Hastings.

Hastings is a town that has succeeded massively on its own energy and innovation. And will grab the opportunity to do so again. Hastings-ites are not insular, they are happy to think big. If something does not exist, someone will create it. And a reinvention of the Hastings Art Forum can only be a good thing.

Posted 13:39 Wednesday, Oct 30, 2013 In: Arts News

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