An article in The Independent once declared that ‘art galleries ought to be amusing’. Not, as we discovered they meant, in a comedic fashion, but instead using the historic sense of the word - entertaining, interesting and enthralling. Unfortunately, research has also found that for many people, the concept of attending art galleries was considered “not for the likes of me”. Whilst art galleries were originally invented as places of leisure for a new urban populace, they are intended to be educative, but just like the theatre or the cinema, the newspaper article claimed that they should also ‘give you the promise of excitement and thrilling engagement’.
Here at The Hills, we wholeheartedly agree, and so does our fabulous local art gallery MOSTYN in Llandudno. I had the pleasure of catching up with Audience Relations Manager, Lin Cummins, and Barry Morris, Retail Manager, to find out more about the nature of the modern art gallery and how the public can engage with artists to create this ‘amusement’ of exciting contemporary art!
To introduce MOSTYN, it is the largest contemporary art gallery in Wales and shows work from all over the world alongside fabulous art and craft from artists and makers based in Wales. As Llandudno is a tourist town, the population grows massively during the holiday seasons and the gallery welcomes many people from all walks of life. However, there's more to MOSTYN than its reputation as the foremost contemporary gallery and visual arts centre in Wales. Behind an impressive Edwardian terracotta facade, topped with a landmark gold spire, the original turn of the century galleries have been merged with stunning modern spaces in an award-winning architectural design. The six gallery spaces exhibit the best in international contemporary art and craft, showing artists and makers from Wales and far beyond. With friendly staff, activities for all ages, a lovely shop and a bright and airy café, there is most certainly something for everyone.
Lin is clear that at MOSTYN, they operate a very ‘open door’ policy and of course culture vultures flock there, but she is keen also to ensure the door is wide open to everyone and anyone. With such a varied visitor demographic, from local families and holidaymakers to international artists and journalists, their new season exhibitions include artists from New York and Zurich but also from artists based just up the street. Thanks to their beautiful shop and café, for some local residents, MOSTYN is now very much a part of their regular social route around the town.
Whilst some people may still think of galleries as places where you have to be intellectual and knowledgeable to enjoy a visit, MOSTYN is working extremely hard to dispel the myth that galleries are only for the knowledgeable elite, and the staff are only too happy to chat with you about the exhibitions. Additionally, events are held alongside their exhibition programme and these are so successful in opening up the conversation in all kinds of ways to include both the community and artists. MOSTYN presents art that is relevant and accessible to all without compromising on a curatorial approach, which is to bring the best in international contemporary art to North Wales.
To further aid accessibility and approachability, the visitor experience team and retail staff are practicing artists or creatives, and so they too are passionate about contemporary art, craft and design. Additionally, MOSTYN holds talks for new exhibitions with the Director, Curator and visiting artists, which are always a brilliant opportunity to gain an insight into works on show, and what goes on behind the scenes.
In an age of digital and social media and online streaming, we would argue that while essential to sharing art to a far wider community, nothing beats viewing art up close and personal. By heading to a local art gallery, you experience not just the exhibition, but the atmosphere, architecture and conversation that you can’t witness online. That said, MOSTYN is excited to soon be launching a digital strand that will be hosted online, as well as shown in the gallery. Whilst the digital world holds a wealth of opportunities in some respects, the shop at MOSTYN allows personal browsing and advice from knowledgeable staff so that choosing that special gift becomes a more personal experience than e-commerce.
With a growing number of shoppers moving away from the mass-produced to the unique, MOSTYN has chosen to keep its store in-house and offline to ‘better support more makers, and provide a more personal shopping experience for customers.’ In North Wales, MOSTYN acts as a hub for the local community and visitors come not only for the galleries and exhibition programs, but also to take part in a variety events, talks and engagement activities. They can learn a new skill at their adult and children workshops or browse for gifts in the exquisitely stocked shop. To put the icing on the cake, the visitors and local community are invited yearly to vote on the Open exhibition, the next one will be taking place in 2019, to present the ‘Audience Award’ to their favourite exhibit. It is a testament to their curation that whilst only one can win, every single work usually receives some votes - there really is something for everyone!
MOSTYN is proud to always welcome individuals and groups to experience contemporary art and be part of wider community. For example, Lin and Barry shared a story of a mother who has been taking her children to the gallery for three years. ‘She often refers to the gallery as “her church”, bringing the children in regularly to experience the exhibitions, take part in workshops and activities, meet with artists at our openings and use our shop and cafe. We’ve watched as the children have grown in confidence and developed their artistic abilities, and their love of contemporary art.’
As a registered charity MOSTYN is dedicated and also proud to support independent makers and small businesses in its retail spaces, and all income generated is invested back into the exhibition and engagement programme. Put simply, MOSTYN encourages people to tell everyone what a fabulous place it is and are always looking forwards to seeing them return with the whole family!
When was the last time you stepped into your local art gallery? You could be in for an unexpected treat!