Thursday, 17 January 2019

Organisational Development: A Visit to Kerry Campbell at Bloc Projects, Sheffield

Rebecca Davies meets with Kerry Campbell, Public Programmes Curator, at Bloc Projects, Sheffield.

Rebecca Davies, Sandwich 2018.

I meet with Kerry at Bloc Projects, where she is Public Programmes Curator. Part 2 of the 3 visits I am doing to people I believe to be hosting exciting, inclusive, rad activity as part of their arts organisations.

It’s a clear, crisp day in Sheffield – a city I am really enjoying spending a bit more time in recently. I can’t help but draw parallels between Sheffield and Stoke whenever I visit. There are very few parallels really, other than a biggy – the post industrial one. Sheffield seems to have owned and overcome this, it feels progressive – like Glasgow felt when I studied there just over 10 years ago.

Stoke is different: there’s less money here than Sheffield (though there is still high poverty in Sheff) and in Stoke there still seems to be a nostalgia for those past industries – and I find that tough sometimes, because whilst I recognise it’s important to be sensitive about this history, I think the future is more important …… sidetracked there! Back to Bloc Projects, and most importantly, Kerry.

Kerry Campbell got in touch with me in March 2018. She had recently moved from her hometown of Luton – something she mentioned in her email to me, which I instantly picked up on, because her introduction was personal – and where she came from was important to her.

We had a long phone conversation – something that rarely happens after an invitation to work with a gallery/arts institution. She was interested in who I was and why I make work, and we generously shared stories before deciding on a date for my performance and talk with Bloc Projects as part of the SALON 18 programme, this season entitled The Local: Conversation, Representation and Collective Organisation.

Fast>>forward to October 18.  Where this time I had contacted her to share her approach to running this programme. We meet in the reception of the gallery – it’s some time after Frieze, where Kerry has been running tours; "focusing on the fair’s new invitational section – social work. Dedicated to just a selection of underrepresented female artists of the 80s and 90s." We share a laugh about how it’s important to try and maintain a sense of humour during the extravagance of Frieze, and try and take all the credit card waving elite with a pinch of salt. That environment feels a million miles away from the artist led, or from reality for that matter.

Kerry is energetic, bold and hungry – she’s a total asset to the art world - an industry and culture she constantly challenges, largely through her programming (also see the Luton based TMT Projects she’s running.) And it feels great to see her again, to discuss work and listen to how she approaches her role at Bloc Projects. (Please see previous writing about Clare Charles – similar feels here, meeting to share and support each other – not just for research!)

Bloc is run by two people: Kerry and Dave (director David McLeavy). Bloc Projects is a gallery space, programme and artists' studios – the gallery and studios however are separate entities. 

In front of Kerry is an unopened cheese and ham sandwich from Sainsbury’s. "Have you eaten? Do you want it? Do you want half at least? Go on have half – then we can have a proper lunch together later."

Kerry curates and delivers SALON 18 – a multi disciplinary programme running parallel to (but not necessarily in response to) the exhibitions at Bloc. It is inclusive and free and aims to be sociable and educational. It invites arts practitioners to share their practice through talks, events and workshops. Kerry also aims to keep it regular, with something happening either in the gallery or offsite every Wednesday. It aims to support emerging to mid-career artists, but also "opens up to a broader public." The programme seems to have a great relationship with the university and is reaching out to other arts and community orgs across the city. 

Kerry and I agree on and are equally passionate about a number of things – largely representation and the lack of it in the arts (or the overrepresentation of the select, privileged few), but also coiffed (landlady) hair. Sitting at the desk of Bloc, I am reminded that Kerry embodies landlady qualities: she doesn’t take any shit and she feels a responsibility to people, making sure they’re looked after and having a good time. I don’t doubt these are important qualities when running a public arts programme. 

"… My proposed evolution for Bloc Projects next year is that the public programme - just because that’s what I have authority over - becomes more horizontal, more peer led, and intrinsic to it is the supported professional development of young women in the arts."

I’m picking up some important themes to bring across to any plans for AirSpace gallery’s public programme – it’s the porousness I touched on in my visit to Clare Charles in Cardiff. An inclusive, horizontal, peer led approach that seems, from the outside, to be working well for Bloc. 

A week or so later at the Social Art Summit, we bump into Rich at the pub – the man who first set up Bloc Studios years ago. He’s a proper geezer who seems really proud of what Bloc Projects is doing, but recognises how difficult it can be to maintain a working space and programme when you are also an artist – something we’re trying to get our heads round at AirSpace, but we can only learn through doing. 

My discussion with Kerry highlights that we’re not miles apart in what we’re doing already. Except, I do it as an artist – as part of my artistic practice, rather than with a gallery. So how can I do this without it feeling like a job on top of my practice? If AirSpace Gallery is truly artist led, then perhaps I am a long term artist-in-residence delivering a peer-led, inclusive, multi disciplinary, sociable programme – like what I do anyway as the landlady of The Oasis Social Club, or as part of The Portland Inn Project?

Next time I meet Kerry the plan is to put the world to rights in a nail salon at the indoor market round the corner from Bloc Projects.  
My nails will spell out 
C – O – L – L – A – B – O – R – A - T

And Kerry will take the E  for the team of us all working together to figure out how best to make art more public, more diverse, more inclusive and more collaborative.

With thanks to Kerry Campbell and Bloc Projects.

Visit Bloc Projects: