Tucked away in the historic pottery district of Barnstaple, North Devon, the former Moose Hall with a history dating back to the 1700s when it was the Trinity Boys School, truly entered a new era in March 2013 when it reopened as innovative new art space, White Moose. Just one year on, its founding partners Stella Levy and Julie Gavin have already demonstrated the space’s potential as a rare breed of gallery. Carefully walking the line that divides the commercial and publicly funded art sector in the UK by cherry-picking financial opportunities from both, White Moose is fiercely independent and its owners’ unique artistic vision intact.
Julie Gavin said: “Given the financial climate, starting a new business of any kind is obviously a risk. Yet, being able to work with a clean slate and implement lessons learnt by existing visual art spaces is also a major benefit. Working in partnership with education centres such as the University of Exeter as well as councils and local businesses, developing strong links with the local community and investing in PR and social media to build our profile from the start, have all been key to the success of White Moose so far.”
Julie Gavin is not averse to risks. She worked in the City of London for over twenty years and as Managing Director of Leveraged Finance at Credit Suisse UK for seven years, before deciding to return to studying in 2009 with the aim to make a career out of her lifelong passion for art. She completed her Masters degree in History of Art at Christies Education (accredited by the University of Glasgow) and moved to North Devon where she met Stella Levy, an arts manager and well-known name in the Devon arts scene through organising projects such as Art Trek Open Studios and being on committees such as North Devon Arts and, along with Julie, on the North Devon Theatres Trust board.
The two women soon discovered they shared a dream to create a space which could provide sustainable developmental opportunities for outstanding emerging artists based in the rural areas of Devon who were typically forced to move to big cities such as Bristol or London to stand a chance of getting noticed. They also shared a passion for giving support and exposure to potentially groundbreaking emerging artists from all over the UK in danger of falling into the gap between the commercial art sector that tends to focus predominantly on artists with the greatest selling potential, and the publicly funded art sector whose projects and artists are by necessity selected according to the parameters and priorities of funding bodies.
Stella Levy said: “I approached Julie in 2011 with the idea to buy and develop Barnstaple’s old Moose Hall, which had come up for auction, from a run down community hall into a contemporary art space. In addition to presenting the perfect opportunity to pursue our own dream, we felt the Moose Hall project could possibly also answer the long term call by local artists for a new contemporary art space in North Devon. In addition, it would be a great space to enable Devon people to get up close and personal with local, national and international emerging artists through interesting talks and other events.”
In its first year alone, White Moose has become the representative of three talented North Devon based artists including Edward Crumpton, who presented his first solo exhibition at the venue last Autumn and has since been offered national tour dates and a place in the 2014 national touring exhibition of The Society of Wood Engravers. In the summer, another young local artist, Annalie Gabey, whose work was spotted by Stella Levy and Julie Gavin during a Petroc College degree show, was given the opportunity to exhibit work alongside ten influential contemporary artists from all over the world in Masquerade, the gallery’s most high profile exhibition to date.
Artist talks were a pre-requisite to all exhibitions and a number of independent events were programmed throughout the year, presenting a wide range of artists such as American conflict ceramicist Michelle Erickson and Devon based absurdist stand up comedian and author Bill Wahl to sell-out audiences from across the region. White Moose’s Christmas and New Year exhibition The Art of Giving included free demonstrations to visitors by leading UK wood engraver and past President of the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers Hilary Paynter and popular self-taught local potter Kevin Green.
Julie Gavin and Stella Levy are ending White Moose’s first year on a high this March as one of only three UK venues to host the prestigious 2013 Griffin Art Prize shortlist exhibition for emerging UK based artists specifically working in painting and drawing. This free exhibition will run from Friday 21st February until Saturday 29th March 2014. White Moose is open to the public Monday to Saturday, 10am until 5pm.
Milica Lewis © 2014, firstname.lastname@example.org
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