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Contains Art CIC was established in 2012 as a not-for-profit social enterprise in an isolated, rural, deprived part of Somerset. West Somerset has the lowest social mobility in the whole of the UK and Watchet is the most deprived ward in the district. Contains Art was founded in this context, on the firm belief that who you are, what you have, and where you live, should not restrict your opportunities to see, take part in, and create some of the best art in the world. This matters because art is a powerful force of change—it fires imaginations, challenges perceptions, creates connections, builds communities and makes people, especially young people, believe that they can do anything. The establishment of Contains Art by the local community responded to an almost complete lack of opportunities for people to access and engage with high quality art in the area.
It was, quite literally, built by volunteers. Around 40, mainly women artists, who knew very little about construction, worked together, worked it out and learnt rapidly the value of power tools. Over a period of about a month, we transformed three worn-out containers into a wonderful gallery and studios. We opened on time and on budget. Since that time, we have gone from strength to strength, broadening our remit, expanding our audiences and demonstrating a firm ability to have a social and cultural impact in an area of low social mobility and limited cultural engagement. The spirit of ownership that was created by our physically building the project together has given us a powerful base—the Board is made up of local people from creative professions, all of whom were part of the build. More than 40 people continue to volunteer whether manning the gallery, cooking at community events, hosting workshops, or grinding the rust of the container roofs.
Contains Art is now the lead cultural tenant in a wider and very significant community-led regeneration project in Watchet, where we are located. It is being driven by social enterprise, Onion Collective CIC. Jessica Prendergrast who voluntarily coordinates Contains Art on a day-to-day basis is one of their Directors. Contains Art is the seed from which the scheme has grown. In 2019, assuming everything goes to plan, our gallery will be scaled-up and expanded, in size and ambition, aiming to become a significant regional, cultural player bringing the highest-quality artwork to a local audience who would otherwise never get such a chance.
For Contains Art, the development will include a much larger purpose-built double-height gallery, a new dedicated arts retail space and an expansion of the number of artist studios from 4 to 12, a substantial education and project room, and large community/performance public space. The wider project is investment ready, supported by an £80k Feasibility Grant from the Social Investment Business and £50k from DCLG. RIBA award-winning architect and broadcaster Piers Taylor has created extraordinary designs. The team have secured a three-year option on the site from the Council. Full planning permission was submitted in late 2017, after which capital fundraising will become the focus. The capital build is planned to begin in 2019, during which time Contains Art will operate through off-site and outreach delivery.
In the past four years, we have made a real impact—changing perceptions about who can engage with what. Our programming reflects a core focus on work that is accessible but still amazing. Recently, for example, we brought Matisse’s cut-outs to our shipping container (from the Hayward gallery on the Southbank in London). It was visited by hundreds of local primary school children. Likewise, an immersive digital installation brought in an unexpected, new, teenage audience, and we commissioned one of the liveliest emerging performance artists in the UK who worked organically with students from the local sixth form to produce a show-stopping spectacle. Our evaluation reports are published on this site.
Contains Art community interest company no. 08147743
The opening of contains art was made possible through generous support from:
Contains Art is now supported by funding from the National Lottery through Arts Council England, as well as the Golsoncott Foundation, the Fairfield Charitable Trust, the Sylvia Waddilove Foundation and the Somerset Community Foundation. We are hugely grateful for everyone who helps to make our work possible.
You can read all about the work we have done in 2016 and 2017 in our evaluation for the Arts Council below.
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East Quay, Watchet
Somerset, TA23 0AQ
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