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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, the little coastal town where Contains Art is based, 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.
For six years, until October 2019, Contains Art's home was three shipping containers. Over a period of about a month, in the early summer of 2013, around 40 volunteers worked to convert the worn-out containers into a wonderful gallery and four artists' studios. The builders, mainly women from the local creative community, who knew very little about construction, worked together, worked it out and learnt rapidly the value of power tools!
Contains Art opened on time and on budget in July 2013. Since that time, we have gone from strength to strength, broadening our remit, expanding our audiences and demonstrating a firm ability to have a real impact—changing perceptions about who can engage with what. A full programme of increasingly ambitious exhibitions and community events was delivered each year in the container gallery and the friendly courtyard. Our studios supported the development of a group of tenant artists as well as offering residencies to emerging artists. Visitors have enjoyed meeting and seeing the artists at work and the studios and courtyard have also been a hub for the local artist community to congregate.
Our exhibition programming reflects a core focus on work that is accessible but still amazing. 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.
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, and a band of supporters has continued to volunteer, whether manning the gallery, cooking at community events, hosting workshops, or grinding the rust off the container roofs.
A brilliant future!
Contains Art's future lies within a wider, very significant, community-led regeneration project for Watchet's East Quay. This project is being driven by social enterprise, Onion Collective CIC. Contains Art is the seed from which the scheme has grown. Jess Prendergrast and Naomi Griffith, who have managed Contains Art from the outset, are directors of the new enterprise. Contains Art 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.
Besides a much larger, double-height gallery for Contains Art, the development will include a new dedicated arts retail space, 12 artist studios, a substantial education and project room, and a large community/performance public space. RIBA award-winning architect and broadcaster Piers Taylor has created extraordinary designs, which received full planning permission in 2018. Capital funding was secured in 2019 and construction is now underway. The story of East Quay continues at www.onioncollective.co.uk.
Contains Art community interest company no. 08147743
The opening of contains art was made possible through generous support from:
Contains Art has been 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, the Heritage Community Fund and the Somerset Community Foundation amongst others. We are hugely grateful for everyone who helps to make our work possible.
You can read all about the work we have done in 2018 and 2019 in our evaluation for the Arts Council below.
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East Quay, Watchet
Somerset, TA23 0AQ
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