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Establishing a place for the best of today’s art

Is Haltwhistle ready for contemporary art? They certainly think so at The Shed

Exhibition at The Shed art gallery in Haltwhistle
Exhibition at The Shed art gallery in Haltwhistle

A Northumberland town has its art gallery and today sees the opening of its first “credible” contemporary art exhibition.

That is how Alison Raimes, project manager at Whistle Art Stop in Haltwhistle, describes Placeless Place.

Curated by artist and writer Louise Winter, the exhibition features drawing, photography, sculpture, video and installation.

It includes the work of nine artists - Louise among them - and takes its title from a remark by French philosopher Marc Auge that “place and non-place are rather like opposed polarities”.

While that won’t necessarily bring Haltwhistle folk flocking, the artists who responded to the exhibition’s theme all have significant track records.

They are, as Alison says, credible. As well as Louise, they are Annie O’Donnell, Clare Money, Claudia Sacher, Enrique Azocar, Graham Patterson, Jeremy Cosmo Davies, Phill Hopkins and Sara Riseborough.

Alison has good reason to believe that local people and visitors will respond favourably.

Since she opened Whistle Art Stop a year ago in a former builder’s yard, she has been welcoming 150-200 people a week.

“Generally the reaction has been fantastic,” she said yesterday while the artists were putting the finishing touches to the exhibition.

“People have been curious and the footfall has been very good. We have a lot of volunteers who come along to help us so there’s a real community spirit about the place.”

Alison grew up in Hexham but moved away and spent 20 years in London before moving back to the region a couple of years ago.

“I’m 54 now and I’ve been all over the place, trying different things,” she said.

“I opened a restaurant in Plymouth and then went to art school when I was 33.”

It was her hunt for a studio that brought her to Haltwhistle. “But then I thought, ‘My goodness! There’s no art in this town.’ I’d never been to any town where there was no art, so I changed direction and this is what I’ve ended up with.”

Alison got a grant from Northumberland County Council to help her convert the builder’s yard into Whistle Art Stop, a community interest company designed to support local artists and generate interest in art.

The place has a commercial art gallery, studios for rent and an outdoor space where children come to paint and have fun.

Now there is also The Shed, one of the buildings on the site which has been done up to provide 3,500 square feet of exhibition space.

Alison has applied twice for Arts Council funding and is optimistic she will be successful next time.

The Shed actually opened in March and there have been two exhibitions, one featuring Alison’s paintings and one of student work.

But this is the first devoted to the work of established professional artists who exhibit widely. French philosophers or no French philosphers, Alison hopes it will prove popular and a talking point.

“It is a very interesting show,” she said, “and certainly more typical of the things we want to do in that space in the future.”

The Shed opens at 10am but is closed on Sundays and Wednesdays.

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