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What happens when an art gallery loses its exhibition space?
Oriel Wrecsam is the creative space of North East Wales. In 2015 the gallery moved from its former home in Wrexham Library to a temporary shop/workshop space in the People’s Market. This was a time of transition, as OW prepared to develop the town’s market into the county’s new Arts & Cultural Space.
Through developing a new creative program at the heart of Wrexham’s communities, responding to the hopes and interests of residents and tapping into ongoing activities, the town itself became a gallery. This website shares the findings of a research project that asked how people found value in participating in OW’s year offsite.

Drawing Workshops






This was art-making in its broadest sense: drawing on leaves and weaving them into shapes, doing graphite drawings on pavements, making ephemeral art. Drawing on the environment, drawing in space.
For many people, the idea of coming to ‘do art’ can be a daunting prospect. Children decide surprisingly young if they are ‘good’ at drawing or not, and an early lack of creative confidence can linger into adult life. Led by environmental artist Tim Pugh, this course sought to expand the notion of drawing beyond page and pencil. The group were encouraged to go outside and play around with natural materials.

Several participants had issues with physical or mental health, and said that using found objects such as stones and leaves had been a valuable way of taking the pressure off. The course allowed them to refocus attention away from traditional ideas of ‘ability’ or ‘talent’, taught them draughtsmanship and composition skills in less intimidating ways, and helped them find creative potential in the natural world.
“Tim said, chalk on them. Brilliant! You know, that brought back something from years ago. You are allowed. You are allowed. Because you think, you’re an adult, you’re not supposed to.”
“It’s being allowed to have that spontaneity, which you don’t get in a classroom. My job is just to see opportunities for the learners, the artists, to join in. [...] Breaking down that thing where you have to have your work in a gallery, where it has to be sold in a traditional format with a frame. To say, look, art doesn’t have to be a product that can last forever. It can be a moment.”
Tim Pugh, Environmental Artist

Make Trips

After the Drawing Course, participants wanted to take their work further afield. This evolved into the Make Trips project, bringing the group on a county-wide creative journey. Originally proposed as a smaller-scale project around Wrexham, OW expanded it into a series of day-trips. For many people this was a rare opportunity to connect with other people, leave the town and explore new places, and open their senses to the environment.

See OW's Vimeo page for more Make Trips videos.

Oriel Crafters






The Make Trips ran in parallel with a series of regular artistic workshops, self-led but supported by Oriel Wrecsam.
Calling themselves the Oriel Crafters, the group started to organise their own creative projects within the community: ranging from making a local fairy-trail to making scary models for a Halloween disco. In discussions, members talked about the value of these projects in helping them to ‘learn new skills [and] meet new people’.

Although these projects began in external community venues, after a few months several participants began to feel like ambassadors for OW, even volunteering to visit the gallery to help raise awareness of other projects.
“If I didn’t have anything [creative] I would scream. I’d sit at home, I would, and do nothing.”
“They don’t judge you here, do they? Not to judge anybody, but just to be your own person. That’s a good thing.”

Jonny Hannah

As part of the move from the library to the People’s Market, OW engaged visual artist Jonny Hannah to create a design for their new shopfront inspired by Wrexham’s landscape and history. The aim was to put the shop on the map, to make the frontage itself an exhibition.
The window artwork’s transparency was therefore a way of blurring boundaries between inside and outside: between the gallery and the community. But while OW’s outreach work was successfully engaging people in meaningful arts activities, for many participants this still didn’t translate into actually visiting the gallery.

This realisation led to a number of questions...
  • What does it mean for a gallery’s town-centre presence to be a shop, both within the ‘People’s Market’ and outside it?
  • How can different people be encouraged to cross the threshold?
  • What is the link between art, community, and enterprise?

Designer Makers






Usually you get funding, do some sessions, then funding runs out and you have to wait until you secure more. Here, OW were interested in social enterprise: in making things sustainable.
Following an earlier felt-making course with mental health charity Advance Brighter Futures (ABF), which took place in Plas Madoc, the Designer Makers project was born. This was triggered by the need to bring the gallery site and its wider engagement work together.

This project turned amateur crafters into professional artists. Using OW’s workshop room, a team of participants worked with ABF and local artist Rhi Moxon to turn their screen-printed illustrations into collaborative ceramic designs. By selling them in SIOP//SHOP next door, this aimed to draw community members into the building now whilst generating funding for future projects.
“I think everybody here, we've all had mental health issues. And I think creativity and mental health go hand in hand. [...] It enriches people's lives. It's so important, it’s that emotional nourishment.”
“While process was important, this was also about celebrating the sense of achievement that comes out of making something that then goes to market. It’s another level of pride.”
Jo Marsh, Outreach Officer, OW

ArtVend

Launched just before the move, the ArtVend project was another way to explore links between art and enterprise. OW commissions professional artists to create a series of miniature artworks, which can be purchased for £1 from vending machines around town. As an offsite gallery, this was a way for OW both to democratise art-buying and to bring artworks into the community. As well as taking machines to events, OW also ran workshops within schools where pupils made their own miniature pieces.
“The vending machine makes it completely unthreatening. It enables you to reach people who would never ever ever dream of walking into a white gallery space. Nobody’s watching. You don’t have to make that walk. You just put your pound in.”
Jo Marsh, Outreach Officer, OW
ArtVend sowed the seed for a new strand of work that explored the relationship between art, mobility, and place...

Moving Spaces/


Border Places

Shepherd’s Hut

This focus on mobile architecture carried forwards into one of OW’s most ambitious projects. Working with the Caia Park Partnership’s STARS Project (a local community-engagement project for vulnerable young people), OW engaged Antonia Dewhurst to build a mobile gallery/performance space.

Using reclaimed natural materials, the Shepherd’s Hut is based on an authentic Welsh design and will, in time, be towed through town to a semi-permanent home at the People’s Market.
“The idea is to get these guys involved, to give them an interest in art, to give them an interest in woodwork, engineering. It's helped build their confidence, it's helped build social skills [...]. It’s about trying to get them back into routines and get them into education, training, employment, or just having diversionary experiences that are helping them move forward.”
Kristian Losztyn, Mentor, Caia Park Partnership Ltd.
“I suffer with ADHD, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety. It helps me because if I'm just stuck at home, there's nothing for me to look forward to. I'll just be there overthinking things. So it gets me out the house, and it gets my confidence up as well. And since I've been coming here I've met a few other people, and I've built up a relationship with them now, good friends, and good people to work with.”

“It's kind of helping me focus on what I want in life. [...] I actually show people the photos. Everyone who knows me knows I come down here, they’re always like what have you done today, and I’m like we've done this on the Hut.”

“I got out of prison Friday, I did. Not going back. [...] I’m just glad to be here and helping, cos it’s given me something to do as soon as I’m out.”
While participants saw this primarily as a STARS project, part of Caia Park’s regular series of workshops designed to get young people into education or work, they also began to connect with OW - which most had never even heard of before. One participant began to stop in regularly at the gallery, while another suggested adding a laser-cut OW above the Hut’s door.
“Ownership only comes through relationships. To me that’s one of the biggest successes – our endeavour to bring people in, for people to feel like they’re part of something.”
Jo Marsh, Outreach Officer, OW

Explorers



Continuing the theme of transient dwelling, the OW Explorers project sought to interrogate the meaning of ‘home’. Sophie McKeand, a local poet (and Wales’ Young People’s Laureate) worked with three young women from Wrexham’s Gypsy, Roma, Traveller community.

By traversing the town’s streets and cafes, renaming public spaces and responding creatively to place, the OW Explorers wrote their own version of Wrexham: a ‘handmade city’.

Creative Floristry






Throughout their year offsite OW have worked to be responsive to the needs of Wrexham, making things happen that communities and artists actually want to see.
Following the Make Trips project, one of the Oriel Crafters approached their local college to ask about doing a qualification in floristry. After going for an interview, though, they felt that as someone with disabilities they’d been put off from the rigors of an official course. OW worked with Communities First and two local florists to arrange their own workshop series.
“We were so gutted, we pooled our resources and realised we could put it on ourselves.”
Laura Dickenson, Floristry Artist
This course attracted people from a range of backgrounds. While some had been involved in OW’s other projects, for others this was their first time. Using the work of Frida Kahlo as inspiration, a number of people praised ‘craft’ activities such as floristry as getting them into arts activities in non-intimidating ways.
"It’s just kind of opened my eyes. I’ve started doing crafts afterwards, and I’m self-employed. I do all sorts: bottle-craft, sewing, bath products, doing cake and bread to sell. I thought, ooh, I can do this and I can do that."
"It’s all creative. [...] We’re introducing that into our lives, aren’t we? A bit of art. Which maybe we would never kind of touch on that in our lives, only because we’ve come here."

The Makeshift






The Makeshift came from a desire to open up OW’s workshop space to anyone who wanted to use it. This was an exercise in hospitality.
The Makeshift project aimed to offer a space for people to get together and be creative in non-prescriptive ways. Advertised as ‘an informal weekly gathering’ rather than a traditional ‘art class’, the workshops offered a range of activities - from sketching to sewing to making bird boxes - that participants could dip into if they liked. Alternatively they were welcome to bring along their own work, and to take advantage of the free workshop space (as well as the tea and local cakes!).
“The first session it was a bit like, is anyone going to come to my birthday or am I going to be sitting here alone? Then the first four people who walked through the door, I’d never met before. You just come in, chill out. And I think a lot of it is just being really nice to people.”
Jo Marsh, Outreach Officer, OW
Participants reflected on the difference between the non-pressured environment of the Makeshift and the traditional art gallery atmosphere. Although around half the group had studied fine art at university, they frequently felt frustrated by the way these stuffy, white-walled spaces restricted their potential for creative thinking:
“Don’t touch, don’t breathe, don’t move, don’t do anything. You’re not really supposed to be here, but we’re letting you in because we’re feeling generous.”
Through the Makeshift, OW became a space where they were allowed to test out different materials and ideas. Participants talked about how ‘art’ often comes weighted with feelings of ‘pressure’ and ‘responsibility’, stifling the urge to simply create. In many ways, the Makeshift exemplified much of what OW tried to do in their year offsite. Connecting people from different backgrounds; loosening fixed ideas of what ‘counts’ as art; encouraging people to get together in a room and make stuff. Inviting them to reconsider art as play. That’s what the Makeshift was all about.
“For me [the Makeshift] was a way of doing something creative without the pressure of having to be an artist. Because there’s all sorts of baggage that goes along with that, psychologically. Didn’t matter if [what we made] was rubbish. [...] It was having that permission to be creative.”

“Art is a loaded term that comes with responsibility. As a general rule, ‘creative’ is just fun.”

“When I first came to the Makeshift it was the first time I’d actually made anything in a really long time. It was incredibly freeing.”

Classes & Workshops

Exhibitions

Wrexham Open continues to provide local artists working in all media with the opportunity to exhibit their work alongside national and international artists.
Based in OW’s temporary home, SIOP//SHOP, on Chester Street, Maker in Focus and Printmaker in Focus present a changing sequence of work from some of the best artists from across the UK. Ranging from scarves to lampshades, and from blankets to jewelry, the exhibitions test the line between art, design, and usability. They combine presentations on artists’ working methods with the chance to buy their products.


Latin for ‘risk’ or ‘danger’, Periclo is OW’s platform for experiment in contemporary art. Curated by James Harper and using a dedicated retail space as a temporary gallery, Periclo features a series of challenging exhibitions by early-career artists.

Partner Projects