“More than just a gallery”: Why the Norman Rea Gallery is a leading example in the artistic world

Amélie Watson

Nestled in the heart of Derwent College at the University of York lies the Norman Rea Gallery. Hidden in the modest brutalist architecture, you will find the only student-led art gallery in the country. I recently had the chance to sit down with co-directors, Sophie and Vienna, to discuss the Norman Rea Gallery and gather insight into the colourful, innovative artistic space they have helped cultivate and sustain. 

What struck me when I first visited the gallery was the range of mediums that were on display. From my first encounter it was obvious that the Norman Rea is not just an art gallery. As I began to speak to the directors, this sentiment became increasingly evident. Vienna describes the gallery as “a creative hub that has something special for everyone”. The gallery space is multi-functional where a wide range of creative endeavours take place, not just exhibitions. “We never really just do an exhibition” Vienna told me, “we have events that shoot alongside it to keep the exhibition theme going, keep the conversation running.” 

The last exhibition that the gallery curated, queer!, is a perfect example of this. As seen on their instagram, the gallery hosted a ‘Drag Night’ with drag queen Crudi Dench as a part of the exhibition. For their upcoming exhibition, Body-Architect, they are hosting a zine making workshop among other exciting things. Sophie asserted that the gallery “actually has things that draw people to the gallery and get them to engage a bit more with the art”.

I find this aspect of the gallery endlessly fascinating. It is not only exciting within itself, but this innovative perspective on art and curation is really pertinent when thinking about the current affairs of the wider creative sphere. I asked the girls what they thought about the role artistic spaces play, not only in a university setting like the Norman Rea, but more generally. Sophie answered “art is so important to be absorbed”. She continued, “you can learn so much about different peoples’ different perspectives because it’s a whole visual and sensory language that’s just different to anything else.” 

Despite how important art is, the perpetuated issue in our society is that it lacks funding and support. In November, the arts saw yet another budget cut in a string of defunding that has been present in the sphere for years. Galleries like the Norman Rea have had to make do with this reality. Instead of seeing it as purely negative, Sophie said that doing things like fundraisers and raffles are “really fun and a really nice experience for the gallery”. In every sense, the gallery engages creatively with the world around them so that everyone is able to participate in the arts. A part of their mission, as Vienna states, is “to make art as accessible to everyone in our student community and within our local community also.” 

The way the Norman Rea Gallery engages with the community in a way that surpasses the isolated event of the exhibition is crucial. Their innovation and independence is paving the way for the rest of the artistic world. If we follow in their footsteps, the importance of the arts, independent of support from the government or elsewhere, will continue to increase. The result will be a dynamic and flourishing environment for the arts that will benefit us all. 

Photos used with permission from the Norman Rea Gallery 

Categories: Art, Arts and Culture

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