Berwick Gymnasium Gallery, on the far left, with the earlier barracks complex behind. © Tony Griffiths
Set up in a turn-of-the-century army gymnasium by English Heritage and the Arts Council, Berwick Gymnasium Gallery is now marking 15 years of its successful Fellowship Programme with a retrospective exhibition and book.
The Fellowships are the result of an innovative partnership between the national heritage organisation and contemporary arts agency, aiming to give young artists the time, space and inspiration to nurture their talents and develop their ideas in an unusual space. (The barracks are under the guardianship of English Heritage).
The creative luxuries afforded by the fellowships mean that they are highly sought after. Each year more than 150 artists apply for two national fellowships, and more than 30 for the single international fellowship place.
Uta Kogelsberger, Marshall Meadows. © the artist
The Gymnasium, which retains climbing ladders and floor markings for sports, sits within an 18th century complex designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, where soldiers were still trained until 1964.
The 1901 gallery building is resonant with the atmosphere of its former use, and the chilly climes of the northern border town give an added ambience to the studios, where Fellowship artists work through the winter in preparation for exhibiting when the weather warms up.
Turner Prize nominees and widespread renown have resulted from the programme, whose alumni include Mike Nelson, Perminder Kaur, Marcus Taylor, Shona Illingworth, Paul Housley and Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva. Jane and Louise Wilson, Willie Docherty and James Hugonin have also shown their work in the Gymnasium.
The gallery interior with the Love Tank by Walker and Bromwich. © Tony Griffiths
The gallery's curator, Matthew Walmsley, described the programme as "a wonderful way for artists to spend their winter months working in the historic studio, preparing, generating and delivering creative work ready for a spring solo exhibition."
"The scheme also provides an unusual opportunity for an artist to actually live in the local community, getting to know the people and the built environment, up close and personal."
The exhibition, Back to the Future (until May 11 2008), features works inspired by Berwick and the Gymnasium, from inflatable sculpture to cinematic photography. The latter includes a menacing video of marching army cadets, for instance, and other works reflect the nature of the location, with its turbulent history and spectacular landscape.
In addition, a book celebrating the programme and its creative output in an archival record has been launched.
Rosie Snell, Adrift. © the artist
Recent progress for the programme has included the appointment of a dedicated curator and exhibitions officer at the gallery, allowing its exhibition calendar to lengthen. The Berwick Open has recently been instigated, giving local and regional artists the chance to showcase their work in the space.
For English Heritage, their support for the art programme at Berwick has allowed them to make valuable connections between built heritage and art.
"English Heritage is a proud supporter of the Fellowship programme as we recognise this valuable time allows artists the platform for future professional development," commented Martin Allfrey, Head Curator at English Heritage.
"Also, where better for artistic practitioners to ply their creativity than Berwick, a locality rich in context, both architecturally and historically, a place that cannot fail to have an impact of the artists' work."
Judith King (Curator, English Heritage contemporary art programme) and Matthew Walmsley, (Curator, Berwick Gymnasium Gallery) perusing the new book. © Tony Griffiths
"We are aware that the successful partnership between the contemporary and the heritage sectors continues to stimulate everyone associated with the programme," continued Martin.
"Our history, both built, social and personal cannot fail but impact on all of our lives including the artists we've engaged with over the years. They have found a rich platform upon which to make their work and English Heritage looks forward to continuing to work with artists whose curiosity and vision presents a reflection of our past in unpredictable ways."
"Our intention is to build upon our experience and offer these rare opportunities to those who wish to take up the challenge."
Back to the Future is open until May 11 2008. 'The Berwick Gymnasium Fellowships - an archival record' is published by English Heritage and Art Editions North, and includes essays, interviews and images on all of the 26 artists who have been awarded a fellowship since 1993.