The Art Fund Prize 2009 interview - Orleans House Gallery, Twickenham

By Ben Miller | 07 April 2009
A picture of The Art Fund Prize logo

Heritage Lottery Funding allowed the long-serving team at Orleans House in Twickenham to fully realise the arts and learning centre’s potential, creating new gallery and education spaces in 2008 in an impressive expansion of the space it uses for inspirational work with children and families. Rachel Tranter, Head of Arts at the House, talks us through ten years of growth.

A picture of families outside a community centre

Young families - just one focus for Orleans House and Gallery

How did the new-look Gallery come about in 2008?

"Over the last six years or so we’ve been through a process of two big capital investment projects funded by the HLF, focusing on utilising and bringing to life buildings that were completely derelict and bringing them into use. We’ve improved our services, got a café, a resident artist studio and refurbished the Stables Gallery as an all-round space, facilitating improved services particularly on the education side but also more recently we’ve got a café and an artist resident studio.

"That’s enabled us to do more for the community and all the people that use our education services and artists."

In what ways has that changed your capabilities?

"We were really excited about education, but we were very limited in what we could do. Now we’ve got a lovely big space and all sorts of different facilities. We have groups for young mums, nursery schools and disabled children, for example.

"One of the challenges for a small organisation like us is that our team and site have all grown hugely, so it’s how to manage that when you’ve gone from a small scale set up to a really big operation. It’s quite challenging and in terms of fundraising we’ve had to be quite aggressive and opportunistic.

"This week we’ve been doing a special project with one of the first groups from a new media diploma for 14-19 year olds, working with two schools from Surrey. I think that reach is something that wouldn’t have happened before and it’s taken us to a whole other stratosphere.

"We’re here for those children, for the community, it’s very important for them that even though they see the building has changed and grown we don’t lose our family feeling. We pride ourselves on having young people who we’re still in touch with years later who come back and keep in touch.

"It’s about seeing children in all their different contexts, whether it’s work experience, a qualification or just coming in for a cup of tea because they’re upset about something. I think our challenge is how we maintain that while growing at the same time. One of the strengths of our team is that we’ve got a lot of people who’ve been here for a long time. A lot of education work falls down where you don’t have a lot of continuity in staffing. We’ve got people here who worked on their first ever youth projects with us as teenagers, and now they’re arts and heritage co-ordinators. It’s quite a demonstrator of how we’ve developed as an organisation.

What made you apply?

"We kind of had our eye on the prize, we all know it’s the prestige prize for our sector. We applied last year for a project I’d done but I think the Art Fund Prize isn’t right for a one-off project, it’s probably not exciting enough for them. Last year we hadn’t finished our final phase of development so we knew that once we’d finished that this year would be the year.

How confident are you of winning?

"It’s difficult, isn’t it? If I get too excited I’ll be really disappointed. I sat down with someone who designed one of the other buildings the other day who’s working with us and she discounted three or four of the other sites. I think if we could get onto the shortlist that would be really amazing.

"There are some £25 million projects on that list, and ours is only about £2.5m all together. Some of them are not that new, some of them are maybe too new. It might be our time, who knows? It’s a great experience just to get this attention and support. I’m actually going to go and see Marilyn at the Lightbox [Woking, last year’s winners]. I want to find out more about how they’ve found it.

How will you spend the money if you do win?

"One of the things we’ve been trying to develop is an artist in residence programme in our new studio, working with artists we’ve known over the last few years. The model we’ve developed is working really well – we’d really like to do some residencies that work with public art and making things, so I think it would be really nice to set some money aside to properly fund that.

"The last phase of our development is for the Octagon Room and there are some things that are missing in there that were stolen in the 1940s, like a big chandelier and a painting. We know what they look like so it could be that we make a new chandelier and track down the painting. We were trying to think of things that you can’t get grant funded, which is quite hard because we spend all of our time getting grant funding. Someone suggested conservation, but that doesn’t sound right for the Art Fund Prize."

Who do you think should win the Art Fund prize 2009? Tell the judges who you think should win and why by visiting the Art Fund Prize website. You can also add comments - a selection of which are regularly added to the website.

Read about more of the museums on the Art Fund Prize 2009 longlist on Culture24.

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
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