The Art Fund Prize 2009 interview : Ruthin Craft Centre, Denbighshire

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

With three full-time members of staff, the Ruthin Craft Centre in Denbighshire is one of the smallest organisations shortlisted. Set in beautiful Welsh countryside, the Centre opened a spectacular new building in 2008, and has built on its reputation as one of the finest craft centres in the UK since then. Director Philip Hughes managed to fit a chat with Culture24 into his hectic post-longlist schedule.

A picture of a child looking at a winged horse sculpture in a gallery

How are you finding your new home?

The centre re-opened in July, it’s a complete new build on the site of the old building. The old building had been built at the end of the 1970s and was too small. We’ve now got a state-of-the-art building which is very much what we’re about. The roof reflects the shape and the forms of the Clywdian Hills around us. We put in a feasibility study in 1996, so it’s taken a long time to get to where we are now. We’re delighted with it – we can do all of the things that we want to do now, so it makes a hell of a difference.

An awful lot of the work we show is objects, so we didn’t want a building that dwarfed them but at the same time we wanted a space where you could see things properly. From 1992 to 2002 we toured shows to 200 venues throughout the UK and most of those shows expanded afterwards because they were going to bigger spaces. In the current exhibition we’ve got a six-metre bridge in the middle of one gallery, which you wouldn’t have been able to get in the old centre, so on that level it’s very exciting.

Why did you decide to enter the Art Fund Prize?

Our architects said ‘you must apply’. We looked at the information and thought ‘well, do we actually fit in all the guidelines?’ because we don’t have a collection but we do work with collections from people like the embroiders guild, the National Museum Wales, craft council and Aberystwyth ceramic collections, for example.

We show a lot of new work from artists and we sell to the national museums of wales, northern Ireland, Scotland and others. Part of the mission here really is to show the work of contemporary makers but also to encourage collecting and make people aware of what is actually available. It’s more about enabling and working with partners really.

How confident are you of winning?

I have no idea whether we will get shortlisted. It depends what they’re actually looking for, obviously each year the judges have a brief but it’s a case of what they see. They’ve got some very hard decisions because they’re very different places showing some absolutely fantastic different sorts of work. With any of these things you do your best and see where you end up.

What would you spend the money on?

Winning the prize would be absolutely fantastic because there are so many different things we could do with the money to encourage access to contemporary work. Contemporary craft covers such a wide area of practice across the board, from people making one-off objects that are almost fine art to people batch producing where it becomes almost production design. It’s a vast area in which we work, which is really very exciting.

What has the reaction been like?

It’s been pretty bonkers to the point of needing an extra member of staff to deal with the Art Fund. It’s amazing publicity, but you don’t realise just how many people are involved and want information. We’re absolutely thrilled. It’s such an amazing opportunity to raise the profile of contemporary craft and a lot of the makers whose work we show. We’ve had super support on the Art Fund website, and some people have travelled a long way to come and see the exhibitions which we’ve got on at the moment, which is fascinating – people come in the gallery and you don’t know where they’re coming from.

This is a very small town of about 5,000, but we do cover a large area. It’s quite funny, people say ‘you’re in the middle of nowhere’ and you look at them and think ‘no, actually within an hour and a half’s drive from here there are six million people.’ It’s very easy to get to, a lot easier than, say, Tate St Ives. You can be here from Euston Station in just under three hours.

There are national museums on the list. Is it strange competing with major institutions?

It’s very flattering to be on the list with them, and also places like the Wedgwood Museum which is a fantastic collection. The V&A is one of the best museums in the world and has the most amazing collection so it’s fantastic to be part of that. It’s a real vote of confidence from the Art Fund being on the same list as these people. Friends of mine who know the Rotunda say that it is an amazing place. Apparently it’s the most amazing geological collection.

It’s excellent exposure for museums and galleries across the board. I think what the Art Fund is doing on that sort of level encourages people to go and see what is actually around them, so I think it works very well really. Long may it continue and let’s see how far we get.

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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