Onwards and Upwards after Lockdown

The Hastings Arts Forum was, like so many galleries, sadly forced to close its doors during the recent lockdown. In addition to the latter, the Arts Forum was also put in the unenviable position, of having to negotiate with their landlord, who wanted to sell part of the venue imminently.

After much discussion, various terms were eventually agreed and the gallery is now due to open again on the 30th June, utilising the smaller secondary exhibition space of their original premises.

The Hastings Arts Forum’s newly revised shop front
PICTURE: Ian O’Leary

Such issues, combined with the ongoing health crisis, would have perhaps signaled the demise of the majority of community organisations. However the Arts Forum is determined to use recent events in an optimistic and productive manner, as it continues to move tentatively forwards into the weeks and months to come.

I met up with gallery trustee, Ian O’Leary, for a socially-distanced walk along Hastings’ seafront, and he kindly elaborated on the gallery’s plans for reopening. “We intend to carry on surviving as best we can… I think we need to use this time for reflection and consolidation, whilst also trying to maintain a positive outlook for the future. Hastings Arts Forum wants to remain a friendly and open arts space, one which is accessible to everyone in our local community.”

The Hastings Arts Forum is entirely self-funded, relying heavily on its dedicated body of volunteers, as well as the generous support of its members and the general public. The gallery first opened in 2003 and has faced numerous challenges over the years, but has continued to overcome such difficulties and contribute to Hastings’ flourishing arts scene.

Ian O’Leary fully acknowledges the inevitable complications of adhering to social distancing guidelines, whilst assuring me that the safety of all staff and visitors is of the utmost priority, with various procedures being put in place, such as only allowing restricted numbers of people in the gallery at any one time, a continuous provision of hand sanitiser as needed, limiting all monetary transactions to card only, and cancelling any exhibition open evenings until further notice.

A view from inside The Hastings Arts Forum,with necessary social distancing measures in place
PICTURE: Ian O’Leary

Alongside such essential regulatory measures, the team at the Arts Forum have been working tirelessly behind the scenes, revising the original calendar of events to ensure a varied and exciting programme of exhibitions, over the course of the summer and beyond.

The gallery opens with the show Short Notice (running from 30th June – 12th July 2020)  which, as its title suggests, gives a wry nod to the chaotic events of the last few months and in a delightfully personal touch, features a selection of mixed media work by members of  the Art Forum’s very own exhibition and hanging teams.

The exhibition Changing Spaces (running from 14th July-26th July 2020) offers artists the opportunity to hire a specific area of the gallery, rather than the entirety of it, to showcase their work on a rotating, fortnightly basis. This is one of a number of new innovative formats being introduced at The Hastings Arts Forum, which the team hope will encourage a more inclusive relationship with the gallery and contributing artists, as well as help to promote a more diverse range of work for visitors to enjoy.

Confirmed artists for Changing Spaces include: Samantha Guertin, Peter Clarke, Judith Rowe and Jill Hartman, to name but a few.

Harry Tryphonos’ solo exhibition; Minor Sketches (running from 28th July – 9th August 2020) presents a  series of truly compelling paintings, alongside black and white film shots. Harry’s work is very much defined by the present, conveying an inspired sense of instinctive immediacy and uniquely promethean visual style. 

Myth – A painting by Nancy Sharpe, as featured in the Short Notice Exhibition at HAF
PICTURE: Ian O’Leary

In these challenging and inherently unpredictable times, it’s certainly heartening to see a vital community collective like The Hastings Arts Forum continuing to provide an alternative to the burgeoning challenges of our new normal. It’s an unfortunate reality that the creative sector is often one of the first to suffer in the face of such global adversity, however it’s also one of the most transformational and there can be no other gallery within the vicinity of Hastings which exemplifies this more than The Hastings Arts Forum.

As Ian O’Leary surmised as we made our way past the gallery’s now empty reception area, shortly to part ways and return to the now all too familiar confines of our individual abodes:

“I’m always amazed by the support we get not just from our wonderful members and volunteers, but from many other local people too. Perhaps circumstances aren’t ideal, but we’re looking forward to welcoming many old and new friends  back to our gallery, where we hope they’ll find some  much needed escapism from the troubles of the last few months.”

Please refer to The Hastings Arts Forum gallery website for further information on future exhibitions and volunteering opportunities: www.hastingsartsforum.co.uk

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