Being a working artist can be a very individual and isolated endeavour. The myth of the starving artist in the garret, although somewhat romantic
and archaic, is ofttimes the lived reality for creative people trying to gain a foothold in what can be, let’s be honest, a rarefied and elitist art world. In 2003, when
the Arts Forum was launched, it aimed to nurture a more collaborative and supportive environment for its artist members, upcoming creatives in Hastings and to develop reciprocity and strength both amongst its members as well as in the wider creative community. A ‘for us, by us’ vibe shone bright throughout the period of the Festival 15 celebration and was a gleaming indicator of the Arts Forum’s hard won successes. The old aphorism of ‘Together everyone achieves more’ is writ large and runs through all the group tries to do. Gareth Stevens writes.

Something Borrowed by Olivia Stanton

The previous fifteen years have not been all plain sailing for the group, but it is fair to say that it is in a very strong position right now. It is currently tighter and tougher than ever before and you can only be impressed by the ongoing commitment of its volunteers and members. The founding principle was one of complete open selection for inclusion in shows, but over the years a benevolent yet stringent selection process has been implemented. Selection and hanging panels have been formed, marketing strategies have improved immeasurably, a positive curation policy has seen the overall quality of exhibitions enhanced and this has led to the Arts Forum going from strength to strength.

Nothing provincial
Festival 15 was a group show that focussed on painting and aimed to further celebrate and promote the forum’s work within the local community and beyond. It featured 24 artists whose output spanned a wide variety of themes and styles. Some might have predicted that the exhibition would ooze provincialism, but nothing could have been further from the truth. Each contributing artist is a well-established
artist in their own right. The vast majority have shown their work in London and/or other parts of the country and some internationally. As a Fine Art graduate and inveterate gallery goer all my life, I can tell you that the work was of an incredibly high standard.

To say that Festival 15 was a success would be a huge understatement. When I spoke to Alice Pitts, the part-time Gallery Manager, she told me that the numbers of people visiting the gallery during the show were in the region of 5 times higher than on an average day and that feedback had been wholly positive.

‘A funny thing happened…’
It is interesting to note that the exhibition was complemented by a number of panel discussions and a spoken word event. The ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the (Arts) Forum’ evening held on Saturday 5th May described itself as a mixed palette of readings and performance pieces on the theme of art and artists. What particularly struck me about this event was not just the quality of the acting in the sections of plays performed, but the fact that the issues discussed were the perennial questions to do with what the purpose of modern art is, the widespread suspicion concerning how an artwork’s price-tag is decided upon and the elusive criteria by which we attribute quality to artworks. The featured plays and readings included scathing indictments of gallery owners, critics and artists themselves in equal measure. Clearly the Arts Forum are not fearful of debating such questions and are indeed happy to engage with the many accusatory fingers that point and declare the  non-relevance of art by those not involved or interested in that world. Providing a platform and spaces for discussion of pithy and contested art issues, further confirms that this collective is keen to take the road less travelled in developing real community engagement.

The King of Spain by Charlotte Snook

Grand designs
And so, as well as being just a retrospective celebration of all that the Arts Forum has achieved, Festival 15 is a consolidated statement of future intent. In achieving its proclaimed mission, the collective is looking forward to establishing a mentoring scheme by which newly graduated and emerging artists can learn from their more seasoned and established peers. They will be extending their professional learning programme by offering in service training workshops that aim to upskill its members in a wide range of specific practical and technological areas, and they will also be offering more community workshops that will encourage individuals and families to drop by and take part in hands-on practical sessions. All the people I have spoken to involved in the forum took pains to emphasise that their recently found strength
and success could not have happened without the sustained commitment and input from all those that have given so much to the group at every point from the inauguration in 2003. This is a collective that is resolute about both its community conscience and its responsibility to further develop the individual aspirations of its artist members. The Arts Forum’s new found and tenaciously achieved strength means that they can go further toward becoming a truly active and accessible force in developing community cohesion and shared success for all those active in the arts in Hastings and St Leonards in the future. Unlike some other similar organisations, Hastings Arts Forum have proactively planned for sustainability and succession in a way that takes account of member turnover and anticipated hurdles.

If you have not been to the Arts Forum gallery, then maybe you should. It is located along the strip of shops, cafes and bars on the seafront along the ground floor of Marine Court in St Leonards. The south facing space is flooded with the amplified light reflected up from the sea and with many exciting shows coming up throughout
the summer I would encourage everyone to find out more, visit forthcoming exhibitions and, if you are that way inclined, consider becoming a full member!


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