Established in 1978, Ffotogallery is the national development agency for photography and lens-based media in Wales. Their exhibition programme features work from Wales as well as from other countries – for example their current series of exhibitions ‘Wish You Were Here’, focuses on emerging loal talent in Wales whilst the preceding one ‘Condition Report’, was an exhibition of New Photographic Art from the Czech Republic. They tour exhibitions, collaborate with other agencies, have a track record of publishing, as well as an education and outreach programme. Their mission statement proclaims that they have an ‘active policy of commissioning new work which, in particular, provides a vital support system to photographers in Wales, forms an ongoing record of culture in Wales, and reflects prevailing attitudes and developments in photography more generally.’
They have an ongoing exhibitions programme in their regular space at Turner House in Penarth, which is owned by the National Museum of Wales, whilst their facilities (including: b/w & digital darkrooms; teaching/studio areas and a library & archive] and offices are based at Chapter Arts Centre, in the multi-cultural area of Canton in west Cardiff. For the duration of the series of exhibitions ‘Wish You Were Here’ they also have use of a venue called The Dairy, which they have customised into a space with character and edge, which they share with the artist group g39. It is there where we met for the first half of the day. The exhibition on at The Dairy is called ‘Invisible Landscapes’ by Rick Davies – long panoramic prints of an industrial and post-industrial slant, not unlike the unusual landscape views of John Davies.
Here is the team I met with (from left clockwise): Leela (Marketing and Development Officer), Lisa (Head of Education), Mark (Technical Manager), Emma (Gallery Officer), David (Artistic Director), Anne (Digital Arts Project Manager). Not there at the meeting were another Gallery Officer (for Audience Development) and an Office Manager.
Ffotogallery are interested in education and creative participation, and in providing courses for people at different levels. We discussed the issue of different audiences for activities and how it is possible to further engage them with exhibitions.
They have academic partners, offer CPD to teachers, and undertake advocacy work around the design of the curriculum. Unlike Scotland, they don’t have a country-wide initiative like Glow, but the Welsh government are looking at digital initiatives which may not be dissimilar. In terms of using new technologies, they utilise Cloud and Open Source to share documents and aid communication – being a split venue this is particularly beneficial. Their Digital Arts Development Manager is also working with Newport University developing mobile applications that will assist access to their website and to the services they provide. Digital inclusion is very much a concern for them, as is the potential of social media in relation to enabling people who encounter art through such means.
They have also 2 Residencies running The Valleys, and in particular at Blaenavon, a former mining area (the pit closed in 1980) and which is now a World Heritage Site. One artist (whose name excaOne of which is being undertaken by Alicia Bruce, who has been writing up a great blog of her work in emmersing herself with the communities of The Valleys and this is her final few days of the residency. You can read all about it here: www.aliciabruce.tumblr.com
Other topics we discussed were working with volunteers, membership, and courses. Interestingly, Ffotogallery offer Accreditation points through the University which can gain people the required grades to apply to university. The courses are taken up with a combination of people looking for accreditation and half are members of the public furthering their own skills in lens based media. This is lucrative for the gallery resulting in a very impressive split in their funding base of 60% public subsidy and 40% self-generated income. They have recently ceased to offer wet colour photography as there was no demand and the wastage of chemicals resulting in them losing money on this. They are currently looking into digital printing as part of their larger plans for development, which are formidable. The vision is for a new photography centre that can bring Ffotogallery’s departments together, an ambitious plan in the current funding climate and if that weren’t enough, plans are in progress for Cardiff International Festival of Photography in 2013, driven by Ffotograllery, which will hopefully propel their capital plans and current international ambitions.
We also discussed the development of Trongate 103, and its position within the context of the regeneration of this area of the city. The next stage is for people from Ffotogallery to come up to Street Level and continue the exchange of information – I’ve invited David to give a talk on the history and current plans for Ffotogallery and also to meet some people who have been involved in steering the Trongate 103 development.