Birthday milestone for church turned visual art space

Woodlock by Jacques Nimki, photographer: Philip Carr
Woodlock by Jacques Nimki, photographer: Philip Carr

This year at Fabrica, Brighton’s centre for contemporary visual art, we are celebrating our 21st birthday.

As an artist, I was involved in setting up Fabrica in Holy Trinity Church, (Duke Street) which co-incidentally is celebrating its 200 anniversary. I am now Fabrica’s sole director and have had the privilege of seeing Fabrica grow from an idea in the minds of four local artists to a team of over 200 volunteers, 15 freelancers and 10 staff. I can say it’s been and continues to be a fascinating journey and one of which I’m immensely proud.

Liz Whitehead, director of Fabrica SUS-170407-085851001

Liz Whitehead, director of Fabrica SUS-170407-085851001

Fabrica’s success rests on its meld of art, people, a can-do attitude and an open and creative approach across all areas of the organisation.

Our original belief that Holy Trinity’s historic architecture and central location could be a special place for commissioning artists and that this art should be accessible to everyone still holds true. We have supported a staggering 182 artists, from all over the world, to create some extraordinary, truly memorable works primarily for Holy Trinity’s unique space and Brighton’s domestic and visiting audiences. Several exhibitions, such as Brian Eno’s mesmeric 77 Million Paintings; Kaarina Kaikkonen’s monumental sculptures made from thousands of items of secondhand clothing and Ron Haselden’s poignant light drawings have found their way into the city’s hearts and collective memory. Fabrica’s next exhibition In Colour, opening this weekend feels like it might be heading for this extra-special category too.

As a charity with an educational mission we’ve also always been committed to giving as many people as possible the chance to experience visual art and that’s why entry to our exhibitions has always been free. Continued support from Arts Council England as part of its National Portfolio of arts organisations ensures we can continue to do this.

Whilst Fabrica’s exhibitions are arguably the most important and the most visible aspect of our work they aren’t the whole story. Arts organisations, like icebergs, tend to keep most of their good work hidden from view and Fabrica is no exception.

Beneath the Stride of Giants by Brian Griffiths, photographer: Philip Carr

Beneath the Stride of Giants by Brian Griffiths, photographer: Philip Carr

We’ve always been passionate about running an engagement programme alongside our exhibitions; gallery activities that are free or low cost, which open up new ways of thinking and experiencing art for the visitor. We also offer dedicated programmes that ensure older people, those with disabilities or others who might not readily visit an art gallery or museum, can do so. And increasingly these activities are co-designed by participants or the community groups and statutory services that represent them. We also offer developmental activities for locally-based artists because we know that talented artists and good ideas need to be nurtured in order to grow.

If our most visible assets are our exhibitions and our lovely historic setting, then our hidden gems are our volunteers. Like a rich seam, volunteer support runs through the whole organisation: in the gallery welcoming visitors; in the offices and during exhibition installation; as researchers and as ambassadors for Fabrica out in the city. By welcoming volunteers of all ages and backgrounds Fabrica is rewarded with all of the richness that this diversity brings: volunteers’ expertise, creative contributions, good ideas and insights, their contacts and connections, their energy, enthusiasm and friendship. Twenty-one years of that is really something to celebrate.

IN COLOUR by Peter Hudson opens 6pm to 9pm Friday, July 7 for the exhibition preview then continues until August 28.

For more information, visit: www.fabrica.org.uk

A Fine Line by Frederic Geurts, photographer: Philip Carr

A Fine Line by Frederic Geurts, photographer: Philip Carr

Blood Relations by Anish Kapoor, photographer: Philip Carr

Blood Relations by Anish Kapoor, photographer: Philip Carr

The Sound of Silence by Alfredo Jaar, photographer: Philip Carr

The Sound of Silence by Alfredo Jaar, photographer: Philip Carr