The History so far

Fermynwoods Contemporary Art (FCA) was founded by artist Rosalind Stoddart and architect Patrick Duerden towards the end of 1998 as an art gallery exhibiting paintings, sculpture and artists prints for sale. Their motivation was their own abiding passion for contemporary visual art, primarily non figurative work in the tradition of British modernism. Alongside this abiding interest, Rosalind perceived that there was no exhibition space for the most exciting and forward looking of artists in Northamptonshire, nor anywhere in the County to see the work of nationally and internationally important contemporary artists. Rosalind’s vision was to promote the work of the best up and coming artists by showing their work alongside that of established practitioners. She received early encouragement and support from David Holmes, who for many years had run a gallery in his own house in Peterborough before relocating to Cornwall in the mid 90s.

When Rosalind bought the Water Tower from the Fermyn Woods estate in 1994, it was as much for the opportunity to create a large artists studio as it was to realise its potential for domestic use. With FCA’s first exhibition, it was apparent that the building was also eminently suited to use as a gallery, and that alongside the art, the building itself helped to draw visitors to the venue. The garden that was created around Rosalind’s site specific sculpture Enclose completed the profile of the Water Tower as a visitor attraction.

FCA evolved to specialise in artist printmaking and geometric abstract art as well as focusing on the contemporary group of St. Ives artists working into the new millennium. It soon became apparent that this vision was not going to work as a commercial venture and public and private funding was applied for. In 1999 Rosalind was successful in a CAS/ Midland Band Curatorial Development Programme application to visit Scandinavia, and was able to build on contacts made there to bring the exhibition Colour and Order (organised with Galerie Michael Sturm, Stuttgart) to Fermynwoods in 2000, plus to develop contacts with artist printmakers in Sweden. Since 2000 the Water Tower has provided a home for the archive of the renowned Swedish printmaker Birgit Skiöld, who was active in London from the late 1960s until her death in 1982. Rosalind and Patrick’s involvement with the Birgit Skiöld Memorial Trust (latterly as trustees) has also allowed her to forge links with Grafikens Hus, the well known Swedish printmaking workshop and centre.

By this time, FCA was starting to gain media attention outside Northamptonshire, with reviews of exhibitions appearing in the Guardian Guide and in The Architect’s Journal.

In 2001 FCA approached the graphic designer Geoffrey Winston to redesign the gallery publicity material (which hitherto had been printed in-house by Rosalind using her printmaking presses). The result of this was the highly successful house style of private view invitations and booklets that accompany each FCA project.

In 2002 Rosalind met Gillian Garratt for the first time through Arts & Business Arthur Andersen Skills Bank. Gillian gave Rosalind support in a business development capacity.

Also in 2002, FCA was awarded an Audience Development Grant, which was followed by a RALP grant in 2003. Both grants were awarded by East Midlands Arts. At this stage FCA was showing two or three exhibitions a year, and the gallery was closed between exhibitions.

In 2003 FCA was selected (as one of nine organisations) by Arts Council East Midlands to be part of their pilot project EMPACT – a cultural tourism scheme for the rural areas. This marked a turning point for the gallery, and led to the identification of a need for strategic planning to guide the development of the gallery forward as a regionally based arts organisation. This year marked the first session of workshops accompanying the exhibitions with important input from Barbara Sewell.

In 2004 FCA appointed Richard Hadley as a freelance consultant to advise on the business aspects of a three year creative programme that formed the basis for FCA’s activities for the next six years. This programme saw a re-focusing of FCA’s core activities to include new media and community based projects in particular and was made possible through a three year grant from Arts Council. FCA also began to take an interest in the regional regeneration and urban expansion in North Northamptonshire (part of the MKSM housing growth agenda). Activities arising from this have included involvement since 2005 in Architecture Week, with a series of highly acclaimed debate evenings involving key decision makers in public and private sectors meeting face to face with community representatives and local residents.

The number of exhibitions and events taking place at the Water Tower grew, and the gallery started to remain open throughout an eight month period a year from 2006. Projects also took place at a range of other locations, including unusual and exciting heritage sites (including National Trust, Lyveden New Bield) and community based venues elsewhere in the County. In the Community was a new direction for FCA, involving exhibitions specifically tailor-made to their own context and locations, aiming primarily to bring art to local people. FCA’s audio, performance and walking projects (Hidden Tracks and Hansel and Gretel) particularly gained the organisation a strong reputation.

We started to receive funding from other sources besides the Arts Council England- Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Local Authorities and the Leader+ programme etc. FCA was also fortunate to secure funding from locally based businesses.

An expanded programme required organisational growth and Fermynwoods staff increased. Gillian Garratt joined the staff, part-time in 2005 as Business Development Officer and Paul Denton replaced her in 2007 and his post went onto be full time in 2008. Also a part-time Education post was created in 2007 that is currently held by James Steventon.

In 2006 FCA began to form an exciting partnership with the Forestry Commission. The Forestry Commission and FCA began working with consultant, Lynn Blackadder, to draw up a five year business plan to deliver artist-led projects in the woods and restore a pair of cottages owned by the Forestry Commission for residential use by artists. In 2007 the first artist in residence project took place with artists, Samuel McGeever, Nick Horrigan, Jo Cope and Chrystel Lebas. The cottages were fully restored in 2008; also the year FCA became a charity. FCA also worked with artists from as far afield as Germany and India.

FCA continued to commission artists to stay in the cottages, work in environment and use Fermyn Woods Country Park as a starting point for the ever increasing work done with schools and the general public.

In 2007 it became apparent that there were looming restrictions at the Water Tower for the organisation and it closed its doors in October 2009 and the hub of the organisation moved.

Rosalind Stoddart (FRSA)
May 2010

 

Moving Beyond the Gallery

Yasmin Canvin was appointed in October 2009 as an Interim Director, to oversee the organisation’s change in direction as it moved out of the Gallery, whilst Rosalind Stoddart took Sabbatical leave. The organisation first moved to offices in Brigstock, then to Vincent, Sykes and Higham’s solicitors’ offices in Thrapston.

During autumn and winter 2009/10 Art Reach consultants worked with the staff, Board and other key stakeholders to develop a strategic Business Plan for the next 3 years. As a result of this process, the organisation decided to become a peripatetic organisation, working across the whole county of Northamptonshire and to explore the feasibility of a new Arts and Education Centre in Fermyn Woods Country Park. However, due to the recession, the plans for this innovative project space have been put on hold.

An innovative young design company Ten-Hut, based in London (formerly Otherwise Continuous) was appointed to work with us to develop a website that reflected the new approach and aesthetics of the organisation; “Beyond the confines of the gallery wall”. It was also very important that the website enabled us to have an ongoing dialogue with our audiences and to programme work online. The new website went live in spring 2010 and has also enabled visitors to take part in projects remotely, such as contributing suggestions for the Corby Complaints Choir. Approximately 30,000 people visited the site during the first year, which was a significant increase on the 6,500 annual visitors to the previous website. The website design also informed our print, which is an important marketing tool for the organisation, functioning both as a shop window and archive for our activity.

The structure of the organisation was changed to reflect the new direction. Kenneth James Martin was appointed as Caretaker and then Site Manager of Sudborough Green Lodge, our artist residency venue, and Paul Denton (General Manager) left for a position in London. The Interim Director, Yasmin Canvin, was appointed as the Director in June, following Rosalind Stoddart’s decision not to return after her Sabbatical. We established a new Programming Team, including the staff, Board members and local artists, in order to ensure that we continued to respond to new directions in artistic practice and that artists continued to have a significant impact on the thinking and future direction of the organisation.

During 2010 the organisation delivered a range of projects through which we developed our curatorial approach. This was defined as Practice in Place; Artists + Audience + Environment and is delivered through three main strands:

1. Artist interventions and installations commissioned in public spaces and alongside existing arts and non-arts events.

2. Participatory and creative learning activities with Artists in Residence at Sudborough Green Lodge and across the County.

3. Professional and artistic development for artists and teachers.

Each strand informs, influences or directs the others. Projects may involve several strands simultaneously or develop from one strand into another.

It was decided that the organisation would develop long-term relationships with artists; providing training and development through a range of opportunities, including commissioning new work, support and advice throughout project planning and delivery, networking opportunities, and sharing skills, knowledge and experience. Partnerships with non-arts organisations would also be developed in order to enable FCA to programme art in unexpected places that are visited by large numbers of people who may not go to contemporary art galleries.

The Programme Planning Team also developed the vision for the use of Sudborough Green Lodge as an Arts Research and Education Laboratory, which would:

1. Take a creative approach to the whole development and use of the site, allowing the unknown and unpredictable to occur.

2. Invite multi-disciplinary artists working in a range of art forms to use the Lodge and its surrounding woodland and meadows as a resource for research, testing new ideas and producing new work.

3. Connect urban culture with the rural landscape and rural culture with the urban landscape, employing new technology.

4. Facilitate dialogue around art practice and work with individuals to develop their own creativity.
Through this programme we aim to counter the mutual exclusivity between traditional craft-based practices, contemporary land art and other forms of contemporary art practice.

Yasmin Canvin
April 2012

 
 

Annual Reports

To download our Annual Reports please click below:

Annual Report 2009 – 2010
Annual Report 2010 – 2011
Annual Report 2011 – 2012
Annual Report 2012 – 2013
Annual Report 2013 – 2014
Annual Report 2014 – 2015
Annual Report 2015 – 2016

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