From blackShed direct to your home
Kenton Lowe, curator and director of contemporary art space, blackShed Gallery, eased the problems caused by restrictions on visitors attending galleries by creating an online programme to support local artists and their supply chains, and opening a new online store for his gallery and picture framing business.
'I’ve worked for the big London galleries, and it is far more interesting to work locally around this neck of the woods to support great local art'Kenton LoweBlackshed Gallery
Over 11 Years
Based deep in the Sussex Weald, blackShed Gallery recently had its eleventh anniversary, though like everything in 2020, regular disruptions of tiers and lockdowns threatened to, but did not dampen Kenton Lowe’s determination to exhibit work beyond the traditional gallery space. Instead, the pandemic provided just another challenge to meet and opportunity for blackShed Gallery to thrive and adapt.
“blackShed Gallery is not your usual gallery. We’re not a high street gallery, and this gives blackShed Gallery the flexibility to reflect not only my own taste, but also what is going on locally. A lot of major galleries can’t be as flexible and are unable to go into interesting, different places”.
blackShed Gallery evolved from a personal project of Kenton’s, to discover and explore art, after he studied Fine Art at the University of Brighton and worked with museums, galleries and visual arts organisations. Kenton wanted to create a space that would be reflective of what he was seeing in the art world and what it was missing. From its beginnings down a track in a few converted farm buildings, blackShed Gallery has gone on to thrive, in part due to the great artistic heritage of East Sussex and its reputation as a place that fosters new creative voices.
Three in one
The business, which won a special recognition award from the 1066 Business Awards in 2016, is three distinct parts three parts: blackShed Gallery, blackShed Picture Framing, and the new physical/online shop that offers art and art supplies directly to consumers and artists.
blackShed Gallery has evolved into a space that regularly hosts significant, home-grown talent from the south east, offering an international mindset from a line-up of artists including Robert Sample, Chris Milton, Kirsten Reynolds, Andrew and Eden Kötting, Jennifer Binnie and Alan Rankle.
Alongside the gallery space, blackShed Picture Framing, a Fine Art Guild Commended Framer, now supporting a range of clients including major London galleries, museums and local galleries such as Hastings Contemporary, and has managed to operate even with social distancing and lockdown measures in place.
blackShed Gallery has grown rapidly over the years to host larger exhibitions, meeting demand for gallery space and accommodate more visitors, while blackShed Picture Framing has gone on to offer more specialised framing services.
As the Covid-19 pandemic moved across the land, like many other businesses, blackShed Gallery had to adapt and move into an entirely new space.
“We were always going to move a part of the business online, but we did not imagine anything like this” commented Kenton. While blackShed Gallery could not make any new revenue, an active commitment was made to draw attention to support local artists from across the south east.
Kenton continued: “We originally just wanted to present the artists in the Virtual Spaces programme, but we found that people were inspired and encouraged by the past shows that we held. The process of the lockdown reminded me and made me consider what is true to blackShed. What do I find interesting? What do I find unique?”
While the virtual spaces programme helped to spread the word, Kenton has decided the next step is to open the space both physically and digitally.
A different offer
Physically, the gallery has opened up not just to new and interesting artists, but Kenton and his team decided to create a physical shop, bespoke and handmade by Kenton himself.
“We realised that we needed a way to directly not only help our gallery’s mission but also help the artists we work with” Kenton commented.
“Artists are small, local East Sussex businesses, you need a storefront!”
blackShed Gallery is not a gate keeper for art, but an active, supportive place for artists, maintaining relationships with organisations such as Hastings Contemporary, De La Warr Pavilion and countless creatives across the area, nurturing and building a strong community. While some creatives might have benefitted from the isolation of lockdown to create new work, blackShed Gallery decided to use the time to go online to spotlight new work when opportunities for physical visibility have disappeared.
Sussex Art Online
Looking at how best to respond to the changing market, blackShed Gallery turned to WeAreLarking, a marketing and web design agency, to start creating and building their online web store and a new dedicated blackShed Picture Framing website, “Currently the world of art is struggling,” Kenton said, “and I feel blackShed is perfectly placed to support our community”
From socially distanced, pick-up-and-drop-off picture framing, blackShed is now offering unique collection of carefully selected, limited edition gifts from local artists, including beautiful ceramics, handmade inks and charcoal, affordable original artworks and prints with many made from materials and from artists based in East Sussex.
Kenton added: “The best way to support local is to buy local, and not give it just lip service. blackShed is a small gallery and it is proud of it. I’ve worked for the big London galleries, and it is far more interesting to work locally around this neck of the woods to support great local art”.