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A new chapter; Welsh international art curator Karen MacKinnon has taken the helm at Glynn Vivian Gallery in Swansea. She told Jenny White about her plans.

Byline: Jenny White

THE Glynn Vivian Gallery in Swansea has a new curator. Karen MacKinnon joins Swansea Council's city-centre venue from her role as director and curator of internationally-recognised contemporary arts body Artes Mundi, replacing Jenni Spencer-Davies, who has retired.

During her 25-year career as an arts director and curator, Karen has brought numerous high-profile artists, exhibitions and events to Wales.

She worked as an international curator based in Wales from the late 1990s to 2013.

This has included roles at Glynn Vivian and Chapter, Cardiff. She also curated an exhibition at the prominent Venice Biennale, and in 2013 became Artes Mundi director.

Since then she has put the independent Cardiff-based organisation on the global stage, delivering world-class exhibitions as well as the UK's largest art prize.

Here she outlines her vision for the Glynn Vivian Gallery.

Q: How do you feel about taking on your new role? It's really exciting to return to Swansea to the beautiful Glynn Vivian Art Gallery.

It feels like coming home, as professionally I have been coming back and forth for the past 25 years and have lived here pretty much all my life.

I first came to work at Glynn Vivian as a volunteer just after I finished my degree.

I helped set up the Peter Greenaway exhibition Organising Principles 1993, which took over every space in the gallery to create a completely immersive experience.

It's still the biggest and most ambitious exhibition I have ever worked on!

The refurbishment - which was completed in October 2016, under the leadership of the previous director Jenni Spencer-Davies - means I get to run an impressive world-class space with an amazing team.

Their exhibitions, learning, collections, displays and outreach programmes are rooted in this community and this city, but also have an extensive global reach.

Q: What challenges and opportunities does it present? We are all very aware of the huge challenges we face in these tough times - continued austerity, reduced public funding, Brexit looming.

We are in a difficult position of having to address urgent questions about our institutions while simultaneously fighting for their survival, becoming used to the idea of finding new ways to generate income, while simultaneously facing further cuts.

We are also all too aware of the challenges within our cultural institutions - our colonial histories, the relevance of our exhibition and learning programmes, and the historic elitism of our institutions.

We all believe in the power of art to inspire, challenge, educate and entertain, but are we reaching those audiences and communities who feel alienated? I believe we have to radically change, and to question ourselves, in order to find new models that work for our local communities and artists but have a global reach.

I am interested in aligning our work with those galleries and movements that are seeking new ways forward to build a resilient gallery for the future.

The challenge now is to throw open the doors and invite the people of Swansea to not only visit the exhibitions and participate in our learning and other programmes, but to work with us on a new vision for the future.

We need to focus on relevant programme and access for all cultures, bodies, ages, languages.

Q: What is your view of the arts in Swansea, and in Wales? And how would you like to see the arts scene develop? Swansea has a really great arts scene; it has council cultural venues such as Glynn Vivian, Swansea Grand Theatre, Dylan Thomas Centre and Swansea Museum. Mission Gallery is an great contemporary arts venue.

Swansea's High Street is also teeming with creativity, with Volcano, Elysium Gallery, and GS Artists run by Jane Simpson; there is a dynamic ecosystem across the city centre, not just with these cultural venues, but within local businesses, and I am looking forward to working with these organisations to create more opportunities in the future.

Across the whole of Wales there are amazing visual arts organisations who are doing great work. For example, the big internationals such as Artes Mundi and Venice Biennale alongside major galleries such as Oriel Mostyn, Chapter Arts Centre, Oriel Davies, Aberystwyth and Ty Pawb. We've always had such a great artists-led scene too - Elysium in Swansea and G39 in Cardiff are good examples.

I am also really looking forward to working with the Friends of the Glynn Vivian, who are a huge support to the gallery.

However, the whole sector is struggling in the current climate, they are incredibly resilient and have survived through many years of standstill funding and cuts.

There are parts of our scene which are underdeveloped - such as the commercial gallery sector.

Of course, we have Martin Tinney and a few others, but to really support our artists to develop long-term careers we need more commercial representatives.

We also need to maximise the potential of local and international partnerships in Wales and internationally.

Q: What sets the gallery apart - what makes it special? I think if you consider our exhibitions programme over the years, it has been very special.

We have had many solo exhibitions by leading artists in Wales as well as well-known artists from all over the world.

Welsh artists Sue Williams, David Nash, Tim Davies and Bedwyr Williams have all had major solo exhibitions at the gallery, alongside exhibitions by international artists Rut Blees Luxemburg, Shimabuku, NS Harsha and brilliant historical shows such as Ceri Richards, Leonardo da Vinci, Lowry, and Gwen and Augustus John.

Our award-winning education and learning programmes are really excellent and I am hoping that we can really focus and develop our work further in this area, particularly to break down the barriers for those who still feel that it is a real challenge to enter the gallery for myriad reasons.

I also think the wide range of spaces and galleries we have to work with make Glynn Vivian really special.

Q: What is your vision for the Glynn Vivian? What plans do you have? I've only been in post for two weeks, so my vision is very much still developing. In some senses my vision has not changed over the past 25 years.

I believe that great art can and does change people's lives and that culture (and its institutions) belong to the people. Connections between hyper-localism and globalisation have always been an important focus, as well as blurring the lines between historical and contemporary.

Q: Glynn Vivian's collection is fascinating, but how can it be more useful and meaningful to the people of Swansea? I am looking forward to working with our team and communities finding new ways of displaying and curating these works.

My vision for the Glynn Vivian is to ensure that the gallery is welcoming and accessible to all and that we keep presenting amazing, inspiring artists from Swansea, Wales and across the globe.

But we need to really work with our local communities of artists, communities and the general public so that we can really build our museum of the future.

Q: What forthcoming events and exhibitions are you especially excited about and why? I am really looking forward to the exhibition Hand Drawn Action Packed, a Hayward touring exhibition which opens at Glynn Vivian on June 14 this year.

This show features the work of 10 amazing international artists from all over the world who work with drawing, animation, smartphones and computers.

The artists include William Kentridge, Raymond Pettibon, Amy Sillman, Nalini Malani and Otobong Nkanga, who I worked with on her stunning installation for Artes Mundi 8. Alongside this we have a selection of beautiful and moving, previously unseen drawings by Frances Richards, wife of Ceri Richards.

I am also delighted to know the winner of the Leslie Joseph Award this year - it's secret so I am not allowed to say! Watch this space.

It's also great to explore our current show Phytopia, which is on at the Gallery until May 26. Phytopia has been curated by Edward Schell and includes international artists such as Derek Jarman, Rosa Nguyen and Alicia Paz, looking at the idea of the Tree of Life and how it is represented in many cultures.

I am also really excited to be visiting Sean Edwards' exhibition for Wales at the Venice Biennale in a few weeks' time.

It has been an honour to be on the committee for many years and to work alongside colleagues at Arts Council of Wales and from many other galleries across the UK.

Swansea's High Street is also teeming with creativity, with Volcano, Elysium Gallery, and GS Artists run by Jane Simpson; there is a dynamic ecosystem across the city centreMy vision for the Glynn Vivian is to ensure that the gallery is welcoming and accessible to all and that we keep presenting amazing, inspiring artists from Swansea, Wales and across the globe


Glynn Vivian Gallery in Swansea

<B Karen MacKinnon
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Apr 20, 2019
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