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So much ambition from one shared pot; i love mac.

Byline: Judy Dames

Mac closes its doors on Sunday for a major pounds 13.6 million rebuilding programme. Each day this week we have invited individuals to share their experiences of the popular venue. Today: Judy Dames, the former exhibition programmer who established Mac as one of the liveliest and wide ranging exhibition venues in the Midlands

"I started working at Mac in the mid-70s in as a "pugger", someone who sticks used-up clay back together. It's perhaps the humblest job in a pottery.

From there I infiltrated myself into the ceramics department and did eventually become head of pottery, and along the way I was teaching Adventures in Art, originally set up as a means whereby chidren came in for a week, and then on Saturdays we did it for anyone who wanted to come in. It was what I enjoy most - teaching people who want to be there.

"For a short time I ran the art and design department and then Geoff Sims came as director and most of us were made redundant, but we could re-apply ahead of jobs being advertised.

"So I then becane cinema and exhibitions programmer. They had previously been two full-time jobs but for a while there had been no exhibition programmer.

"I surprised myself by improving the figures for the cinema no end. I enjoyed it but I was very glad when I could give it up and concentrate properly on the exhibition programme. I did want to show a wide range of things and I became particularly interested in photography, which, to be truthful, I was not very familiar with when I started.

"I also wanted to show people from Birmingham and the region around Birmingham, because if we don't nurture artists in the early stages of their careers it's very difficult for them to get going.

"Groups within Birmingham like the Birmingham Print Workshop were people I felt we should pay attention to. Craftspace Touring started at Mac and then moved out. Pete James at the Central Library would bring out his photographs of public baths when Tom Merillion was doing his photographs of Moseley Road Baths.

"Exhibitions had to fit in with what waas happening in the building, and with Sampad based there I remember some exciting exhibitions from India. We could show all sorts of things in the public space galleries, like the Chinese Children's Art exhibition. which was an absolute joy.

"It was difficult - the height of the Cotton Gallery was a problem and we didn't have the money to pay artists. We were able to get some suppport from the Mac's New Work Trust Fund, but Mac was never just a gallery and the pot had to be shared.

"We had a lot of help from the Crafts Council, and we made some money from our touring shows. We toured a number of people like Kate Malone and Ewen Henderson, and we used to sell quite a lot of work. I remember on one occasion someone spending pounds 1,000 on a pot by Kate Malone: they had no idea when they walked in, but they just fell in love with it."

Mac is still raising the final pounds 600,000 of the redevelopment costs. For details of how to make a donation, visit


Judy Dames helped put Mac on the map as a respected exhibition venue
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Apr 4, 2008
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