Where are the women in our national art collections?
Art Night has arrived in East Sussex in partnership with Towner Eastbourne with a call to arms.
Billboards in Eastbourne and Lewes by the Guerrilla Girls are now inviting people to go to their local and national museum and gallery collections and see just what proportion of the work is by women.
For the first time, Art Night is moving out of London, taking place in more than ten locations, all part of a shift of emphasis accelerated by the pandemic. Transforming iconic and unexpected public spaces within London since 2016, Art Night 2021, curated by Helen Nisbet, will stretch 1,000-plus miles across Scotland, England and Wales, from north to south and east to west as well as even further digitally and physically for international audiences.
“For those first four years it was based in London,” Helen says. “I joined in 2018 and I did the Walthamstow one, and that was a real shift in terms of moving away from the grand and the salubrious buildings and moving more towards libraries and centres, bringing world-famous contemporary artists to places where people live and work, the places that people use on a day-to-day basis.
“When I began as artistic director, I was very much thinking about taking it away from London. We were gearing up in 2020 to do some projects in London and a co-commission in the Isle of Skye but then Covid happened. That was a difficult time. We lost a lot of funding but it gave us time to rethink and so alongside the co-commission with Skye we have become a national festival.
“It is about bringing world-famous, world-renowned and interesting contemporary artists to people’s doorsteps rather than people having to go to a gallery. Going to a gallery is quite a big barrier for a lot of people. This takes contemporary art to them rather them having to go to it. Some people are confident going into a gallery; some people are less so. This is a great way of engaging people for whom art might not be part of their lives already.”
Also it suits our Covid times: “Previous Art Nights would have brought hundreds of people together in a relatively small space. Because of Covid we have shifted the whole thing and we have tried to do it outside as much as possible. We are thinking of this as a pilot. What does it mean to work nationally? I think people have realised a lot during the pandemic that you can actually work wherever you are. I am from the Shetland Islands and I have spent most of the past year organising Art Night from the remote islands.”
As for the partnerships: “It’s about working with museums and galleries that we know, that we have relationships with and that we rate like Towner. The Towner is so open-minded and open to partnerships.”
As for the Guerrilla Girls, their Eastbourne and Lewes billboards are prompted by a reflection on their own early years in the 80s and wondering just how much has changed: “They are wondering if you go to a national collection, just how much of the work will be by women. It is a call to arms.”
The billboards will be on display until July 18.
Joe Hill, director, Towner Eastbourne added: “Bringing artwork to our communities across Eastbourne and taking it outside of the gallery is a really important part of what Towner Eastbourne does. We are thrilled to be working with Art Night to realise this important and timely commission.”