In conversation with Kristian Day

Kristian Day, Curator at Broadway Gallery, tells us more about the art scene in Letchworth Garden City.

Parade is part of a wider plan to enhance the arts in Letchworth, tell us a bit about your vision, and how you will accomplish this.

I hope Parade, and all the supporting exhibitions and events, will build on the gallery’s previous successes and believe that we’re now on the way to developing a reputable and nationally recognised arts centre and an arts community in Letchworth that will not only attract attention and visitors from outside of the town but will also create opportunities for residents.

Does Letchworth have anything unique to offer when it comes to the arts?

Letchworth has a long-standing connection with the arts. Members of the Camden Town Group, which was a group of English Post-Impressionist artists active lived here, as did the painter Richard Smith. Currently we have several galleries and project spaces: there are two studio providers, the Settlement, Digswell Arts Trust and the Broadway Gallery, who all hold regular art courses. There are print studios, dark rooms and a new ceramics studio about to open. 

More than this though, Letchworth was designed to be easily accessible to London. Like it or loathe it, the London art world is a juggernaut that is almost impossible to bypass if you want a career in the arts. I know hundreds of artists who are struggling to both live and work in the capital and think that somewhere like Letchworth is an ideal alternative. Financially it is more accessible, and it also offers a quieter pace of life that could be more conducive towards creativity for a lot of artists. Then you have the bonus of being able to get into London in half an hour, for key industry events. Likewise, it’s just as easy for a curator, dealer or gallerist to come here for a studio visit. Basically, artists can get away from it all and still have access to the opportunities that the London art world offers. 

Some people might feel intimidated to walk into an art gallery; what would you say to those people?

Broadway Gallery is a public gallery - so it belongs to you!

I would hate to hear that anyone feels intimidated to stop by. We’re a friendly bunch here so there’s no need to feel that way. I know some people can feel that contemporary art is something you need a PhD in to understand, but once you get involved it really isn’t like that. Sure, you can get bogged down in the deeper art theory if you want to, but on the most part it’s much more accessible than it is often portrayed. 

Over the next year you can expect to see textiles, figurative and abstract painting, sculpture, installation, performance and film by both local and internationally known artists. We’ll also be running art competitions, developing an art trail around the town, putting on a makers’ fair, continuing our family arts activities, and hope to start a programme of live music. We also make a pretty good coffee in our cafe! We cover a lot of bases so hope there will be something to appeal to everyone.

What inspires you as a curator? who are the British artists that really excite you, what about locally?

The thing that always inspires me is ‘the next thing’. I’m not talking about ‘art market trends’ but projects that can come close to my heart. Five years ago, I was excited about contemporary painting. Nowadays I’m more interested in film and installation. Next week...who knows? I’ll just say that I don’t like to stand still and hopefully that should create a varied programme at the gallery.

As for the British artists that excite me, there are too many to mention, but I am very happy to be working with Sofia Unger, Fay Nicolson, Aimee Parrott, Christopher Orr, Hannah Brown, Bob Bicknell-Knight, Fiona Curran and Phil Root for this year’s programme.

There is an amazing amount of varied talent in the Letchworth art scene. I don’t want to mention names in case I miss anyone out, but I will say that we have some top-class local painters, ceramicists, sculptors, printmakers, photographers, textile artists, not to mention performance and conceptual artists and, if all goes to plan, you’ll be hearing a lot more about them in the coming years.