From bringing unique exhibitions to the county to hosting regular craft workshops to teach people new skills, New Brewery Arts in Cirencester is a unique cultural venue that’s much more than just an art gallery.
SoGlos spoke to its chief executive officer, Beth Alden, to discover what running the innovative art gallery is really like – and how the charity fulfils its mission to connect people with craft.
About the CEO – Beth Alden of New Brewery Arts
Beth Alden is the CEO at Cirencester’s New Brewery Arts. She heads up its small staff team and has a passion for helping to connect people with craft.
The gallery hosts exciting exhibitions; provides regular craft workshops; and gives local artists and makers a space to create.
For more information, visit newbreweryarts.org.uk.
Running an art gallery seems like a glamorous job, what is it really like?
Well, it can have moments of glamour – I love getting to visit other exhibitions and studios as I work to find out what’s out there and what we could be showing here at New Brewery Arts.
But on the whole, I send a lot of emails, submit funding applications to make our exhibitions happen and then I get really involved in installing our exhibitions. You’re more likely to see me up a ladder with a drill in my hand than a glass in my hand at a swanky exhibition preview!
What does being the CEO of New Brewery Arts involve on a day to day basis?
While I curate the exhibitions programme here, my main role as CEO is keeping all the plates spinning. We’re a small team who punch above our weight in terms of our programme of exhibitions and classes, my role is to ensure everything goes ahead seamlessly and that we have exiting, ambitious plans.
You might not know it but we’re a charity – and this comes with a lot of work around fundraising and making sure New Brewery Arts is run with the utmost care for everyone who works with us, who visits us and our wider community. As a CEO of a charity, I ensure we deliver work that makes our community better.
On a day-to-day basis, it means a lot of emails, a lot of meetings and a lot of writing. So, when I do make time to go and see makers, craftspeople and other arts organisations it feels like a treat.
Tell us a bit about your latest exhibition at New Brewery Arts.
I’m so excited about this one, it’s really spectacular, it looks stunning. It’s called Shoes Have Names and it brings together traditional craftsmanship with shoemaking and contemporary, conceptual takes on the idea of shoes.
Even better, it has a real social message behind it, it takes the idea of ‘putting yourself in somebody else’s shoes’ literally. Each designer, craftsperson or artist in the exhibition was paired up with somebody who had experienced homelessness on some level and had worked with the homeless charity, Shelter. It’s really moving and meaningful.
What made you want to bring this exhibition to Gloucestershire?
What a great question – I never doubted that we should put this exhibition on here at New Brewery Arts. Over lockdown we worked with Cotswold District Council as part of the ‘Everyone In’ scheme to make sure nobody was homeless during lockdown. We turned our youth hostel business into accommodation for those who needed it most.
This made me think about what more we could do and made me aware of the stigma around homelessness. I was researching projects that brought the two ideas of craft and homelessness together and once I started talking with Jo Cope – the lead artist on Shoes Have Names – the decision to show the project here was a no-brainer, I just knew it was the right show at the right time.
How do you curate exhibitions at New Brewery Arts?
We want to show the very best of craft, making and creativity here at New Brewery Arts and our programme of exhibitions centres on craft and what it can mean to make objects by hand today.
We look at skills, materials, issues and ideas that are exciting at the moment and find ways to bring this out. I read a lot, go to lots of exhibitions, see a lot, talk to people to seek these things out. I think to put together exhibitions you have to be creative yourself, you have to use your imagination to think ‘how would these things work together? What new stories would they tell our community?’
How can local artists and crafters in Gloucestershire exhibit their work at New Brewery Arts?
One thing we try hard to do is bring the very best of UK craft to Gloucestershire and the Cotswolds. We work with some 500 makers, designers and craftspeople each year, but they aren’t necessarily local, though many are.
They all work in different ways, some people want us to help retail their work, others enjoy the teaching opportunities we provide and of course, we have studios here with some makers being a part of New Brewery Arts for over two-decades. This month we have two new makers joining the studios, they have both just graduated and we’re helping them transition from students into professional makers with all kinds of professional support and advice.
The three main ways you can work with us as a professional maker or craftsperson is having a studio here, having work in our shop or teaching on our courses and workshops – email us if you’re interested or keep an eye on our social media for opportunities.
Are you arty/crafty yourself?
I do have a fine art degree but I’m not a craftsperson or an artist. I grew up surrounded by people making – my father was a professional potter. The reason I don’t craft myself is that I’m just not that great, I’ll leave it to the professionals thank you!
But I also don’t feel the need to do it myself, what I enjoy is using beautiful hand-made pieces everyday – I love a coffee in a hand-thrown mug, or wearing a scarf woven by on a loom by somebody able to make something amazing. My work bag is handmade on the Isles of Scilly by a traditional sailmaking company, I met the team and could choose the fabric and design and even modify it with an extra pocket – it’s unique, hand-made and it comes with me everywhere. I guess you could say my favourite craft hobby is using it in my everyday life.
Tell us a bit about the Barrel Store. Are you in charge of running this too?
Yes, but there’s a great team who look after guests everyday. The Barrel Store is our guest accommodation, we like to call it a stylish hostel. We have 14 rooms and welcome guests from around the world.
You can also have an exclusive booking and take over the whole place – lots of people weren’t able to see friends and family over the last two years, so we’ve had lots of lovely groups meeting up and staying with us.
It has amazing eco credentials too, it’s one of the most energy-efficient public buildings in the county and was nominated for a Passivhaus eco award when we refurbished it in 2016.
What is your favourite part of your job?
I feel awkward saying this as the leader of an organisation that’s all about objects, but my favourite part isn’t the amazing things that are made here. My favourite part is the people that I work with every day.
We have a small but fantastic team here; everyone really knows their stuff when it comes to craft. We have staff who are also potters, textile designers, woodworkers and jewellers. Our studios and classes mean we always have craftspeople on site. It’s a real joy to be amongst people who are so creative, it’s where I feel at home.