Working in community arts

 19 May 2011

Peckham Space is a public gallery in South East London. Dedicated to commissioning artworks made in partnership with local residents, community groups and schools, it aims to increase public access and participation in contemporary art.

Peckham Space moved into a purpose-built gallery in central Peckham in 2010.
Peckham Space moved into a purpose-built gallery in central Peckham in 2010.

Emily Druiff is Director of Peckham Space, an initiative of Camberwell College of Art in partnership with Southwark Council. Peckham Space aim to deliver high-quality but accessible art, working with local residents. In 2010, the organisation moved into a purpose-built gallery in central Peckham.

Working in a community art gallery

"This type of work is often sidelined ... I think educational practice should be welcomed as the cutting edge of contemporary art."

Director since 2007, Emily's role covers a wide array of activities, from fund-raising to ensuring that the space is running well.

On a typical day, Emily might 'meet with a residents group or after school youth provision to devise a brief or to select an artist.' This might be followed by meetings with funders or artists.

"Essentially the job is a balancing act of different communities of interest."

The space receives funding from organisations such as Camberwell College of Art, Southwark Council, Tregarthen Jenkin Fund and Arts Council England. Nevertheless, fundraising, is an important part of Druiff's role.

"I seem to take the quite complex social context in my stride. But the added complications of fundraising in a financial crisis, in the first year of operations of a new public gallery, really is a challenge.'

Getting into gallery management

Emily studied fine art at Camberwell College of Art, graduating in 1998. During this time she began to see the role of organiser and facilitator as key to her practice. She also enjoyed the organisation of events and bringing together of artists with similar interests.

"[At Camberwell] I really developed my conceptual interest in art's capacity for change."

After graduating, Emily worked as both artist and curator and remained active in the organising of art projects. These included a series of events for Live Art at Dilston Grove, with Café Gallery Projects and co-founding the artist run space Area 10, situated behind Peckam Library.

"During this time I was still sitting on the fence, undecided if I was a facilitator or an artist. It was an artist called Gustav Metzger who suggested I do an MA in curating and I have not looked back.'

Druiff undertook her MA at Goldsmiths, graduating in 2005. The course proved to be pivotal, cementing her role as curator and facilitator.

Following her MA, Druiff worked as a freelance curator on a variety of projects such as with Art of Change and Tower Hamlets Council. Other projects ensued widening her experience further including work 'closer to home' with Southwark Council.

Working with the community

Emily has long had an interest in 'participatory artistic practices,' and the impact this has on communities.

"Essentially the job is a balancing act of different communities of interest."

At Peckham Space, the development of sustainable relationships and partnerships with local residents and young people is key, and 'quality takes priority over quantity'.

Over the past three years, the space has partnered with a number of organisations. These include Leaders of Tomorrow (LOT) an organisation who support black and minority ethnic young people in their personal, social and academic development. The space has also partnered with Harris Academy Peckham and, most recently, the Evolution Quarter Residents Association (EQRA) in North Peckham for the exhibition 'Slipstream'.

The opportunity to commission artists to create new work within a social context is one of the main objectives of Peckham Space. For 'Slipstream', artist David Cotterrell was commissioned to create a film, working with the residents of North Peckham. The resulting work maps the residents' social and personal histories of the area.

In 'Commission 6' in 2010, artist Ana Laura López de la Torre was commissioned to work with students from Harris Academy Peckham on a project based around around the theme of neighbours. In 2012, Peckham Space will work again with LOT on a project with artist Barbra Asante.

"This provides us with a great opportunity to further reflect and deepen our relationship with LOT. The partnerships are ongoing. Here there is an opportunity to hear criticism and work on it within the capacity of the organisation."

The future for Peckham Space

"I see Peckham Space as a model for good practice in commissioning artworks in social contexts. I hope that there is more interest in the artistic programme here and that more students feel they can make the transition to work in this way."

Emily is currently working with Frances Williams from the South London Gallery, looking at ways to encourage progression routes for students into roles such as hers.

"This type of work, is often sidelined as community art. I think what the art world calls educational practice should be welcomed much more and considered as the cutting edge of contemporary art."

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