The Art of the Matter
In a few weeks' time, fishes will flutter over the dreaming spires of Oxford in place of the Union Jacks, and artists will be throwing open their doors to the general public. Eight years ago, a few Oxford artists got together and set up the first Oxford Artweek. Their aim was to 'encourage ordinary people to come into studios and to increase the accessibility of the visual arts'. Now, Artweek is the biggest Visual Arts Festival in Brittain and involves over 500 artists working on a variety of projects. Venues include MOMA and participating artists include the Warden's wife at Wadham College.
Cally Le Poer Trench, a graduate of Wadham College and Chairperson of the Artweek committee in 1987, explained what the week was for: "We want to break down the barriers between Art and the Public. We felt that a lot of people were being put off by the elitist atmosphere of galleries so we actively encourage people to come into open studios."
With this aim in mind, this year there will be a 'Painting park', in which over 30 artists will be producing huge temporary paintings in the outdoor setting of South Park. Visitors will be welcome to contribute to a Labyrinthine construction called 'My idea of heaven'.
Artweek sponsors literally hundreds of events in Oxford over a sixteen day period. However, Cally points out that "it has massively changed what is available artistically in Oxford and has triggered off an immense number of events that take place throughout the year." In 1990, for the first time, a permanent sculpture park is being established in Cowleaze Wood in South Oxfordshire. Sculptors will be creating their masterpieces during Artweek itself which will then be left as a permanent exhibition.
Perhaps the most satisfying spin-offs from the artweek concept are the numerous projects that involve professional artists working in Oxfordshire schools. Cally has just finished a three day project with Sandhills Primary School and 190 children, parents, teachers and artist together have produced an exciting series of banners depicting the changes in society over the last 50 years and predicting the changes that will occur in the future.
Whilst the class of eleven year olds are explaining their gadgets for the year 2000, embroidered on brightly coloured parachute material, Cally talks about the aim of Artweek projects in schools. "We want to introduce new ideas and do work that wouldn't usually be done in schools ..." She added that the projects are made as cross curricular as possible so that the children can increase their understanding of a variety of subjects as well as develop their artistic potential.
Kay, 11, Karen, 10, Chris, 11, and Paul, 11, all seem to have enjoyed the project and carefully describe the workings of an embroidered futuristic washing machine. Cally is adamant that the project is not 'comparable to a visit to the seaside' but stresses that it should be great fun.
Many Oxford colleges will be holding Artweek sponsored events and up to a dozen help to fund the Festival. Benefactors this year include Trinity, Balliol and New College. Cally, who is holding an exhibition in the Isis Boathouse on the 27th and 28th [May, with Paul] Amey, hopes that such generosity will continue and says "It can only be a good thing to take Art to where the people are and to bring benefit to both artists and public alike."
Thea Jourdan, 1990
Originally published in Cherwell, 11th May 1990.