The Travelling Gallery at 40: A driving force for art in communities

For the last 40 years, the Travelling Gallery has been touring all over Scotland with one key mission: to make art inclusive and accessible for all. This bus-turned-contemporary art gallery has marked itself out as a place to see exciting, experimental and excellent visual art practices. And what's more, those practices are being driven right to the heart of local communities (both literally and figuratively).

In this, its 40th year, an exhibition over two floors at Edinburgh’s City Art Centre will celebrate Travelling Gallery’s journey – past, present and future.

We spoke to curator Claire Craig to find out more about the exhibition, and the Travelling Gallery's important journey over the last four decades.

2018 marks 40 years of the Travelling Gallery. What were its aims and ambitions when it was founded?

Since its very first tour, Travelling Gallery has aimed to provide access to contemporary art by taking engaging, inspiring, and challenging exhibitions to communities across the country. Our audience might find Travelling Gallery in their town centre, library, school or community hub; Lerwick to Hawick, Alness to Dunbar, there is nowhere we don’t go!

Looking through Travelling Gallery’s archive, you not only get an insightful overview of Scottish visual arts from the last 40 years, you also get a fascinating look at social history- Claire Craig, Curator, Travelling Gallery at 40

The organisation was founded in 1978 by the Scottish Arts Council. It took an exciting pilot tour and exhibition to the Scottish Borders and was deemed so successful it has been travelling the country ever since. It’s quite a remarkable feat to think it has been touring for 40 years without a break!

Travelling Gallery has always firmly believed that Scotland should be a country in which everybody can experience and engage in the arts. We are still committed to this mission, holding equality, learning and excellence as key values along with enjoyment. Travelling Gallery is fun!

Travelling Gallery has taken art to every part of the country, and helped people from different background and communities to engage with art. Why is this so important?

It’s hugely important that people know contemporary art is for them, that it can be for everybody. Our visitors are often experiencing a contemporary art gallery for the first time, and in a sector where its workforce is more often than not its audience, for many people art galleries are seen as exclusionary, simple not for them. It is vital that we break down these barriers and change perceptions, and allow everyone the opportunity to engage with contemporary art.

The gallery itself is the first step in creating a friendly and approachable environment - everyone knows how to get on and off a bus! Also, there is always a member of our small and committed team with the bus to discuss and explain the exhibition or just have a chat about the local arts community or town we are visiting. A visit to Travelling Gallery can be very empowering and allow our audience to recognise the creativity that already exists in their own life. Or, if nothing else, you’ll have an interesting talking point that evening.

Ultimately, we are very aware that Travelling Gallery is on the front line of contemporary art, and if our audience has a positive experience, they will be more likely to visit the wealth of art organisations across the country and the world.

What are some events from its history that Travelling Gallery will be remembered for?

If an event is defined by Travelling Gallery visiting your community, then every day is uniquely memorable event. Taking contemporary art to Greenock Prison, Inchview Care Home, Walsey Primary, Kilmarnock Cross, Alness Acedemy, and a car park in Jedburgh are all meaningful to the Travelling Gallery team and the people who visit.

While asking the current Travelling Gallery driver, Andrew Menzies, this question he remembered a quiet young boy from a supported learning group in Greenock. He simply wrote in our comments book “it was fun”, to the amazement of his carers as this was huge increase in his usual levels of engagement.

Looking through Travelling Gallery’s archive, there’s such a rich and socially important history, you not only get an insightful overview of Scottish visual arts from the last 40 years, you also get a fascinating look at social history, including the advances in technology and changing fashions.

The wealth of programming can’t be underestimated, from Elizabeth Ann MacGregor OBE’s first curated group show Scottish Artists in France in 1980 to Paul Carter and Kate Gray’s East of Eden exhibition launch on Carlton Hill in 2000 – a timely full circle now that Kate Gray is opening the new Collective Gallery on Carlton Hill. Other notable Travelling Gallery partnerships and commissions have included Dalziel + Scullion at the start of their collaboration, Jonathan Owen and Charlie Hammond’s two person show and last year’s exhibition by Lauren Printy Currie in partnership with Glasgow Women’s Library.

Tell us about the Travelling Gallery’s work at the Art Festival this year

Travelling Gallery at 40 is an exhibition that will take place during the Edinburgh Art Festival at The City Art Centre. We will host a large scale and ambitious installation by Scottish artist Mike Inglis, which in turn will host a programme of events and act as a platform for bigger discussions on the benefits, investment, and accessibility of contemporary art. The programme will not only celebrate the important and integral work of Travelling Gallery but will explore and test its values within todays contemporary context, advocating for its vision that Scotland is a nation in which everyone has the opportunity to experience and engage in the arts.

Of course, visitors will also be able to view our amazing archive alongside work by previously exhibited Travelling Gallery artists Rachel Maclean, Wendy McMurdo, Dalziel + Scullion, Rob Churm, Jacqueline Donachie, Henry VIII’s Wives, Anne-Marie Copestake & Sophie McPherson, Illana Halperin, Mandy McIntosh, Jonathan Owen and Charlie Hammond.

You might be wondering where the bus will be? In addition to the City Art Centre exhibition, we are really excited to be commissioning the artist Gordon Douglas to create a celebratory exhibition and performance. We will launch in Edinburgh before we hit the long road again visiting Shetland, Renfrewshire, East Lothian and Moray amongst others.

What would you like to see Travelling Gallery do in the future?

Our main concern right now is ensuring the continued survival of our unique organisation. Hopefully the 40th anniversary will raise the organisations profile and we can continue to take our exhibitions to communities across Scotland. To the next 40 years!

Travelling Gallery at 40, City Art Centre, 28 July - 4 November 2018 (part of Edinburgh Art Festival).

This article was published on 20 Jun 2018