Tate Croydon: On the importance of Croydon’s new art galleries

By - Tuesday 15th September, 2015

Jonny Rose wants the Croydon art scene to coalesce into the arts capital of south London

Visitors at the Banksy exhibition at RISE Gallery.
Photo by Fluid4Sight, used with permission.

In a recent piece on Croydon’s new ‘Arts quarter’ in St George’s Walk, I noted how the borough had gone from “0 to three art galleries in just twelve months”.

This kind of dynamism is typical of a borough that is seeing unprecedented activity from locals that have not been content to sit back and complain about the borough, but actually step up and contribute meaningfully and competently. Now – more than ever – Croydon has an opportunity to not just be known as ‘the Silicon Valley of South London’, but also to become the epicentre of all arts and culture south of the Thames.

More than just a place to see paintings

These new galleries that are popping up everywhere are more than just the cool new kids on the Croydon block, they:

Signify and inspire positive change

Much like the swathe of hip coffee shops that are starting up in the borough, the opening of new art galleries signify that Croydon can and will be better.

Often the many seismic changes occurring in Croydon – such as Westfield and Boxpark – seem too colossal to comprehend. So, it’s nice to see change on a scale that can be easily appreciated as embodied by the new arts businesses filling formerly vacant street-level lots. It’s even more delightful when these newly occupied spaces are filled with visually arresting artwork and an urbane crowd that delights in it.

Bring together disparate communities

I’ve been to more art exhibitions in the past six months than I ever did in the last six years. In this time, I’ve encountered a more diverse, a more interesting and more stimulating crowd of Croydonians, than I could ever have experienced if Croydon didn’t have the art galleries that draws them in.

At the Bareface exhibition in Matthews Yard.
Photo by Fluid4Sight, used with permission.

Art is a great leveller, even more so when it is free to access. It doesn’t matter whether you are poor, affluent, black, white, queer, straight, left- or right-wing; all that an art gallery demands of you is that you show up and have eyes to see. Far from an elitist experience, Croydon’s art galleries have democratised art to the Croydon community, making it available to all. This has meant that communities in Croydon that perhaps would not have had cause to brush up against one another are now coalescing.

Highlight Croydon’s art scene

Before the emergence of physical gallery spaces, Croydon’s arts ‘scene’ was a largely transient phenomenon. There was never any doubt that Croydon was home to a lot homegrown arts talent, but if you wanted to go and see it action it wasn’t clear where you could go.

Collectives such as Turf Projects almost singlehandedly changed Croydon’s artistic landscape, but their efforts centred around sporadic public realm interventions such as Putt Putt crazy golf in Exchange Square and the Stones of Croydon trail walks.

Now these permanent artistic residences give a real tangibility to the art scene. You can tell people, “Go over to Keeley Road and check out the Turf Projects gallery”, or say “Have you seen the latest exhibition inside Matthews Yard?”.

Generate positive news coverage

As I’ve noted before, much of the negative view of Croydon stems from how it is portrayed in the national media.

Wonderfully, the Croydon arts scene has been a significant bulwark in changing this. In particular, RISE Gallery has generated more positive column inches for Croydon in twelve months than any other new Croydon arrival. From Banksy retrospective to housing sleepwalking artists, owner Kevin Zuchowski-Morrison’s efforts are going a long way to force the media to ‘change their tune’ about Croydon.

Next stop, Tate Croydon

Don’t just read about these art galleries – visit them. Support them with your custom and actively promote them to all and sundry. Zealously encourage other people to use them, too. As I’ve said time and time again: good things only happen and stay in Croydon if you support them.

Whatever the next step is for Croydon’s arts scene, let’s make sure that these ventures like these galleries are given no reason or opportunity to fail.

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose is a committed Christian who has lived in the Croydon area for nearly twenty years. He is an active participant in his local community, serving at Grace Vineyard Church and organising Purley Breakfast Club, and was ranked "Croydon's 37th most powerful person" by the Croydon Advertiser (much to his amusement). He owns a lead generation company. He is the Head of Content at marketing technology company Idio, the founder of the Croydon Tech City movement, a LinkedIn coach, and creator of Croydon's first fashion label, Croydon Vs The World. Working on Instagram training and a Linkedin lead generation service. Views are his own, but it would be best for all concerned if you shared them. Please send your fanmail to: jonnyrose1 (at) gmail (dot) com

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