Manc of the Month: Katherine Long

This one is pretty inspirational.

This month’s Manc of the Month is Katherine Long, from Venture Arts. Katherine has spent the last few weeks working like a mad woman, trying to change how Venture Arts runs and interacts with its artists during this tricky time. And my days, has she done a good job. We admire you!

So read on to find out more about Katherine, Venture Arts, and what she is up to outside of work too. Plus, find out how you can contribute to this incredible charity!

Cotton On MCR: Please introduce yourself and your work to the Cotton On MCR readers.

Katherine Long: ‘I am the Artistic Manager at Venture Arts, a visual arts charity based in Hulme for people with learning disabilities.’

‘Venture Arts works with over 80 learning disabled artists and participants in our studio each week, helping them to create art in a variety of media including textiles, photography, ceramics, illustration and mixed media. We focus on helping each individual to achieve their artistic potential, finding new opportunities and supporting them to apply for them. Examples of this could be a solo or group exhibition, a residency or work in a school, gallery or museum.’

‘Venture Arts has been in existence for over 30 years but has gained more recognition recently and especially this year showing at The Manchester Contemporary, The Portico Library, The Lowry, Castlefield gallery and 14 of our artists exhibiting in the ‘Manchester Open‘ at HOME.’

Leslie Thompson

CO: Tell us about the new projects you are doing at Venture Arts to keep everyone connected during this time.

KL: ‘Venture Arts is a huge part of our artists and my life. I have been there for 16 years and in that time, I and many other members of the staff team, have built up great relationships with the artists and their families and so the thought of closing our doors and having no contact with them was heart breaking and just wasn’t an option.’

‘Although on paper Venture Arts is an art studio, in reality we are much more than that and this may sound cheesy, but we are like a second family for some of our artists. Many of our artists have underlying health conditions and had already started self-isolating and so I started looking at ways of assisting them with their current work whilst they were at home. I wanted them to be able to continue their practice and for us to help this to happen by still providing high quality materials and guidance and thought we may be able to do this through Zoom.’

Liam Ashworth

‘I was asking our team to work harder than ever creating plans, putting together individual artists packs and delivering them to over 80 houses across Greater Manchester. By the end of the first week we had got most of the packs out and had delivered clay, photography equipment, computers, iPads, textiles equipment and much more to our artists.’

‘To be honest those first two weeks were a bit of a blur… I went into auto pilot driven by our artists, parents and staff who were all worried about the uncertainties of the future. I know I will have probably been especially focused and asking a lot during those weeks so thank you to all the staff for sticking with me and all the hard work you put in!’

‘Only a week after we closed, we had already started rolling out our online sessions and set many people up on Zoom… which was a huge task in itself! Many of our artists really rely on their routine and familiarity so the timetable was carefully considered for each artist. Different things were put in place to make it feel as close to Venture Arts as it could be, for example for one artist who has recently created a pair of ceramic mugs, his tutor and him both drink a cup of tea out of those mugs during their Zoom sessions, something that he does when he arrives at Venture Arts each week.’

‘We now have a weekly art timetable in place and are in regular contact with over 95% of our artists. The feedback has been fantastic.’

Horace Lindezey

CO: Do you think the lockdown and the changes to our country will affect Venture Arts and its projects when the lockdown is fully lifted?

KL: ‘Although our artists are doing some amazing work at home and we are managing to aid their creativity at this time, we had so many exciting things planned that unfortunately could not go ahead or are postponed. As lots of our energy has been taken up by moving our whole service online we haven’t been able to apply for as many opportunities for our artists as we would usually do and so this will take a while to build back up. Venture Arts studio has a great energy and that only happens because of the amazing artists that we work with, this will again take a while to build up.’

‘There have, however surprisingly, been some positives come from the situation. It has really reinforced what a brilliant group of artists and staff team I work with. We have had so many success stories, with 2 photography students being extremely down after lockdown being announced and not getting out of bed all day. Once they started their sessions and had received their equipment, they were able to immerse themselves into their practice and have felt much better and they have both created some beautiful work.’

‘I think being forced to work in this way has made us all think more creatively and so we have been able to see what can be achieved by people on their own.’

Amy Ellison

CO: Is there anything we can do at home to help?

KL: ‘We have had some fantastic feedback about the work we are doing and the majority of people we work with are using Zoom, however some people do not have access to the internet or to a tablet or computer and so we are speaking to those artist on the phone instead. This is not ideal for a visual arts session and so we have been running an Emergency Art Fund asking people to donate what they can in order to help us to connect with more people and to make sure we can keep providing quality art materials and equipment for as long as it takes.’

‘We are so grateful for the support so far, but there’s so much more we could do and we need to sustain this new way of working whilst our studio remains closed, please see more details of the Emergency Art Fund here.’

CO: Other Transmissions: Conversations with outsider art’ was on at Whitworth Art Gallery before the lockdown and the closure of the gallery, can you tell us about this exhibition?

KL: ‘The exhibition brought together the work of six artists – Joe Beedles, James Desser, Amy Ellison, Frances Heap, Andrew Johnstone and John Powell-Jones, initially responding to The Musgrave Kinley Outsider Art Collection (MKOAC), housed at The Whitworth, which is the largest collection of ‘Outsider Art’ in a public gallery in the UK.’

‘During the residency, the artists came together to explore the themes of ‘Outsider Art’: labeling, categorisation and art-world power dynamics. Following on from this, they spent five months in a shared studio space at Venture Arts producing diverse pieces of work spanning sound, film, live art, digital artwork, drawings and sculpture, as well as costume. The artists also selected artworks from the MKOAC, which they co-curated into a display alongside their own work.’

CO: What do you think Manchester’s art scene needs more of?

KL: ‘More inclusivity and especially more programming of learning disabled artists in main gallery spaces! Not necessarily Venture Arts artists… although obviously this would be my preference!’

‘I think we are starting to see a change in Manchester, especially this past year with ‘The Manchester Open’ and also the fabulous ‘Thumbs Up’ at Castlefield Gallery featuring Leslie Thompson and Michael Beard, but it would be great to see more programming of LD artists in main gallery spaces.’

Barry Finan

CO: You studied Embroidery at Manchester School of Art, how was Uni for you?

KL: ‘I think when people hear that I studied Embroidery at University, they picture a group of old ladies sat cross stitching hankies… it was nothing like that! Very few people did traditional embroidery, in fact in my final year I didn’t use fabric at all, I used embroidery techniques but applied them to unconventional materials like wood and metal.’

‘Throughout University, it felt like there was always an expectation that everyone would go on to be an exhibiting artist by most of the tutors and I don’t think that enough emphasis was placed on work experience and looking at what other options there are.’

[CO: We have discussed this topic previously under ‘Your Views‘ Article]

KL: ‘I was never really interested in becoming an exhibiting artist and wanted instead to work with people. One of the course tutors, Lynn Setterington, told me about Venture Arts. Lynn’s work with various communities was really inspiring and this really opened my eyes to possible work for the future. In 2004 I started volunteering there and when I graduated in 2006 a job came up as a part-time textiles tutor and I got it. Since then the organisation has grown lots and my role has expanded and changed over the years too.’

CO: Outside of Venture Arts, what are your hobbies and interests?

KL: ‘I love spending time with my family and friends, love to travel, cook and go for walk. Lots of things that I am really missing doing now. I also have a little boy who has just turned two who keeps me very busy! He has just started getting into art, which is great, but I have spent most of lockdown trying to get pencil scribbles off the walls and furniture!’

CO: Who are your favourite artists and why?

KL: ‘This is such a hard question! I work with so many inspiring artists at Venture Arts that it would be wrong not to mention them!’

‘Barry Finan and Leslie Thompson are hugely talented artists and I am so proud to work alongside them and see that they are starting to get the recognition they deserve. Barry’s work at the British Ceramics Biennial last year was astonishing and Leslie’s in ‘Thumb’s Up’ at Castlefield Gallery was stunning and being selected for Glasgow International 2020 (postponed to 2021) is a huge achievement.’

Amy Ellison

‘Amy Ellison’s honesty in her work is so refreshing; ‘I make work that makes me happy’, and so she has mainly been focusing on cocktails and Coronation Street this past year, what a great combination! Amy’s work was shown at ‘Other Transmissions’ at the Whitworth and Grundy in Blackpool where her piece ‘Cocktails’ were displayed in lightboxes paying homage to the famous Blackpool lights.’

‘Jennie Franklin’s illustrations are delicate, detailed and fun, ‘Naughty Pingu’ (which was shown in the ‘Manchester Open’) is one of my favourite pieces of work! It really shows Jennie’s cheeky personality where she has drawn Pingu in a puddle of his own wee!’

Jennie Franklin

‘Horace Lindezey makes beautifully personal work and he is an extremely talented ceramicist and textiles artist. ‘The Seven Suit’s’ is a stunning example of his work and deeply moving piece of work, telling the stories of all the suits that he owns, where he got them all and what occasion he wore them, ending in his Mum’s funeral. This piece is currently on show at The Portico Library in ‘Talking Sense’ which can be viewed on their online gallery.’

‘Self-titled Chief Weasel Dominic Bennett has to also get a mention for his passion and determination in making his terracotta weasel army and trying to recruit artists to join him in making his army and ‘world Dom-ination’.’

Dominic Bennett

‘I love the humour in Liam Ashworth’s work, all inspired by his love of food, ‘Stir Fry’ (also shown in the ‘Manchester Open’) always makes me smile and ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is guaranteed to cheer you up on a bad day!’

CO: If you could live in any piece of art, what would it be and why?

KL: ‘I would have to say ‘YES I WANNT TO DO TRRICKSSERS’ by Barry Anthony Finan (on show in Exchanges at the Whitworth) I have been working with Barry for many years and he is a fascinating artist listing his hopes and dreams for the future, mixed in with some memories of the past, like eating lots of jam roly-poly’s and fish and chips, so I would never go hungry!’

Find out more about Venture Arts on their website, and don’t forget to donate to the Emergency Art Fund.

Read more of our Manc of the Month articles here.

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