The University of Newcastle’s very own student gallery, Watt Space, has reopened its doors with high hopes that the pre-pandemic crowds will return, Andry Marwick writes.
When the COVID-19 Pandemic forced the world into a state of uncertain lockdown, the way we saw and interacted with art changed forever. With the crowds vanishing overnight the future of the physical art gallery hung in the balance and while prominent galleries with larger support adapted to the sudden change, many smaller and independent galleries such as Watt Space found themselves in a more difficult and dire situation.
As part of the University of Newcastle’s City Campus, Watt Space with the intention to be and still is a hub for the creative minds of UON students and emerging artists to gain public exposure with their work.
While the gallery has helped many up-and-coming artists with exposure through exhibitions and shows, the sudden and unexpected onslaught of the COVID-19 Pandemic has certainly placed more significant pressure and hardship on the publicity and interaction of works.
Throughout the lockdown, while many gallery doors remained shut, everything was forced to shift to an entirely different platform. Many used the social media photo-sharing app, Instagram, to showcase and exhibit works and engage the public. Instagram’s photo and video sharing capabilities provided galleries such as Watt Space an opportunity to reach out to a more global and online audience who would otherwise not even have thought of visiting.
The rise and prominence of social media particularly during the pandemic have also brought into question the controversial idea of the death of the physical gallery, as everything has now shifted to an online media sharing platform. But while some will agree and disagree Watt Space has certainly remained as relevant as it always has been to student and Novocastrian life.
“There’s no doubt it put a full stop to the whole thing’, Gillian Shaw, the curator at Watt Space Gallery said. Prior to the pandemic community and cohort were the main contributors, as Shaw explained, “We still get our students but we’ve had to make some decisions.”
Despite the changes, Watt Space has had to make and adapt to its “starting to feel that coming to the physical gallery is coming back.”
Instagram’s popular story-sharing feature has helped “show what they do and behind the scenes.”
Watt Space “Collaborated with bigger galleries that had bigger funds”, explained Shaw, and even once the limited numbers of the public were allowed back in there were some “really lovely moments because it was slower.”
“The artist came in and people could talk to the artists,” he said.
“When we open our doors we open, we don’t open our doors to close them.”
It’s clear to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a severe blow to the art world, particularly in regards to the operation of smaller galleries such as Watt Space. Students and emerging artists have definitely felt the effects of the pandemic and the hardships of public exposure, adapting to a new online audience while often unexpectedly reaching out further than would have been possible in the physical gallery. The way we interact with art and the spaces they inhabit has certainly changed dramatically overnight but galleries such as Watt Space remain open and welcome to all the inspired and creative minds this city has to offer.
Feature Image by Phoebe Metcalfe, Yak Media Designer.