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Step Up at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester

Since 2007, Pallant House Gallery has run “Step Up”, a training programme for artists who face barriers to the art world. It focuses on interpreting collections and training to become workshop leaders. Kate Davey from Pallant House explains how it works and why it is important to the organisation.


Image by Martin Philimore

Image by Martin Philimore

Founded by Pallant House Gallery, Chichester in 2006, Outside In provides a platform for artists who see themselves as facing barriers to the art world due to health, disability, social circumstance or isolation. The goal of the project is to create a fairer art world which rejects traditional values and institutional judgements about whose work can and should be displayed.

Step Up is Outside In’s training and professional development programme, currently offering two courses: “Workshop Leaders” and “Interpreting Collections”. Both courses provide artists with a unique opportunity to develop knowledge, skills and expertise in a gallery setting. Since its inception in 2007, Step Up has trained over 70 artists and has recently attracting funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund for a two-year development programme.

Participants have worked with the collections at Pallant House Gallery, choosing artists and themes to research and interpret. In a ten week course, they discover different types of research techniques (including primary and secondary sources, libraries, and how to produce a bibliography). They take a trip to another gallery, most recently to the V&A, where they study different forms of interpretation and speak with a staff member about how the interpretation materials are developed.

Each participant ends up with a final, usually very creative, output. Some of these have included poetry pamphlets to accompany exhibitions and wall texts that have been displayed alongside modern British masterpieces at Pallant House Gallery.

To accompany Outside In’s third national exhibition at Pallant House Gallery in 2012, five Step Up participants recorded spoken narratives of their research into the Gallery’s collections, under the guidance of audio-describer Bridget Crowley. The audio trail provided an engaging way to learn more about the works chosen and what led the group to choose the works in the first place.

One participant, Dolly Sen, produced and recorded poetic responses to a selection of works in Pallant House Gallery’s collection:

Art is the poetry for the eyes, and I love how visual and written poetry can enhance each other. Both art and poetry seek to show the unseen in front of your eyes, and speak the unsaid to your ears. The artworks I saw whispered to me, and I sang their songs, through the filter of my strange heart and brain. Will people see what I see when they hear my words on the audio trail?”

To accompany “Intuitive Visions: Shifting the Margins’” an Outside In exhibition at Phoenix Brighton as part of HOUSE 2015, Step Up participant Jenny Lambourne produced a poetry pamphlet in response to the art work on display. She says: “Being invited to produce some text to accompany the exhibition has been a challenge and a privilege, one that has proved exciting and rewarding with each artist’s review.”

Participants have also produced workshop packs, which feature artists from our collections. Each contains a biography of the artist with information and tips on running a workshop based on the style of the chosen artist. These are utilised by Outside In’s team of creative workshop facilitators, and they are delivered at organisations across the UK.

Marc Steene, Founder of Outside In and Step Up explains his involvement: “Step Up was envisaged as a means of supporting artists to take more active roles in galleries and museums and to make wider use of the opportunities that these organisations offer. Outside In sought to expand engagement for its artists from a passive model of having their work exhibited in galleries, to a position where they were able to receive tailored training that would enable them to gain skills, confidence and employment, moving them from a position of dependency to empowerment. It is about creating new narratives and changing the way we interpret collections.”

Step Up is now applying to the Heritage Lottery Fund to roll out the programme across the country, with regional and national organisations taking on the outline of the scheme to train their artistic community to research into their own collections or facilitate creative workshops. Each host organisation will be able to influence the shape of the course, providing information on what outputs and outcomes they would like for participants.

Outside In: Step Up Showcase’ in the Studio at Pallant House Gallery from 29 September – 22 November will celebrate seven years of the training and development programme. Curated by a Step Up participant, it will tell the Step Up story from its inception. Have you read Simon Martin’s essay on the Pallant House Gallery approach to interpretation? It’s free to read on the a-n website, or buy The Interpretation Matters Handbook.

This  is a poem by Jenny, written to accompany Martin Philimore’s work (see above image):

I am an amoeba
worlds within worlds
No structured form
all possibility
beneath a tree
rooted immobility


Too much
Too little
Too late
Too soon

All of me
None of me
I wish I were an egg

Welcome to Interpretation Matters!

Interpretation Matters is all about the written material found in galleries - the text panels on the walls, providing context for the work on show, and the printed booklets that describe the works or overall programme. Usually "under-the-radar", the aim of this site is to highlight this important area of gallery practice.

Interpretation Matters is conceived and directed by arts writer Dany Louise.

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