The Art of Connecting Communities to Conservation – Laura Coleman


By Mary Stevens

Laura Coleman’s second exhibition at her gallery Onca launches tomorrow. ‘Our Time in Ice’  showcases work inspired by the Arctic landscape as it changes due to ice melt. Originally from Ditchling, she opened the central Brighton gallery in November 2011. The gallery aims to show work on conservation themes, and engage the community in artistic and educational events inspired by those themes.  Five years working in overseas conservation, combined with her background in art, encouraged her to develop the concept.

I visited the gallery and spoke to Laura, to find out more about the aims of the project. First I asked her why Brighton?

“I was planning to move back to Brighton and wanted to combine my conservation experience with my artistic interests. There is already a strong awareness of environmental issues.  There is also a large creative community here, with very few galleries, so it seemed the ideal place.”

“I wanted to create a space to bring people closer to its landscape and the life it supports. “

The gallery is in St Georges Place, outside Brighton’s Cultural Quarter and the fashionable North Laine. I asked if this was a disadvantage.

“There is a high footfall here, and we are deliberately not in the North Laine. I feel that makes the gallery more accessible to the wider community” said Laura. “Also, we knew the owners of the building, which made things easier, and were attracted by the window this space offers, the light and the beautiful original Victorian stained glass”.

Laura’s first exhibition, Ghosts of Gone Birds, Onca proved the unorthodox location an intelligent choice – winning the public vote in Brighton and Hove City Council’s 2012 ‘Dressed for Success’ Christmas window display competition.  An advent calendar of bird boxes was created by young people and artists.The bird boxes were  built in collaboration with City College, and children from local schools and artists created the birds. Onca is already achieving Laura’s vision of bringing together artists and community to further understanding of, and support for, conservation .

I asked Laura about the theme of  Our Time in Ice.

“It is very current, in the moment, reflecting concerns about changes affecting the Arctic. It also links with the forthcoming exhibition at Brighton Museum. The Arctic may feel remote and distant but its changing environment is affecting us all”

Linked to the exhibition is a programme of educational and community activities. The window will feature poems written by children from Balfour Primary School that reflect their understanding of melting Arctic Ice.

The gallery has recently achieved charitable status, and profits from this show are supporting the Unnammaq Children’s Home in Greenland.

‘Our Time in Ice’ is open from 28th February – 31st May, at Onca (One Network for Conservation and the Arts), 4 St George’s Place (near London Road), Brighton.

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