Creative Conversations No9: with Richard Keenan from PopUp Dorset

4 Apr

Welcome to Creative Conversations 9 with PopUp Dorset. This week sees me visiting Richard Keenan, a founding member of PopUp Dorset.

PopUp Dorset staged an exhibition at St George’s Church, Reforne, Portland. This was a group show featuring artists living in Dorset, with 48 artists selected from across Dorset, covering different themes and using different materials. The Church was very difficult space to hang, as it has all the furniture of a church and there was a lot of things Richard and Katy  couldn’t change about the architecture and church furniture, they had to work around it. It was great to meet Richard over the summer of 2012 and it’s great to see them trying to part on shows like this.

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About the show

Between-the-Lines-6-by-Annie-WardWe start off our conversation by Richard telling us about the idea behind PopUp Dorset. It came from them moving down to Portland and not seeing shows that they were used to seeing, they were also interested in using the exhibition as an opportunity to meet artists in the area, a way of networking. Richard has produced exhibitions before, but these have tended to be photography exhibitions. While walking on Portland they come across the church at St Georges and through a chance meeting they managed to gain entry to the church and have a look around and thought this would make an ideal venue to show some contemporary art exhibitions. The church trust were very supportive and saw this as an opportunity to get more people into the church. It was good timing as the church trust had just spent money on renovating parts of it and welcomed the opportunity for more people to see the church. There will was a nominal fee paid as rent for the exhibition, which was open for six weeks over the summer of 2012.

The show they put on was a selling show, however PopUp Dorset’s motivation was to put up an interesting exhibition, they didn’t select work on its salability. Though Most of the work was for sale, there was a few pieces of work that had already been sold but Richard wanted to show it. The commission of sales did help them a little to fund the exhibition. It was free entry to the exhibition. They wanted to make the show looks like a cross between a show you might see in a public gallery and one you might see in commercial space. Richard would prefer to have put on an exhibition that the work wasn’t for sale but his partner in PopUp Dorset, Katy, would disagree with this statement.

They picked work clearly on its individual merits. The space was a very difficult space so they thought they would just choose the work on what they liked and then try to hang it in a coherent way throughout the space. They tried to mix work up between traditional Dorset artists, across to professional artists who exhibit throughout the world, and featured not just prints and paintings but also video work. They also had a shop where they sold prints, cards, and books.

Some feedback suggested that the building wasn’t suitable for a contemporary art exhibition. We than talk about how having it in a space such as St Georges Church brought a whole new audience who wouldn’t have come to a contemporary art exhibition, so it’s worthwhile utilising spaces like this. About 20% of PopUp Dorset’s visitors had come specifically to see the church. It was interesting that some of the people who didn’t go to see art tended to like what Richard thought visitors would find the more difficult challenging artworks.

I then talk about South West major cultural Olympiad Olympiad project the island island and how this had got a lot of negative local press beforehand. That’s I had found that people who went to see this work really enjoyed the embassy that was a central feature of the work. People were pulling out the drawers, reading and talking to the helpers. Their was a real buzz and happiness around the work. It was a shame that the local press had put people off even going to see it, that if people had gone to see the work they would have enjoyed it. It comes back to the question I keep asking myself “is it better to stage an event and try and avoid the word art”? to not label the contemporary art exhibition as art, but use words like installation or event.

We then go on to talk about what prompted them to do it and put the exhibition up. Richard tells me it was cemented by visiting an exhibition in a church in Cornwall. Seeing this exhibition in Cornwall happened just after seeing the St Georges Church and it was this combination of seeing the two churches and the thought of the Olympics visiting Portland that they thought now is the time to give it a go. And he thought let’s just’s do it!

The exhibition cost around £2,000 to put up, this was mainly spent on wood. The other major costs was their time which they provided for free, either Richard or Katy will be there at the church every day. it was very strange when it was over as Richard got up ready to go off to the church and suddenly thinking I do not need to go today. Richard missed it for a few days afterwards, it was his normal routine to go out to the church every morning. They were both keen on invigilator the exhibition as they wanted to meet other artists in the area and to see what interest was for shows like this in the public for this area. That if they will do it again would tourists come and see a show and how feasible is it to fund with selling work from the show?

They had approximate 3,000 visitors to the exhibition, it worked out about 100 a day. As Weymouth found, they also found the first week of the Olympics to be very quiet.

They decided not to apply for any funding to put the show on. They didn’t have a track record down here and thought this would go against them. They’d realised it wouldn’t be a huge cost to put on. They did look at some private sponsorship but left it too late to approach organisations and had no contacts to follow up on. It’s hard to start from scratch. They did get some free hire of screens and electrical equipments from Combens, the local electrical supplier, and some local tradesmen gave their work for free. Their time was mainly used in organising the show, getting the artists on board, and the artwork to show. If they were going to do it again, and they plan on another show this year, then funding will be a more important priority. There is a need to find income from somewhere and will be easier because they’ve done it. They haven’t a contact list to make it fundable from sales of the work, they still need to build up this side of the business. They kept the commission fairly low, they didn’t want to make the artwork overly expensive. Work under £100 is hard to put realistic commission on without the price jumping upwards. The pricing is crucial like any other business. Richard doesn’t want to become an art dealer, he doesn’t want PopUp Dorset to turn into a purely commercial gallery. It seems to Richard at the moment that PopUp Dorset could become a feasible business venture, that it can become sustainable. If he could get the balance between selling work, public funding and commercial support. An important element is to get that commercial part right, that they get a good contact list and they present the work in a professional manner. This is something that could come with time.

To find out more about PopUp Dorset visit:


3 Responses to “Creative Conversations No9: with Richard Keenan from PopUp Dorset”


  1. Creative Conversations9 - Richard Keenan from PopUp Dorset - JOE Stevens news - April 8, 2013

    […] Creative Conversations No9 has just gone live, this episode features Richard Keenan from PopUp Dorset. […]

  2. Creative conversations | Pop Up Dorset | Art Exhibition and Sale 2013Pop Up Dorset | Art Exhibition and Sale 2013 - May 31, 2013

    […] on so much that the conversation had to be edited into two parts. The first part can be found here and focusses around the reasons why Katy and I decided to start Pop Up Dorset and some of the […]

  3. Overview of Series 2 of Creative Conversation | creative conversations - June 26, 2013

    […] episode 9 sees me visiting Richard Keenan, a founding member of PopUp Dorset. We hear about their exhibition at St George’s Church, and about PopUp Dorset’s structure. […]

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