Cheltenham Art

Art in the Park 2009


The 40th Open Air Art Exhibition

The Open Air Art Exhibition started its annual exhibition back in 1969.  2009 was our 40th year, and took place in the background of difficult economic circumstances, particularly in the retail sector.  Chains of shops had closed in early 2009, and most high street retailers were finding things tough. 


Against that background, we had a reasonably good year with good visitor numbers, and sales of paintings showing a slight improvement on last year.  That might reflect the consumer desire to find good value for money, and their realisation that the best way to do that is to buy art directly from the artists themselves at events such as this.


Our event kicked off with an opening ceremony featuring the Mayor of Cheltenham, Lloyd Surgenor.  In the photos above you can see him alongside the Chairperson of the Exhibition, Christine Smith.


Mr Surgenor gave us an insightful speech suggesting that the Open Air Art Exhibition should be more properly considered as an Art Festival in the town.  This is food for thought for the committee, and perhaps for the town council too.  We were very grateful for his attendance and input.  

It was also rather appropriate that one of our artists, Des Edwards, should sell his 40th painting at the exhibition on this, our 40th year.  Well down Des! Here's a photo of Des with Mrs Edwards in front of his screen:

It's not possible to put all of the art displayed at the exhibition onto the internet - there is simply too many paintings to do the event justice.  But this year I wanted to give readers an opportunity to see the range of work available, and I've collated a selection from week 3 with the permission of the artists:


Chris Kenyon, screen 2


Jenny Sterry, Screen 6


Clive Lawrence, screen 7


Liz Cann, screen 21b


Emily Parker, screen 23


Nicholas Waters, screen 24


Andy Lloyd, screen 8


Margaret Wallace, screen 9


Frances Arrow, screen 10


Lyn Clark, screen 14


Jack Danes, screen 15


Carole Henning, screen 16


Bob Robinson, screen 17a


Des Edwards, screen 18


Jane Few, screen 19a


John Murphy, screen 19b


The exhibition enjoyed a considerable amount of media attention this year, as was fitting for our 40th year.  Local historian John Southgate wrote a piece entitled "Easel Does It At Free Art Display" in 'The News', the free local paper in Cheltenham and Gloucester.  Here's an exert from his article:

The statue of Gustav Holst by the exhibition


"The open air art exhibition in Cheltenham's Imperial Gardens is one of the most widely enjoyed events in the town's calendar.  Now in its 40th year, the show is free to see and showcases the work of about 100 local artists...Some people will no doubt remember that in 1997 sculptures by the Gloucestershire-based artist Sophie Ryder augmented the paintings on show in Imperial Gardens.  Figures included a giant hare in bronze and a flock of sheep in tangled metal wire.  The latter were set to graze in the gated garden behind the Town Hall, which, as it was planted with fragrant and textured plants, used to be called the Blind Garden, though this title seems to have fallen from use.

"The open air show is organised by a committee of 11 artists and anyone can exhibit their paintings, which is all part of the appeal.  Pop along for a view and you are likely to find the work of full-time artists being shown alongside examples of work by the occasional dabbler..."  (9/7/09, p9)

The exhibition also featured in town's new magazine, 'The Cheltonian', which wrote:  "...The event provides a colourful annual pageant of original artwork, and offers the potential for real bargains: the commission charged by the event is small compared with that charged by galleries, and this is reflected in the prices of the artwork of offer.  Typically you can expect to pay half the price you would be charged in a gallery!" (July, p102)

This item stirred up a bit of controversy as one of the town's gallery owners took exception to the final statement about how good value for money the Open Air exhibition is in comparison with the town's galleries.  As I wrote at the top of this page, the economic situation has not been good this year, and all businesses are looking at ways to keep their costs down in order to deliver great value for money to the consumer.  The open air exhibition has some considerable overheads of its own, as Christine Smith pointed out in our newsletter to exhibiting artists:

"We try to keep the submission costs down as low as possible for exhibitors endeavouring to cover expenses and with help from our sponsors we manage to achieve this.  Last year our expenditure came to £5010.26, where does the money go? - Scaffolding/site hire/PL insurance/advertising/marketing/stationery/printing and £1250 on stewards’ expenses... As this is a special year we shall be making a donation after the exhibition to one the Mayor’s chosen charities – namely the local branch of Maggies."

artists gather to welcome the start of the 2009 exhibition


Some of those expenses are covered by the generous support of our sponsors (Midwinters Solicitors, Willans Solicitors and the Chelsea Building Society).  The rest is provided from levies from painting sales (10%) and screen hire.  This considerable set of expenses is still much, much less than the overheads faced by gallery owners, and it is natural that prices charged to the public will reflect this.  It's just a fact. 

People looking to buy an original work of art have a choice.  They can buy from galleries where they will gain the advantage of expert advice and a pleasant environment in which to make their choice.  Or they can buy directly from the artists at events like the Open Air Exhibition, the Gardens Gallery or the Open Studios fortnight, where they will enjoy great value for money in comparison.  If they are very thrifty indeed, then there is the choice of buying Chinese art through Ebay. 

I believe that the Cheltonian was right to make this choice clear to the public.


Written by Andy Lloyd, 15th July 2009