The People’s gallery in Stalybridge opened back in 2001, as a creative space where everyone was welcome to exhibit their work.
Based on an ethos that art is for everyone, and everyone has an inner artist, it has proved a vital lifeline for the artistic communities in the area.
The driving force behind the opening were two great local artists, John Kimpton and Chris Cyprus who saw an opportunity to display artwork on the empty walls of the Credit Union on Melbourne Street, Stalybridge.
They were helped by the manager at the time Stephen Ollerenshaw who had a lifetime love of art, and through the following years the gallery became bigger than the Credit Union and so The People’s Gallery was born.
And since then, despite being threatened with eviction, and having their original gallery bulldozed, they have proved a resilient and inspiring creative space in the area.
Unveiling the People’s Gallery: A Unique Concept in Stalybridge
Gordon Clegg, the chairman of the People’s Gallery, spoke passionately about the gallery’s roots and its evolution.
Introducing the gallery, Gordon shared, “We’re not like any other gallery in the country because we’re a cooperative of artists.
“Our unique concept allows artists, irrespective of their background or experience, to showcase their work without judgment.
“A lot of the time you have to be super famous to have your work shown, and it’s like you’re laughed out of the room sometimes.
“We’re not like that, we believe art is for everyone.”
An Inclusive Platform for Emerging Artists
The People’s Gallery prides itself on being an inclusive space, shattering the perception that art is an elitist endeavour.
Gordon expressed, “People think art is very elitist. We say it is not.
“Ours is a gallery where people can have fun.
“They can laugh and they can talk loud, you know, and they don’t whisper like they do in big galleries.”
This approach has allowed emerging artists, often overlooked by mainstream galleries, to find a home for their creations.
Gordon shared stories of exhibitions dedicated to schools and colleges, offering a platform for young talents to shine.
One such success was an exhibition for Copley Academy, a comprehensive college, where the gallery hosted a brass band and various engaging activities.
Financial Independence: A Community-Driven Model
One of the gallery’s remarkable features is its financial independence.
Gordon shared, “We’re self-sufficient. We don’t get any funding from anywhere. We buy all the incidental stuff, like cleaning stuff and keys and coffers and stuff. We buy it all by ourselves.”
This financial resilience has allowed the People’s Gallery to remain true to its roots, avoiding external influences that might compromise its community-centric vision.
Outreach and Education: Nurturing Art Beyond the Gallery Walls
The People’s Gallery extends its influence beyond its physical space, engaging with local schools, colleges, and organisations.
Gordon expressed, “We’ve had several groups, U3A, come in, and I’ve gone out to their places, giving them workshops and lessons.”
U3A is a club for people who are no longer working or in school full-time, mainly retirees or semi-retirees.
In Greater Manchester, there are 13 of these clubs, and they decided to team up because they all share common interests.
You don’t need academic qualifications to join these clubs; they are open to anyone not in full-time work or education.
Most members are older folks who’ve retired and are looking for cool things to do with their extra time.
Together, these clubs offer more than 400 groups where members can do all sorts of fun stuff—study classes, discussions, singing in choirs, going on cultural trips, walks, crafting, and even lunch meet-ups. It’s all about learning new things and making friends while having a good time.
You can find out more about them by clicking here
The gallery’s commitment to education is further underscored by its involvement with local art groups, competitions, and outreach programs, reaching people who might not otherwise have the chance to experience art.
Recognition and Future Visions: The Bridge Art Centre
The People’s Gallery has garnered recognition from local figures, including MP Jonathan Reynolds, who emphasised the gallery’s pivotal role in the community. Gordon shared a memorable quote from Reynolds: “Every town should have a People’s Gallery”.
Andy Burnham also enjoyed a trip to the gallery, where he was supposed to stay for a strict 18 minutes, but enjoyed the gallery so much he spent a whole two hours chatting and looking a the work.
As the gallery looks ahead, Gordon revealed, “We’d like to make contact with other groups and schools and offer ourselves for any community-based, school-based, or church-based initiatives.”
While envisioning growth within the current building, Gordon acknowledged the limitations and expressed a desire for more collaborations with nationally known artists, ensuring a balance that doesn’t overshadow emerging talents.
Rebranding for a Bright Future: The Bridge Art Centre Emerges
To reflect its expanding role within the community, the gallery has recently rebranded itself as the Bridge Art Centre.
Gordon clarified, “We’ve rebranded it as that we are because we’re on the bridge at the side of the river. So we’d like to call the building itself the Bridge Art Centre.”
The People’s Gallery remains at the core of this transformation, a testament to its unwavering commitment to providing a platform for all artists.
The rebranding signifies a broader vision encompassing various forms of art, emphasising the gallery’s role as a central artistic hub within Stalybridge.
The People’s Gallery is a testament to the enduring spirit of creativity and inclusivity in Stalybridge.
From its modest beginnings in 2001, this community gem has weathered challenges, proving that art is not just a luxury for the elite but a lifeline for everyone.
You can check out their website here