How I got a gallery
This isn’t even a clickbait title!! this is the story of how and why i, gabrielle de la puente, have a gallery, namely OUTPUT gallery in Liverpool City Centre. not that i need to explain myself but I’m writing this because being transparent with art world operations can help others come up. and mate i’m 24 and scouse, something is going on, so I’d like to demystify my own career development by charting it. I also have very real class paranoia in my stomach that means I have to explain myself if I have anything nice. Like u know when someone walks in with new shoes and then immediately defends themselves by saying THEY WERE ON SALE, THEY WERE. ON. SALE. this week my friend gave me AirPods !! because she found them, couldn’t find their owner and didn’t want em herself. I can’t have them floating out my ears without being like oH NO I DIDNT PAY 180 QUID FOR CLOUT My Friend- Ah SHE FOUND THEM to whoever’s nearest to me. please take into account the fact i am a jammy bastard - but also I’m not goin to diminish my achievements because thats WEAK. This text should have some pretty immediate value too because people ask me five times a week how i have a gallery. the way OUTPUT came into being is interesting i m o, and what it has become is a model I’d like to see in every city. franchising. world domination and so on. I’m going to talk university and jobs before reaching The Point so if u want to skip all the context feel free to scroll down to MARCH 2018. i hope this is not extremely boring. i remember going to a lecture once where morgan quaintance described what happened after he left uni year by year, marking his progress against when he started paying his own phone bill n i found it really useful. let me give it a go.
Hello I [ white, cis girl, bi, able-bodied, anxious but social, scouse but london made my accent more palatable to middle class people, full student loans ] studied Fine Art at Central Saint Martins 2013-16. i went into that course with blinders on, adamant I was going to become A Painter. My masterpiece was a portrait of Honey Boo Boo but as time went on I fell out of love with making art, found it EMBARRASSING, and instead enjoyed writing about exhibitions and putting them on once or twice. I can’t stop capitalising words now that we record these texts hahaha, i’m just loving giving myself stage directions.
In 2nd year I banded together with about 8 friends and using our loans we split the £1000 bill ! to hire a gallery on Vyner St in East London for F O U R days. the exhibition was called ‘i still pick my nose.’ We showed our work, a lot of people came because we’d organised it for a First Thursdays, i was buzzin. Organising things is so satisfying to me and if i’m not someone’s maid of honour in the next year i’m going to kick a table. I can pull off anything. Give me a baby shower. i could have sorted fyre festival out. billy and his mates needed a womxn in that room when they were off on one promising luxury villas on Pablo Escobar’s island to say to them, ‘ok but how are you going to do that ??’ i could have single-handedly stopped or solved the entire thing. men can not be trusted. anyway.
The White Pube started october 12th 2015 and thats when I became a critic ~ largely writing about exhibitions but also thinking about who’s in charge in the arts and why. and why can’t no one be in charge and everyone have an opinion.
come third year and with the white pube in full swing, I was really zooming out, thinking about the shape of the art world more than the shape of sculptures. I can feel it even now - how interested I am in the people, places, the movement of money and power. This meant that when I got the bug to put on an exhibition a second time, I had a new position: there was no way I was going to pay London prices again, fuck that. I remember sitting in the uni studios thinking of ways around it. In plain terms, all i wanted to do was practice putting art together in a room, photograph it and add the line to my CV - and honestly I wanted that for my friends too so we could all graduate with a head start. If that was the case, we just needed pictures to prove we did a thing. Around that time, ‘pics or it didn’t happen’ was a common rhetoric online and so i claimed it: organised, marketed, curated, photographed and deinstalled an entire group show without ever opening to the public. It was called Life Babies and i had the consent of the artists, hosted it at 12ø Collective, got it listed on AQNB + whenever anyone emailed me asking to visit (which was by appointment only) I blanked the email. I called it a non-exhibition in my head, it seemed to make sense. yeah, completely lied online and made out the show happened but I was being a scammer. + FYI Throughout university, I had multiple zero hour jobs stacked on top of one another working in a takeaway, catering at the O2, painting commissions, exam invigilation, stewarding, and waiting on as well. fully never learnt the difference between a cappuccino and the other one, and no one ever complained. i was a scammer thru and thru.
The LITERAL final class we were offered at CSM was a seminar on arts funding. it was led by Anna Hart (AIR studio) who briefly mentioned during the hour that she was looking for an assistant. I had done a tiny tiny bit of work for AIR stewarding events and waiting on at an artist dinner they put on so i thought o she might remember me. I asked Anna at the end about the role, sent an email n then had a phone interview before graduating straight into Assistant Producer on a programme she’d organised called Tidal Twirlings - a summer of art in North Woolwich (which is east east DLR-level London). During the interview i mentioned that I’d put these 2 exhibitions on, told her the politics of The White Pube, and also that I wasn’t middle class so I could speak to people without patronising them. success ! and thank GOD because under Anna’s wing, I learnt how to put on art events, market and communicate something v specific, work with a community, work with funders, and support lots of different people to enact their vision. i learnt more on that job than I did in uni but thats because I might have done the wrong degree looking back. I just hadn’t done anything so thorough before. i registered self-employed, was being paid a ~day rate~ and paying my own London rent post-uni, doing something new every day and loving life lol. I worked for AIR from June-September and after we put on the North Woolwich Art Festival, I moved back home because I thought ;; nice, i hav learnt so much but if I’m gonna do this, I want the product to go to Liverpool. london is q frankly spoilt.
in October I moved back into my childhood bedroom because I got an unpaid internship as one of six or so directors at The Royal Standard, an artist-led space thats about 10 yrs old i think, i cba googling, I’m writing this all on a train. I bargained with my parents that I wouldn’t pay rent to them because i needed to save up to move out / bc of white pube jobs and a boyfriend i wasn’t in the house that often / and i wasn’t making enough money to part with any of it. I’d got a job in OFFICE the shoe shop to be able to pay for food and travel. This was a horrible weird time of being stretched and unhappy. But within that, I found a day to put on an exhibition of one of the Life Babies artists Michael Lacey who i was now dating and whose practice i knew really well + wanted to support. the show was at a small gallery that doesn’t exist anymore called A Small View, the exhibition was ‘A Hole, A Mountain.’ i didn’t stick around at TRS for long because tbh I had just come from a dream summer of working in the arts and suddenly I had taken a badly structured job, wasn’t getting paid, wasn’t enjoying it, wasn’t learning enough, and felt like the gallery was doing more harm than good in terms of gentrification and ye i was not about to be associated with that. A year into its existence, The White Pube was at that point being invited to do lectures in universities and we were getting more work and readers too, so I just looked at everything and decided it was best to leave TRS, refocus my life while i had the safety net of living at home. officially left there in:
(we’re nearly there i promise). So at this point, my contract with OFFICE runs out and I find a new job working part-time as the Outreach Assistant for Samaritans (mental health charity and helpline). At Samaritans, i was doing 10 hours a week and magically my rota was up to me. It was a relief having a non-art job. In 2017 things felt clearer and I could focus on growing The White Pube ;; we were budding out of the soil and getting stronger, and i appreciated having flexibility in a job more than money bc it meant I could accept opportunities and travel to new places. 100% couldn’t have done this if i was paying rent, which is gonna be a sticking point for some readers i know because it makes me sound like a boujie child but no one in liverpool is boujie so it is what it is. Now that i was doing less, i thought ok I’d like to do more exhibitions pls ! and in February of that year, I brought back the idea of the non-exhibition and started collaborating with Michael Lacey (bf) properly - calling the project we did non-exhibitions under Little Man Gallery. Over 2017 and early 2018 we did 6 non-exhibitions. and outside of Little Man, I independently curated a show of paintings by Joana de Oliveira Guerriero at CBS Gallery. So although its a bit messy and i had many hats on, sometimes simultaneously, I definitely had this producer/curator CV on the go. I stopped working for Samaritans in January 2018 after exactly 1 year ~ did a touch of ghost-writing for a photographer who wanted more text on her site for better SEO n I’m a writer as well aren’t i ~ and thennnnnn:
I got an email to the white pube account from Venya Krutikov, Director of Creative Technology at the Invisible Wind Factory that felt out of the blue and also perfect. In case u don’t know what invisible? wind? factory? is: there used to be a big venue in town called The Kazimier / apparently it had the best acoustics for live music but idk / which was eponymously operated by Kazimier Productions CIC. they are a team that put on creative events, produce in-house shows for various arts organisations and commercial clients and also do things like the christmas stars on Bold St with the magic glass and lasers, cute. but not so cute: the venue was closed down, lost to the wave of redevelopment in the area that’s erected beige expensive flats in its wake. In front of the ghost of The Kazimier survives the Kazimier Gardens, an outdoor bar in liverpool city centre that is all wood and log burners and mulled wine this time of year; live music, speciality beer and first dates in the summer. Connected to the Gardens is a room that used to be The Kazimier’s workshop but was no longer in use as Kazimier Productions CIC had gone on to find a new home in the north docks and opened Invisible Wind Factory (IWF here on out). The email I got spoke of turning that empty room into an art space because amazingly - rarely - IWF explained that so much creative activity across the ropewalks area of liverpool had been bulldozed and they wanted to restart some of it if possible. they’d had their beginnings in access to disused space so wanted to pay it forward. The email also explained that staff at Open Eye gallery had recommended IWF get in touch with the white pube to see if I was interested in working on this - and I really really was. Not to be dramatic but it started to feel like I was a character in a book and everything I’d done up until this point had prepared me for this ~moment~. I’d learnt and loved the event production and programming with AIR, had spent the past 3 years thinking intensely about how exhibitions are put together and presented through my writing on The White Pube, had been stuck in Liverpool dissatisfied with the art scene for multiple reasons, and also I’d been able to learn the language of funding applications by sneakily downloading files off google drive during my stint with The Royal Standard. then here was this invitation that meant I could try putting 2 n 2 together.
I met up with Venya at the site which was in the middle of the city, a good size, and ngl i went in there with a PLAN. I was hoping IWF would invest a bit of money to run a short programme where we could pay artists, pay me to organise the exhibitions and events and the identity of the gallery too, and then use that pilot to go for Arts Council Funding. make it legit n real n forever. I took them up on the offer and they did the same for me. everyone was lovely and good at their job, and after a few meetings we had decided OUTPUT would work exclusively with creative practitioners from or based in Merseyside; it would have a high turnover of exhibitions; and be open Thurs-Sun with a small cafe at the front of the space ran by the kaz gardens which would double as our invigilation. We wanted OUTPUT to counterbalance the city’s institutions only ever parachuting artists in for shows instead of hiring the ones already here. we’d do more than the four shows a year rota everyone else was sticking to. it would have a different energy.
IWF were busy with a tonne of different projects - like the venue itself puts on gigs, club nights, creative things, festivals and like, there was a wedding fair there last week. So, they were happy for me to lead on it. i titled myself Gallery Manager to cover programming, curation, installation, and administration of any activity. IWF’s main Marketing man George Maund helped me spread the word. I liked the title gallery manager, feels less clouty and more like a job lol. I haaaastily confirmed a 3 month run of solo exhibitions with artists I thought were amazing and who I knew from introductions and teaching with my white pube hat on. Those were: Danielle Waine, TANNSAH and Kate Cooper, and the shows were packaged with a sound-making workshop, performance, talk and some film nights to keep the space very active as per IWF’s request.
After my work with AIR, where I’d seen Anna put together a curatorial group with local residents and take their ideas and opinions into consideration when she was organising Tidal Twirlings, I was keen to have an equivalent local advisory board for OUTPUT. I didn’t want it to be a vanity project and me alone, but it was too soon to hire other thinkers or even trustees when no one had seen the gallery in action (and we weren’t a charity or anything to warrant it). I wanted to burst my own filter bubble so it wasn’t just the usual suspects coming to things or showing their work in the gallery tho. And so, having OUTPUT as a name allowed me to invite people to INPUT days that were like public consultations where anyone could walk in and give me their thoughts, feelings and criticisms, put themselves forward for an exhibition or recommend someone else. My intention with this was that OUTPUT wouldn’t just be some random gallery. it would be something people not only felt welcomed to, but whose activity and purpose they had helped decide. and it worked, I met people I didn’t know, found amazing local artists and took on some solid ideas - Sumuyya Khader asked if I could put on art socials to counter isolated working environments and that high pressure nervousness when u gotta network in an art scene; artists Lucy Archer and Jon Edgley separately requested Group Crits as they were both looking to develop work after graduating art school. And because it was just me making the decisions for what went on in the space, occasionally reporting back to IWF and calling on them for technical support, I was in a position to be reactive and start these events right away.
I also used the INPUT convos to put together a balanced programme that I took to Arts Council England. We asked them for 12K to fund a 5 month programme that supported 59 individuals over 12 exhibitions and 31 events, including regular art socials, group crits, and a weekly Culture Club (which some therapists who came to INPUT requested because they wanted somewhere social, creative, regular and free to send their clients!). I put myself in the budget doing 3 days a week - 2 days a week to curate/install/deliver the exhibition programme, support artists, and cover administration + 1 day a week to market, develop audience, meet with groups and run Culture Club. Director of IWF Liam Naughton taught me so so much when it came to writing a budget, and I was glad of that support. Sometimes I think my life is like a vocational MA, i’m so grateful to be learning on the job. We put the application through IWF’s account because obviously but also their longstanding relationship with ACE meant it was one project in a long line of their creative vision rather than a whole new thing on its own - and OUTPUT does exist under their umbrella. So! we got the mon££££yyyyyy, OUTPUT gallery is officially funded. I’ll link the website here (outputgallery.com) so you can look back on the shows that have happened bc they are boss imo. And ladies n girls, u’ll be happy to know I started paying my own phone bill :)))
You can stop reading here if u want, I’ve answered the clickbait by now. I’m doing a LOT running OUTPUT and The White Pube but they both inform each other so closely, n anyways ! I think I’m happiest when i’m busy. OUTPUT’s current funding is nearly at an end, running October-March, but I’ve just submitted a 2nd application to keep it all going so cross ya toes.
This obviously isn’t an instruction manual on how to get a gallery. it’s happened due a very weird, specific set of circumstances and jobs and having a home to move back into after I graduated; also me having the gall to ask for what I want, my endless amount of energy for working, the people in power who believed i could do a good job of it, the physical ability to be up and down ladders each week installing exhibitions, and having a visible profile because of The White Pube that meant Open Eye gallery recommended me to IWF when they were looking for advice about how to turn that room into an art space in the first place. I think the business-mindedness of IWF is a big part in OUTPUT’s survival too, because starting with a cafe at the front of the space has meant we’ve never relied on volunteering. In November, we stopped the cafe and brought in a commercial client instead - a cute vintage shop who have been going in Liverpool for 8 years. they open daily so not only has it meant we have amazing opening hours that I wouldn’t have been able to achieve if it was just me opening up (output’s now open 11-6pm every day during shows!) but bringing in a shop to the front of the space changed the vibe from a scary empty white cube to somewhere u can hav a look at some art, buy a top, nip next door to the kazimier gardens for a coke and then go about your day. multifunctional and chill. it went from white cube to white pube ; a dream come true.
And i want to end by saying: how fucking good it was for a larger operation such as IWF to annexe a part of their square footage for creative activity, to be generous with that rather than turn it into something with direct revenue for their own pocket. Everything else in the area is built for profit, but OUTPUT sits amongst it all offering something back - it’s redistributing money, giving it to local artists and paying them to exhibit their work. As its gallery manager, I’ve been able to use OUTPUT to host groups, talks, students wanting some space to film something on the fly; and use the legacy of the art socials to help artists connect, some of whom have gone on to collaborate together. People have come to crits and then been invited back to exhibit. all these little and real moments of support. Lol I’ve helped more artists in Merseyside in the past year than these institutions have for five and i also really enjoy that a lot of people don’t know output is ran by me because it’s the shop who open up - i’m v behind the scenes. let me use my massive loudspeaker of a website to call now on the larger organisations across this country. Can you all please take one room in ur biiiig ass buildings and do the same as IWF did with OUTPUT - hire someone outside of the institution to come and programme (and pray it isn’t a straight cis white man). Start helping the people who literally live in your city come up n become professionals because you’re leaving them behind. There’s this taboo that ‘LoCaL aRtiSts’ are sum uncultured amateurs you wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole but a significant amount of them are making more interesting work than the dry decoration the white cube loves aaaand if you’re getting 4 million every funding round you should invest in artist development so people reach the level where they can go full-time making art. start an art market in your vicinity. a whole new economy. I only got 12K off the arts council and i did 12 exhibitions !! and they were every 2 weeks !!! there’s no excuses. it doesn’t necessarily have to be an arts-minded organisation. If you can find a business that has a shop-front spare room or a SHED, why not sketch out a proposal and see if it can work. Idk I’m suddenly desperate for a network of like-minded galleries and ready to support them. We can have OUTPUT liverpool, OUTPUT middlesbrough etc etc. let me know if you want in. ok my train is arriving at the station so i have to stop writing and have definitely forgotten things but yes thank you IWF, Venya, Liam, George and Kev for helping make OUTPUT what it is today. ‘the least pretentious gallery’ ‘you spoil us’ literally 5 stars on tripadvisor. it’s nice being on the right side of things.