New Monthly Fair Will Showcase Shaftesbury’s High Quality Art

You’ll be able to browse and buy sculpture, pictures and paintings by Shaftesbury artists at a new monthly arts showcase starting next month.

A group of local creatives will present their pieces at the Town Hall as part of a drive to raise the profile of North Dorset as an arts destination. Andrea Jenkins and Karren Burkett are heading up the artists’ initiative, named The Shaftesbury Group.

“We are a benign dictatorship,” laughed Andrea. “I don’t think you can get much done by committee, to be honest.” Joking aside, both women say that they are fed up that the Shaftesbury area always seems to be overlooked because there’s an unfair emphasis on Dorset’s coastal strip.

Andrea Jenkins (left) and Karren Burkett

The Shaftesbury Group intends to change that focus. “We would love Shaftesbury to be known as a centre for the arts in the whole of Dorset. We would like to raise the bar on the quality of art that is shown around the town,” said Andrea.

And the group means business – because they’re only dealing with artists who have a business-like approach to their art. All of the group’s members are full or part-time professional artists that generate income from their sales. “That is an important part of this. They have been in practice, have good experience and work to a high quality,” said Andrea.

“There are sixteen artists who are painters, sculptors, and printmakers. There won’t be any crafts. We won’t step on the toes of the craft fair. We have invited these people to become part of our Shaftesbury Group,” Karren explained.

The group has a strictly enforced geographic area. Iwerne Minster appears to be their cut off point. “Ideally we want people to be as close to the town as possible. We are inviting artists that we respect and so some of them are a little bit further out, but they have strong links with the Shaftesbury Arts Centre.” Andrea says that artists who enquire about membership from more distant Dorset destinations, like Bournemouth, will be told that they live too far away.

Karren is convinced that there are enough Shaftesbury area artists to sustain these regular events. “Apart from anything else, if you’re painting by the sea, you paint the sea. If you’re painting inland there’s a lot more to paint,” said Karren. “We’re only operating one day a month,” Andrea added. “There are definitely enough artists in Shaftesbury to do this.”

Although The Shaftesbury Group has been busy recruiting artists who meet their quality criteria, Karren says that they are still open to approach. “There will always be people that we don’t know about, those who haven’t been part of what you might call the artists’ ‘scene’ so far but we think that we may have hit most of them,” said Karren.

The group is keen to reassure locals that their monthly sales will not adversely affect the gallery at Shaftesbury Arts Centre. Not all of the artists who display their work in the Bell Street space are local. And the gallery is so popular, there can be a very long wait for a vacancy. Karren says that the group has informed the Arts Centre Gallery co-ordinator Kate Pickard of their plans. Andrea says that Kate was enthusiastic about the idea.

“At the moment we have sixteen people and potentially there are two or three more who are working out how they could exhibit with us, because of the size or weight of their work. We can only take sixteen people at a time in the Town Hall because we don’t want it to be too crowded. We would like to have some people ‘in reserve’, in case one goes on holiday or wasn’t available. We want to have people to step in,” explained Andrea.

In theory, the Shaftesbury’s tourism offer could be transformed if so many professional artists opened up retail units. The town could become an arts destination, similar to places like Dartmouth or Whitstable. But there are practicalities to consider. “You’d have people being shopkeepers instead of being artists. This (event) only takes one day a month out of the studio time. The people will have to be heavily practising artists in order to keep up with the work that has to be shown,” Karren explained.

The first of these monthly art fairs will be held on Friday, 7th September at Shaftesbury Town Hall, between 10am and 4pm. Andrea says that they will always take place on Fridays. You can follow The Shaftesbury Group on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.