Bournemouth Born & Bred: Stuart Semple’s New Gallery

Homeless Still Human, 2015 © Paul Trefry

An up-and-coming hub of art, Bournemouth’s creative culture is on the rise. To add to its flourish, local born and bred artist, Stuart Semple, has opened a huge new gallery, catapulting the seaside resort onto the international art scene with an impressive opening show.

The gallery now sits inside a historic building which used to be the city’s Debenhams store for fifty years before it closed this past May. Entitled Giant, the building has become the largest artist-led space in the UK, covering roughly 15,000 square feet.

Hero, 2011 © Chad Person

Giant kicked off only this week with its first exhibition titled Big Medicine which features leading artists including Jake and Dinos Chapman, Jim Lambie and Gavin Turk, as well as emerging artists like Gray Card, Nicky Carvell, Paolo Ciarska and Eva Cremers.

The tone? Humour and optimism, appropriately. As Semple himself puts it, this tone reminds us of the “importance of the arts to heal cultural wounds through shared experience.”

Gladys Always Knew Charlie Was Late, 2010 © Paul Trefry

In a post covid world, Londoners are relocating to seaside towns for affordable property and this sees a growing list of new attractions and restoration projects to appear in England’s “fading” seaside towns over the last decade, as investment rolls in to everywhere from Whitley Bay to Blackpool.

Gladys Always Knew Charlie Was Late, 2010 © Paul Trefry

It’s also worth wondering whether Giant will make a difference not only to the art scene but also to Britain’s dying high street. The pandemic saw high streets shops struggling to survive therefore devaluing the rent prices and where low rents exist, artists follow. It’s rumoured Semple secured the space in the much-loved Bobby’s Building in The Square at no cost. With art injecting life into a dying high street, surely the crowds will return, ensuring more profitable days are just around the corner. “As artists, it’s not our responsibility to save the high street,” says Semple. “But we’re already seeing a positive impact. The queue on opening night was huge and the locals are so incredibly proud of our new gallery. They’re never given enough credit for their knowledge of art. They understand what they’re looking at. It’s wonderful to see Bournemouth’s potential.”

A recent devastating report on the health and wellbeing of coastal communities made depressing reading and shows why art alone won’t save the UK’s struggling seaside towns. It might not even help the most deprived areas. “Perhaps it’s a start,” says Semple. “Art definitely has the power to change things. It’s potent and powerful. It’s seen us through wars. Perhaps it can see us through this.”

Big Medicine at Giant runs until 31 October 2021 and admission is free. Opening hours are Monday to Saturday between 11am and 6pm and on Sundays from 11am until 4pm. Find out more: giant.space.

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