IT may look like a building site at the moment but a building in Barnstaple is to be turned into an irresistible attraction for contemporary art fans. The exciting plans have been drawn up by friends Stella Levy and Julie Gavin.
White Moose (once Trinity Boys School and a hall used by the Moose Association) on Trinity Street is to become the blank canvas, where cutting-edge, contemporary artwork, aimed at provoking reaction and discussion, will be displayed for all.
It's hoped this new attraction for Barnstaple will be yet another stop-off for those heading to the South West to soak up its cultural experiences and awe-inspiring natural beauty.
"We felt opening White Moose would be another venue on an art trail for visitors, perhaps taking in the Broomhill Art Hotel and Sculpture Gardens on their route to Verity at Ilfracombe and possibly on to the Tate and other galleries at St Ives," said Julie.
There have, of course, been previous campaigns by local artists to secure a contemporary arts space in Barnstaple but no suitable buildings ever seemed to come on the market. These two enterprising women, however, viewed the Old Moose Hall and began to brainstorm ideas.
"It struck me that this would make a perfect place to convert into this arts space, and once I mentioned it to Julie, we were both hooked on the idea," said Stella.
Julie had always had a dream to own a gallery that would make contemporary art accessible to a wider audience.
"I feel this even more passionately in the current environment where spending cut backs are often targeted at reducing access to our culture and cutting education in the arts," she said.
Barnstaple already has its own museum and several lovely galleries so White Moose will aim to be distinct from them. The two businesswomen are passionate about making art available to all and part of their programme will include exhibitions, workshops and projects that the whole community can be involved with.
"Our aim is to get people interested and not be afraid to enter a contemporary arts space," said Julie. "We want people to enjoy that experience, but also to leave the gallery feeling they have been touched in a positive way by the space and the artists' work on show."
Not that they expect to please all the people all of the time. Some of the exhibitions and installations could be challenging.
"Really we want anyone to enjoy a visit to White Moose," said Stella. "Not that we expect everyone to like all of the work we present through the year, but just by talking to us and trying to keep an open mind about what is on show, could bring a better understanding of some of the more cutting edge artists' work in the gallery."
The two envisage bringing in regional, national and international artists as well as supporting and mentoring hand-picked, emerging local artists.
Already, it seems the creative deities are smiling on their artistic venture. They have successfully won an Arts Council England award for their March 2013 launch show, a World War One project by South East artist, Jane Churchill. (Turn to page 13 for details)
"We hardly dared expect this Arts Council England award as we are only just launching our new gallery, but feel it was partly due to our exciting opening project which aims to reach new audiences with a challenging, thought-provoking show that we believe will appeal to all age groups," said Julie.
This May, White Moose will show the work of two local artists, ceramicist Chris Taylor and painter Keiron Leach while later in the year there's an exhibition by Edward Crumpton, a local artist they have been mentoring. Early in 2014 the gallery will show the work of promising young graduates, shortlisted artists for the Griffin Art Prize.
"We are pleased to have been selected as one of the few locations outside of London that this show will tour to," said Julie.
As the building work (which includes two flats above the gallery for rental) continues, the friends can't wait to see their vision take shape.
"I suppose the overriding feeling is one of excitement and anticipation as we really want to get started now," said Julie amongst the building work being carried out by South Molton's David Squires. "Taking on the building conversion has been a massive task, together with getting the launch project off the ground."
Stella added: "Winning the Arts Council England grant for the project launch was a fantastic boost and seeing the future gallery programme emerge keeps us focused on what all this work is for."
To find out more about the White Moose launch show turn to page 13.