If you manage to make it past thirty without making a complete idiot of yourself (and for me that particular ship sailed and promptly sank some time ago) then you quickly learn that there is nothing sadder than someone of ‘a certain age’ trying to ‘get down with the kids’. However much one might like to delude oneself that, yo, I’m still hip enough to mix it with all the young dudes, the harsh, harsh reality is that you ain’t. Nobody is. It’s something to do with the genes (and probably the jeans).
It was with this sobering knowledge that I attended the recent Open Day at Newcastle University, where sixth-form students check out the campus and courses to help them choose the right University and degree. I was sharing a stall with the Fine Art Department to tell the visitors (mostly aged seventeen, hence the paranoia) about the Hatton, why it was closed and what wonders would await them if they returned next year or beyond.
Running any stall all day on one’s own can be a tad wearing, not to say impractical: ‘I need to get a coffee and I need to get a coffee now!’.So I enlisted/blackmailed the help of Alysia, newly-crowned Chair of The Friends of the Hatton.
Alysia hails from the great State of New Jersey…
…so for any Springsteen fan, meeting her is akin to chatting with one of the Apostles (“So, your All-Time Top Five Least Favourite Bruce tracks…” – hmm, tricky). The Friends do valuable and important work to help the Gallery and with the current closure their role is even more vital in maintaining our public profile. They run classes and workshops, seminars and tours, and members get deals and discounts, previews and parties and a chance to sell their own artworks in Friends exhibitions. Wow! Where do I sign?! So if you want to sizzle up your social life, lay the love on your lobes and add some vortex to your cortex (I have no idea what that means) then Join The Friends Today!*
We arrived at the venue – named The Venue – a large sub-sub-basement in the Students’ Union at 8.30 and began setting up for the 9 a.m. start. Given the reputation of teenagers for early rising this seemed a mite optimistic but here they are! They’re leaflet-a-grabbing and query-a-firing with a self-confidence and perception that would have seen my angst-ridden seventeen-year-old self rushing for the nearest cupboard.
Normally at Open Days we’d be running fascinating and scintillating tours of the gallery… but with that being impractical this year, we’d assembled a collection of artist’s impressions of how the Hatton will look after re-development.
You can see other pictures on our website here. Traditionally such impressions were hand-drawn by the artists, but the advent of photo software has allowed more realistic images, complete with ‘genuine’ visitors who always seem to be far more fashionable than I ever am or will be.
The two days passed in something of a blur, as busy events tend to. With sixteen other Faculty departments hustling their wares, it felt like a rather upmarket marketplace (‘Step right up, get yer art ‘ere, luvley degrees!’). A student might show an interest in Fine Art while their hovering concerned parent tried to usher them on to Business Studies or Law, yet given the current nature of work and jobs, creative thinking and ‘soft skills’ have become pre-requisites for many roles beyond the world of art. As Fine Art made their case, Alysia and I would pitch in with the Hatton, the plans, its extensive collection and rare status of being one of the few university art galleries to exist brick-in-brick within its own department.
While we were there primarily to inform rather than preach, I couldn’t help wondering if we’d made a difference. Had the prospect of starting an art degree alongside a beautiful new gallery persuaded someone to choose not only Newcastle but a whole new direction? Did we inadvertently sway some young mind to forgo a career in accountancy in favour of uncharted waters? Best decision I ever made.
You can read more about the developments planned for the Hatton on our website but seriously, trust me dude, it’s gonna be like well cool (yep, still got it…)
‘Revitalising The Hatton Gallery’ is funded by Heritage Lottery Fund.