@MarDixon Passionate about culture internationally. Run remixing events, workshops, create solutions, and an international speaker. Over sharer and Mom who loses arguments to a teen. Projects created: @CultureThemes @lovetheatreday @AskaCurator @MuseumSelfieDay @TeensInMuseums @52museums
  • An Interview with @IkonGallery Director Jonathan Watkins and Curator Kate Self

    August 17th, 2011mardixonCulture

    If you never been to the Ikon Gallery, you’re missing a real treat.  The building itself is a piece of art that never fails to fascinate.  Originally built in 1878 for an infant school, it has had a few other responsibilities before its current (and hopefully permanent) position as home of the gallery.  The artist journey begins as you walk in and see this very prominent but non-busy sign:

    I met Director and Jonathan Watkins, a busy man who’s passion for Ikon was evident from the start along with Kate Self who is the essentially their Educational Officer (although it’s technically Ikon Youth Programme (IYP)).

    After explaining the many hats and angles this interview was going to take (blog, AskACurator.com, Kids in Museums), I quickly got into the questions as I knew time was precious for both.


    How long have you been the director?

    12 years

    There are no permanent exhibitions, was this a conscious decision?

    This was the Arts Council decision for the Ikon to run as an exhibition space, rather than a museum. Ikon runs along the same lines as the Serpentine Gallery and compliments the Birmingham Art Gallery.

    How far in advance are you planning for your next artists/exhibition?

    Three years although some take longer.

    As each artists has their own style, own requirements (eg might only require one room as oppose to three, or have work that is adult content requiring temporary space), how do you go about planning? It sounds like a scheme of work nightmare. (I also asked if there was ever a deep breathe of relief after a particular exhibition was completed).

    We never stop.  When one exhibition has ended, we’re already working on another one (or three). It’s a never-ending process.

    I often visit the Ikon and I have never seen the same exhibition twice and the exhibitions I do see are always fresh (and sometimes funky). The turn over is very impressive but I have found some artist to be quite young.  If there is a 3-year timeframe, how are you finding these young artists?

    Some we find while they are still in college.  We have a team of curators that scouts talent.

    What exhibition are you most proud of?

    The exhibition we did on the original founders ( AngusSkene, David Prentice, SylvaniMerilion, Jesse Bruton and Robert Groves).  To be able to have an exhibition which was a celebration of their achievement in the foundation of the Ikon Gallery and to get back into the fold that shouldered the 1960…

    What exhibition or artist would you love to have on display and haven’t (yet).

    Monet (there was no hesitation in his response).

    Besides the Founding member exhibition, what other exhibition are you proud of?

    Probably our current exhibition by Atsuko Tanaka, The Art of Connecting.  It has been on again/off again over the last six years due to funding and collaboration issues.

    Speaking of Collaboration, I usually ask if any collaboration have been done.

    We collaborate with everyone.  [With such a high turn over of exhibitions I suppose collaboration are a necessity rather than a option .]

    Jonathan had to leave for yet another meeting but luckily for me, this allowed a one to one with Kate Self who , amongst other things, is in charge of the Ikon Youth Programme.  One thing I noticed about the interview with Jonathan is he never took credit on his own.  It was always ‘the team’ or ‘us’ or ‘we’.  There seems to be a clear respect for everyone involved there.

    Kate Self has been with the Ikon for 7 years, working her way up from Volunteer to co-ordinator of the Ikon Youth Programme.   Kate’s passion to ensure the youth (I want to use the word ‘kids’ -the Kids In Museum terminology but it’s not technically appropriate for Kate’s situation) is evident immediately.  She is in charge of ensuring everyone from kids dropping in with parents, to different schools age groups, all the way to community groups has a learning resource available.

    Sounds difficult, but no more so than other museums and art galleries, right?  But imagine being in charge of the youth programme for a gallery that is always changing – that is the challenge Kate is up against and one she manages to achieve with every exhibition.*

    *Exhibition appropriate for kids as some are rated for adults only.  Even these exhibition are handled with care and shown in an sensitive manner to ensure kids are not enticed to enter.

    Are photographs allowed?

    Yes, ish.  Some items are copyrighted but other than that, we all we ask if you sign in with one of our many Visitor Assistance. 

    The Visitor Assistance will come over and ensure visitors are having a good time and enjoying themselves before asking if they have signed in.  It’s important to Ikon that the visitors feel welcome and relaxed.

    What Kids in Museums work do you provide?

    We’re always working on programs as our exhibitions always change.  We currently have:

    • Parent and Toddler sessions once a month.
    • Family Saturdays for all age groups on the first Saturday of every month
    • School Holiday workshops
    • Group Visits (this could be schools or community groups, etc)
    • Ikon Youth Programme

    What is the Ikon Youth Programme (IYP) ?

    It’s a group for 15-19 year olds.  We encourage them to devise creative projects while networking with other groups.

    What is your current IYP?

    Slow Boat  [When speaking about Slow Boat – Kate’s enthusiasm is infectious.]  Slow Boat is three-year programme (2011–2013) organised in collaboration with British Waterways.

    The idea is to use our canal boat as a medium for us/IYP to create, present and promote their own work as well as that of other artists. The boat acts as a stage for on-board exhibitions, canal-side performances, screenings, installations, theatrical events, talks and activities in various locations en route. The young people will take Slow Boat on numerous day and weekend trips, plus longer voyages outside Birmingham along the many canal routes that link the city to the rest of the country.

    We have a website that everyone can access to follow our progress http://ikonslowboat.com/

    What is the Slow Boat’s current project?

    It’s a feast that we’re calling the Floating Feast.  We’re currently working with artists called Companis that will combine art and food. We’re really excited about this.

    From our conversation, it was clear the AskACurator question was going to be related to their work with the kids in the community.

    Ironically, soon after the filming, Companis entered the building.  Before ending our interview, Kate ensured I was sent away with all the latest leaflets in addition to Atsuko Tanaka catalogue (the current exhibition) which was all nicely packaged in my new Ikon Slow Boat canvas bag (which I absolutely adore!).


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