Interview with Mall Galleries

With nearly 60 galleries on the Own Art scheme being a registered charity, we wanted to pay tribute!

One registered charity – on the scheme since 2009 – is Mall Galleries, who never fail to host an incredibly busy and reputable programme of events for their audience. We were keen to pick their brains to find out exactly what goes into running such a venue.

In what ways do you think charity art organisations, such as the Federation of British Artists Mall Galleries, impact the community?

Mall Galleries is in a fairly unique position within the community; being in the very centre of London we are able to act as a national focal point and meeting place for artists working all over the UK, as well as art enthusiasts and collectors coming into London for a day’s visit. Our location on the ceremonial route to Buckingham Palace and just off Trafalgar Square makes us a desirable venue to host events for many businesses and international organisations, providing them with the opportunity to view our exhibitions of contemporary figurative art.

We pride ourselves in being a friendly and accessible gallery, not just through our staff and the welcome we give our visitors, but also through the art that we exhibit. With our focus on representational painting, drawing, printmaking and sculpture, our exhibitions are praised for being understandable to those who may find some of the more conceptual works produced by contemporary artists difficult to fathom, as well as those who admire technical skill and draughtsmanship.

Our programme of artists demonstrations and hands-on inclusive drawing sessions allows for a large cross-section of the local community, and those from further afield, to come together and engage in the creative process. We regularly participate in the Silver Sunday initiative and Westminster’s Out and About scheme which encourages older people from the local area to come along to the gallery for free.

How do you think the aims and function of Mall Galleries have changed since being established in 1961?

The history of how the Federation of British Artists was founded is a history of changes in the arts. Many of the Societies that make up the Federation were originally founded as alternatives to the Royal Academy at a time when the Academy dominated the UK art market – if your work wasn’t accepted to be shown at the Royal Academy, there wasn’t really anywhere else to show it. Groups like the Royal Society of British Artists (founded 1823) and the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours (founded 1883) offered artists an alternative venue to show their work and to spend time with like-minded artists.

By the middle of the 20th century, the art gallery scene in London and the UK was very different. There were now many galleries and spaces in which artists could exhibit and sell their works, which meant that these Societies maintaining their own galleries and premises became much less important.

In 1961 a number of these Societies joined forces and pooled their resources to create the Federation of British Artists. By this time too, art itself had changed, with abstraction and conceptual pieces being the style in favour. The Societies making up the Federation, focus on figurative and representational art, so the function has changed somewhat from being one of only a few places to exhibit, to specialising in exhibiting representational work. 

“Not having the guaranteed income that some other galleries have can make it seem a little daunting at the start of the year, but it is also a source of pride for us that we are mostly self-sufficient.”

What would you say are the biggest obstacles you face when running a charity organisation for the arts?

We don’t receive funding from the Arts Council or the Government, and rely on the income we are able to generate through the sales and commission of art, admission, the support of our Artist Members, Friends and Patrons, and hiring our venue for exhibitions and events in between those of our member Art Societies. Not having the guaranteed income that some other galleries have can make it seem a little daunting at the start of the year, but it is also a source of pride for us that we are mostly self-sufficient.

And what are the perks that make it all worthwhile?

The relationships we build with the artists are what really makes working for the FBA at Mall Galleries the most fun. We work closely with many of the 600 member artists and so become good friends with many.

And we try to take turns being the model for any portrait painting demonstrations that take place in the gallery, so many of us now have collections of paintings of ourselves. 

“Being able to offer our customers the Own Art scheme has expanded the number of people who can afford to take art home with them. “

Tell us a fun fact about Mall Galleries that people might not already know?

Mall Galleries hosts London’s largest and longest-running Life Drawing Group. The Hesketh Hubbard Art Society was founded in 1930 and meets every week to draw from both life and portrait models.

Between them, the nine Societies that make up the Federation of British Artists exhibited almost 3,000 paintings at Mall Galleries this year.

How has having Own Art available benefited Mall Galleries and your customers?

Being able to offer our customers the Own Art scheme has expanded the number of people who can afford to take art home with them. While the work that we exhibit is at a price point that is termed ‘affordable’, that is always a subjective description, but by spreading the cost over 10 months, we are confident that we really can offer something to suit all budgets.

What’s your top tip when it comes to investing in Art?

Buy what you love. Many of the people who buy art from the gallery do so because they feel a personal connection with the painting, for example, they recognise a place they spent their childhood holidays in a landscape painting and looking at the work conjures memories. Because we work so closely with our member artists, we are also in a unique position to be able to help people who want to commission a painting of something specific: a portrait; a painting of a garden, a house, a still life including special objects; or just to have an artist you admire to create a work with you in mind. We have a Commissions Consultant, Anna, who can talk you through the process and help match you with an artist.

Is there something in your programme, past or current, that you are particularly proud of?

We’re extremely proud that our graduate exhibition, FBA Futures, is growing in size and in recognition. This will be our eighth year exhibiting our pick of art students creating figurative painting, printmaking and sculpture in art schools from all across the UK.

FBA Futures 2020 will be open from 6 to 18 January and will be showing the work of 48 artists who graduated within the last year.

Check out what’s on at Mall Galleries here.

Take a look at the list of registered charities on the Own Art scheme here. Collect, own and support art!