Negotiating the new art world post-lockdown

Arundel’s Zimmer Stewart Gallery is finding its way in the new world of post-lockdown reopening.

Monday, 13th July 2020, 9:00 am
Gallery director James Stewart
Gallery director James Stewart

Gallery director James Stewart said that business was probably down something between 50 and 60 per cent since reopening its doors in mid-June – compared to normal times.

Against that, though, the gallery was obviously 100 per cent down after lockdown hit.

James wonders how much things will improve from here: “And that does worry me long term. But in the short term it is not a huge worry because we are in the fortunate position where we own the building and we are not beholden to anybody to pay rent. But we are a business – and we still have to pay people like me a salary.

“But I do think things are changing. I think you can already sense more optimism out there. I do think more people are now going out and that people are starting to seem more confident and are being sensible.”

And so it’s a question of simply carrying on and hoping: “Like a lot of owner managers, you don’t really have much choice. You have got to look forward. You can’t worry and look back. You can’t make the rash decision to close because what else am I going to do? You have got to go forward and think that business will pick up, as surely it will. I am old enough to have gone through other recessions. When times are good, you think that the good times will go on forever, and when times are bad, you think that the bad times will go on forever, but the fact is that these things go in cycles.

“But I do think Arundel is going to be changed by it. I do think the ‘high street’ generally is going to be very different. We have learnt to shop a lot more online and to have our food delivered online. I don’t think that our high streets will die, but I do think they will evolve.

“And what that means in Arundel which is a market town and heritage and history centre is that we will have more services, less retail perhaps. And I do think that once the restaurants and cafes are able to open fully, people will really want to come and visit. Every town is going to be looking at itself and thinking how it will need to transform. I think the structure of our high streets is certainly going to change.”

As for the gallery, the next show is Ensembles & Configurations by Phil Tyler from July 18-August 8.

James admits he was a little nervous about reopening, not because of people coming in: “We are never too crowded except during the festival. It was more a question of whether I had everything in place. I didn’t want to put tape on the floor and posters all over the place. I have got one poster in the window that tells everyone what the procedure is and how it all works.”

He also moved his desk “to give visitors completely free range.”

“And since opening we have only had one couple with a mask. I think people are not too concerned around here. We are not like a book shop or a food shop. We are the kind of place where you look with your eyes and not with your hands… where people can come in and wander round and have a very safe conversation with me and leave not having touched anything.”

James believes, though, the business has been changed by what happened: “The first week of lockdown was strange because you just didn’t know what to expect, but then people started settling and were able to contact their friends and family and work by Zoom and people got a bit used to it. And that was when James redesigned and relaunched his website: “That was something that was always on the agenda, but there was never really the time to do it. But I did it – and I do think post-COVID people are going to be using websites more. Our old website was a reasonably good place for people to browse, but the new one has got much more in terms of shopping facilities.”

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