Interview with Ash Campbell | Galerie Shangri-Lah | Newcastle’s Newest ARI | 2021
ARI Remix | Artist Paul Andrew: Hello Ash, thanks for your time and interest in speaking with the ARI Remix today. You had been flirting with the idea of setting up a new art space in Newcastle for a while, tell me about this journey in some detail, from flirtation to reality?
Ash: I had this idea about two years ago, and I did a lot of research and planning; it’s a passion but it’s also really expensive…Could I do this? How to make it successful? Is it worth it? In the end, I decided it was (and so far, I proved myself to be right 🙂
I was super close to actually going ahead with creating a business from the ground up, then COVID hit and that pretty much knocked all the ticks out of the boxes. Then at the end of 2020 I had this psychological itch again, I felt like I couldn’t wait anymore-I already knew the basics, I already had the contacts and networks and I already had the support. One day I randomly inspected an empty shopfront and came home and said to my dog “You know what? Yeah, I’m gonna do it.”
So when I was a student, first/second year out and emerging onto the scene by myself, I found it hard to make the connections, afford the space to exhibit my work, and get some opportunities I needed to succeed if I wanted to make this some sort of career path. I’ve been studying, working and socialising in this industry for about eight years now and I could see the same pattern in many other emerging artists-being involved with places like Newcastle Art Space (NSA) and other community organisations.
I could see some new artists come out with some absolutely stunning work; so they’re capable but without the continuous support of programs like the Newcastle Emerging Art Prize, they just get over it. So that’s why I started Galerie Shangri-Lah; this space isn’t TARGETED for emerging artists, but I wanted it to be accessible to EVERONE in the community, regardless of status.
Professionally I wanted to do this for a very simple reason: because I knew I could. Like I previously said, I’ve had so much to do with this community for so long, I knew I had the tools to do this. It’s a pretty new venture and of course, there’s ups and downs, time’s when I have a complete meltdown and think ‘WHAT AM I DOING!?!!?’ but at the end of the day, I love art, I love Newcastle and I really feel there is so much potential here, I love that I could be the one who gets to give a newbie their first taste of what it’s like in the art world.
Paul: Thanks Ash and tell us about your art education and interests and involvements at the University of Newcastle, Newcastle Art Space as you mention now and Cockatoo Island for example?
Ash: Sure, so I left school in Year 11 (2007) and started a Certificate III of Visual Art at Hunter St Art TAFE (My family of scholars were beside themselves). I got quite sick and never completed that qualification until 2011 when I rang the school, told them about my situation and missed modules so I slid into a Diploma of Vis. Art which then bridged me to a Bachelor of Fine Art at the University of Newcastle which I graduated in 2017. I then threw myself straight into working and getting experience. I worked down at the Biennale of Sydney where there was a big focus on Oriental-inspired art and that became a new interest of mine. After finishing that contract up, I had a good idea of what aspect of art organisation that I liked most, so I searched and received curation experience at several small art collectives around Newcastle and the Hunter, like Adamstown Arts Centre and Arts for Health at the John Hunter Hospital.
I then completed a 6-month Diploma in Event Management in 2018 and started interning at Newcastle Art Space later that year; that was a huge eye-opener in terms of being heavily involved in art behind the scenes. I was able to bind my theoretical knowledge to actually working to throw a physical art event and an understanding of how much of a successful event relies on good management and organisation in the lead-up. NAS started to contract me to curate and administer my own singular exhibitions and also provided me with several opportunities as an artist to exhibit.
I am still in regular contact with the members of NAS and assist them whenever I can with their current initiatives. Each of the different times I’ve involved myself in this industry has helped me meet people, discover opportunities and learn the skills I needed to feel like I could continue doing what I was doing -not only as a gallery owner but also as an artist.
Paul: How did you come up with the wonderful name of your artist-run space? What do you feel Shangri-Lah is?
Ash: Shangri-Lah is whatever you want it to be. The definition of ‘Shangri-La’ is your own paradise, your own ‘happy place’, your construction. And that fits with the main mantra of this place: it’s your show. Let this place ooze ‘you’ and what you’re about. I also like the Galerie spelled like the French do, to make the name sort of tropical yet fierce. The vibe of the whole space is un-placeable; it sort of rolls of the tongue as somewhere fancy with wine and cheeses, but then also gritty and punk, where people are smoking cigarettes out the back; you can’t really describe how it’s going to be each time you come.
Paul: Tell me about your recent April 2021 launch who, when, where, how and what happened? Did it feel at the time like things were/are opening up as Covid restrictions were/ are easing?
Ash: Yes. So I launched Galerie Shangri-Lah on April 10th 2021 and it was amazing. The amount of support and encouragement I felt (and still do feel) was incredible-from my family who traveled down, to friends that helped stock my walls with their creations, to art teachers that taught me seven years ago, to general local community members that are excited to become involved in the rejuvenation of Newcastle CBD.
There were two bands, my friend Emmanual McClintock and a six-piece called Newdark. And as this is a very intimate space I was a tad nervous to have a full band here but they came and checked out the space and were unphased so it went ahead and they absolutely rocked. Manny is a soloist with just his voice and guitar I knew he’d fit but he ruled and enjoyed himself – which was my primary focus.
The exhibition for the first month was my own. I was just lucky I guess, that I’d recently finished a body of work and was happy to show it. But myself as an artist paid myself as a business owner to exhibit for 3 weeks so the gallery was making money from the get go but I had a little time to raise Shangri-Lah’s profile.
Any feedback from the launch I’ve heard is positive. The vibe was just right-and as far ad I’m concerned everyone enjoyed themselves.
Paul: Tell us about some of the influences behind this, your fab new space and your website/social media profile, your hopes, your aspirations and something about the current challenges, problem solving is a necessary part of running an ARI. What does the future hold?
Ash: I want to keep doing this, I like going to work every morning and don’t get me wrong, I like coming home every night but this sort of work is what I’d be happy to continue; a project such as this one relies a lot on community involvement and support, so as long as Newcastle has a space for a place like Galerie Shangri-Lah, it will be here and available to anyone who needs it.
I have learnt over years and years at many different art and/or event organisations and every single one does things differently. I think as long as the end result is 100% satisfaction, you’re doing things right.
Paul: What key practical advice would you share with other artists interested in setting up their own artist-run space, wherever?
Ash: Be organised, be confident and let people help you.
Any business, let alone an admin-heavy one like Galerie Shangri-Lah- needs organisation. Prioritise the scheduling and creating informational documents before anything else when making a name for yourself, no one likes sloppy management or working with someone who doesn’t seem to care. The success of a workplace like this relies solely on good scheduling.
Don’t hesitate to ask people EXACTLY what they want and to what extent you can do that for them. And also what elements you can’t assist with; honesty’s a big plus when someone is trusting you with their art. And finally, accepting help, this tip was a huge one for me. I knew this was going to big a big job and I had lots of emotional support but I found myself rejecting other people’s offers. Seriously, just let them do it, it makes life so much easier.