Sometimes, you go to an art gallery, pay nearly twenty quid for a ticket, and tramp around inside a massive crowd, barely being able to see the work. You might hear people talking, sounding well-informed and confident, and feel like an alien or an idiot or both. Art can seem a million miles away from ordinary life.
The Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, which has been a key feature of the town for seven years now, has a different agenda. It's more than just a gallery: it’s a resource which gallery director Alistair Hudson believes should be integrated into the lives of the people of Teesside. Art is not a set of objects, paintings or sculptures, viewed passively by those well-heeled enough to buy a ticket: it’s a set of practices which should be accessible to all.
The museum should not just be for a special occasion or a destination day out, but a guide in how to live more creatively, humanely; a resource that people can use regularly – like a church, the gym, a social club – to replenish and enrich their daily lives. (from the mima vision statement for 2015-2018)
Not that you won’t find paintings and other artefacts at mima: there are several great exhibitions on currently, one showing work by Winifred Nicholson (Winifred Nicholson: Liberation of Colour), and another the film, video and photography work of Jane and Louise Wilson (Undead Sun: We Put The World Before You). A standing collection is also being assembled, but this is where things start to look different: the collection will be partly selected by people who live in the town, and have been invited to browse through the art works in the gallery’s store to decide what should be on view.
Now in its seventh year, this attempt to include the people who should be benefitting from the building is part of the vision for mima 3.0. The vision states that the users of mima should:
develop an understanding of art as a tool for living and doing things better; of use value in life, not merely as an object of contemplation for the few.
The new café, The Smeltery, which I have watched evolve over recent months, is a spectacular part of the inclusivity and reward that any encounter with the gallery offers. The food is fantastic: created by Luke Harding (from The Waiting Room in Eaglescliffe) and team, it’s a celebration of the slow food movement. Following contributions from the public in making sessions and events, in a This Café is Art campaign, the Smeltery is now open. A look at their mouth-watering Instagram account (#thiscafeisart) should convince you to get down their sharpish.
mima's vision is a bold and exciting one, which the resilient and long-suffering population of the Boro deserve.