An abandoned former building society in Luton has been turned into an exciting art gallery.
Lauren Archell speaks to curator Matthew Shaul about his vision for ‘Departure Lounge’ and offering creative types in the town a place to show off their work.
Hidden among the shops and restaurants of Luton town centre is something new.
You may not have noticed it yet, but the former Woolwich building society in George Street has been turned into an art gallery called Departure Lounge.
The space hopes to add what can already be experienced at The Hat Factory, the University of Bedfordshire and Luton Library Theatre, and help turn the town into a burgeoning cultural destination for all.
The gallery, which has been funded by the Arts Council, the Murray Barford Trust and Luton Economic Development Depart - ment, is the vision of curator Matthew Shaul, who believes it is in a perfect location.
He explained: “I’ve had experience putting on exhibitions, mainly of photography, for 20 years. I’ve often thought that Luton would be an ideal location to open a gallery like this, because it is so easily accessible, not only to local people but also nationally and internationally.
“We put on two exhibitions in High Town earlier this year that were a huge success.
“We are aiming for Departure Lounge to become a European hub for excellence in photography, contemporary and visual art.
“Departure Lounge is keen to enrich the quality of local and regional visual arts provision by attracting global artists to deliver innovative exhibitions, intercultural exchanges and educational opportunities, while also providing an exciting platform for the local community to experience contemporary art of the quality found at the Tate or the Photographers’ Gallery on their own doorstep.”
The gallery has already proved popular with its opening exhibitions.
Internationally-renowned photographers Nancy Newberry, Jane Hilton, and Julie Cook were featured in the ‘All That I Am’ exhibition, while first year students from the University of Bedfordshire recently hosted a one night pop-up show.
At the end of November, photographer James Smith will be bringing his collection ‘London Overspill’ to the gallery, and according to Matthew it’s one to watch out for, as it features pictures of Luton.
He said: “James has spent a lot of time in the area and has taken pictures that will show the town in a completely different way.
“He’s a brilliant photographer and will make you see the place you live in in a new light.” Aside from such exhilarating exhibits, Matthew says that Departure Lounge is keen to build relationships that offer a range of internship and self-help opportunities for students and artists.
He added: “Very soon we’ll be providing workshops for schoolchildren from the area, and a Luton Theatre Group will also be using the space for weekly rehearsals.
“We are really keen for this building to be a real resource for people, and see where that takes us.
“I think we offer something different to the Hat Factory and Carnival Arts Centre, which both do what they do very well.
“Hopefully, there will be a chance for us to work together and do something really special.
“Luton really has a chance to come together and become somewhere well known for the arts.” Although the gallery has only secured the George Street location until next spring, Matthew has assured Luton that he is in for the long haul.
He said: “If we aren’t able to stay in the building after that, we’ll find somewhere else – it’s simple.
“Some people say I’m mad for trying to get all this started in the current economic climate, but if no-one takes the plunge and tries something new, nothing will ever change.
“I’d urge everyone, whether you are interested in art, or have never been to a gallery before, to come down and visit something really special.”
Admission is free.
Opening hours are:
Also by appointment.