An interview with the Creative Director of The Tetley

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The Gryphon sits down with The Tetley’s Creative Director, Bryony Bond, to talk art, heritage and Brexit:

There are few names so closely linked with Leeds than Tetley. Found in virtually every pub in Yorkshire, the beer and the brewery from which it spouted are synonymous with the city and it is no surprise that the impressive headquarters can still be seen, keeping watch over its hometown. What is surprising, though, is the building’s contents. Gone are the beer barrels and tasting rooms, replaced with something with an altogether different flavour: contemporary art. The Tetley gallery opened its doors in November 2013, having been handed the keys to the famous headquarters by owners Carlsberg.

Operated by Project Space Leeds (PSL), a contemporary arts and education charity founded in 2006, The Tetley is a contemporary art gallery and event space that generates unique artistic talents, frequently handing debut exhibitions to some of this country’s most promising artists. It also holds much of the Tetley Brewery’s archive, ranging from founder Joshua Tetley’s private collection to architectural drawings and tasting cards. The Tetley truly is one of the north’s most exciting artistic venues.

How does The Tetley identify itself amongst the wider artistic scene in Britain? What makes The Tetley unique?

To begin with our building makes us pretty unique – built in 1931 it was the Tetley Brewery’s headquarters. Converted into The Tetley in 2013, the refurbishment created gallery spaces, a learning studio, a bar, restaurant and workspaces for the creative industries.

The galleries on our first floor include a huge atrium space surrounded by smaller, intimate offices, still complete with wood panelling, fireplaces, cupboards and bookshelves. It’s definitely not a usual white cube space! These unique spaces make a great contrast with the contemporary art work we show.

We’re also different in that we generally show work by emerging artists, or artists who are new to UK audiences. Our current exhibition – Jonathan Trayte: Polyculture – is Jonathan’s first major exhibition in a public space, and marks a real shift in his practice. Our exhibitions give artists the chance to work on a larger scale giving them a higher profile than they’ve had before. We also host artist residencies in our new artist studio and run a lively programme of talks and events. We’re a gallery where you might meet the artist and get to see, and even participate in, the development and making of an artwork.

Does The Tetley have any specific ideals and aims for both itself and, more generally, for the arts in Britain?

I believe that you should have a chance to see and become involved in art, no matter where you live or what your background is. At The Tetley we want to help make Leeds a great place to support culture and creativity – to be a place where art isn’t an impossible aspiration, where artists are supported to have international careers, and to nurture the next Barbara Hepworth or Henry Moore.

Beyond the city and region I think there’s a danger in Britain that the arts is undervalued. The Tetley in particular champions the value of arts education from a young age. It is a vital part of life and of this country’s identity and economy.

What makes Leeds such a centre for the arts and does The Tetley feel the effects a Southern bias in the arts?

I can’t think of another city outside London where there’s three universities offering visual arts courses. As a city, Leeds produces about 400 artists every year. That really is an extraordinary and valuable asset, and it is the lifeblood of the city’s artist-led scene here. Where I feel a Southern bias is in the 3 to 5 years after graduation. The North needs to work better across city boundaries and make better international connections ourselves. It’s these networks that will bring the opportunities needed for artists to make a career in the North.

What are some of the highlights of The Tetley’s collection?

We have hundreds of photographs and negatives from the publicity departments over the years of Tetley’s Brewery – they are a fantastic resource, visually stunning and often raise a wry smile at past fashions and a lack of regard for health and safety.

Do you believe that the arts are important for students to engage with?

Of course! It’s a great time to do something different and discover new things – at The Tetley we offer a student membership which means you get invited to special member events that give you an insight behind the scenes and give you a discount in the Bar & Kitchen!

Could you comment on what you think Brexit will mean for the arts and for The Tetley?

There is a concern that Brexit will mean the loss of significant European funding for the arts, and of course a freedom of movement is vital for a thriving art scene. For us at The Tetley it feels more important than ever to make links beyond the UK, with Europe and further afield.

William Rees-Arnold

Image courtesy of The Tetley

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