Issue 205
September/October 2018

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Nov 16, 2018

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A rope trick that worked

Kim Canale in the Old Rope Works she tranformed into a vibrant gallery in Montrose

MOST abandoned buildings are left to the predictably sad fate of rot and decay. Not so the old rope works in Montrose. Formerly the home of The Montrose Rope & Sail Company, the building found a new purpose as an arts venue with local artist and designer Kim Canale at the helm.

Dating back to 1789, The Old Rope Works was built for the manufacture of long lengths of rope. Founded to serve the Angus fishing industry, the company is still flourishing and now operates from modern premises nearby.

Since 2013 the Montrose-based artist Kim Canale has been busy running Wall Projects in the old rope works – a studio and gallery that supports her own work and that of other artists, with the aims of bringing engaging and thought-provoking contemporary art to the north east of Scotland, working with both established artists and giving new graduates a platform to show their work in Scotland.

Wall Projects Home Gallery was initially established in 2006, with Canale holding art exhibitions in her home before she moved into The Old Rope Works in 2013. The owners, who were friends, gave her the whole building to use. The larger space has allowed her to showcase big exhibitions by new and mid-career artists, and to host workshops, events and pop-up shows.

Graduating from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, and completing a Postgraduate Masters of Fine Art programme in 2003, she exhibited her work and began freelancing as a design consultant, which took her to Russia, France, Italy and New York.

The catalyst for the Montrose project was her mother's death in 2003.

"My beloved mother, who was always my biggest champion, passed away from cancer. It took me three years to get myself together and during that time I was living in my mother's three bedroomed flat in Montrose.

I travelled to Paris and Florence and it was there that I decided I wanted my own space to exhibit art and work with artists. In Paris I visited a friend who exhibited in her house, and I loved the informal and relaxed way people were enjoying the art and buying it.

I knew Montrose had a real cultural past, but there was very little in terms of it in 2003. I began to strip back each of my mother's rooms and transformed them into white spaces. It was very sad, but also a new beginning.

"I initially began having pop up shows in a local framer's shop, to see if there was a market for art in Montrose and Angus. I had always gone around the degree shows and had a little black book with names of artists who I admired.

"I approached mostly new graduates as I felt there were not enough contemporary spaces for artists to exhibit, and I wanted to give them a platform to show their work after graduating. And so Wall Projects Home Gallery began, showing work in in my home".

Sadly, after occupying the old rope works for five years, she will not be renewing the lease, however she will continue to hold exhibitions in her home.

"The list of events over the past five years has been incredible, and I'm proud to have done it on my own. The gallery was named one of the best hidden art gems in Scotland, so I was thrilled with that.

"Highlights have included showing the Masters show with graduates from the GSA, and the two satellite exhibitions, with The Scottish Society of Artists, as well as many graduates, who have developed and continue to work as artists. Also seeing people who have never really looked at art before, engage with it and start collecting has been thrilling.

"I've never received any funding or grants from anybody. Considering I have tried to put Montrose on the map and bring trade to the town, I really thought I would have had more support from my local authority. It sums it all up for me, that I was visited only this year by council representatives, who knew nothing of me, after having been a self-funded arts hub in the area for the past 12 years.

"As for the future for independent galleries, there has been a huge shift in people's buying power. Sales declined when the oil industry took a nose dive, and all small businesses felt the ripple effect. Clients tend to go straight to the artist to buy work, which I understand, but it is to the detriment of the art gallery.

"Location is very important. I have managed to sustain a business for 12 years in Montrose, but the lack of footfall and the rise of online galleries have taken their toll. It is a tragedy, seeing independent galleries fold each year. The rise of galleries showing from their homes has risen since I began back in 2006 – it's fewer overheads and more informal. There will always be independent galleries, it's just the setting that will change."

And the future? "It's time for me to move on. I have loved working in The Old Ropey but I want new challenges. I won't be renewing the lease and from November I will continue to use my Home Gallery in Montrose for exhibitions. I know people will be sad and disappointed that Wall Projects II is closing, but it's best to go out on a high, and I have wonderful memories and feel I have brought a bit of culture to Angus."

As for the fate of The Old Rope Works, now the building has been put on the map, thanks to Canale, the current owners will be putting it up for rent.

"My last exhibition at the old rope works will open on September 29, and will be a mix of all the artists I have worked with over the years, a real celebration. I use a tag line a lot in my publicity… ‘LIFE IS BETTER WITH ART IN IT' and it truly is".

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