“I didn’t have a business plan. I just had an idea.”
Two years later, Ahn Wells has forged her way forward, opening Gallery 139 (at 139 Beaumont Street, Hamilton), bringing a handful of independent galleries together under a marketing umbrella (Independent Galleries Newcastle) and assisting Newcastle artists to push into the Sydney market.
Wells is a working artist and spent about 10 years gaining experience as a volunteer and paid staff member.
The gallery group includes seven other galleries, plus supporting businesses and public galleries (Newcastle Art Gallery, Maitland Regional Art Gallery, Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery). The independent galleries are Acrux Art Gallery, Art Systems Wickham, Back to Back Galleries, CStudios Art Gallery, Studio21 Artspace, The Incubator Gallery, Gallery 139 and Timeless Textiles.
Wells admits it’s a love of art that drives not only her, but anybody in the small gallery industry.
“I don’t think anyone would start an art gallery to make money,” she says. “I really think anyone starting a small business, they are not doing it for the money. They do it because they want to have their own business, do it their own way. There’s always passion involved.”
Wells has been collecting art for herself for several years. “I didn’t realise I would buy so much as a student,” she says. “But you would, at openings. At prices you could afford.”
Although she may own works that have gained as value, she has never purchased on the basis of buying an investment.
“What I go by: I must like it,” she says. “You must fall in love with it. You’re going to be looking at it for a long time. The main reason you buy: you have a feeling with it.”
You must fall in love with it. You’re going to be looking at it for a long time. - Ahn Wells on buying art
On top of the other activities, 10 months ago Wells launched Roaming Art Tours in Newcastle, a monthly (last Sunday of the month, including Sunday, June 25) personalised visit to three art spaces.
The art tour formula is simple, built on interactivity and enjoyment. Over two-and-a-half hours participants usually travel from Gallery 139 to three other galleries, often with an interactive element at one, and finish with refreshments. Transport is included ($35 per person, 2 for $60). Some tours involve visitors travelling independently to a single site, like the one on offer this month.
The June tour (June 25) will travel to Timeless Textiles gallery and The Lock-Up creative space on Hunter Street. Lock-Up director Jessi England will provide an introduction to the complex, and Timeless Textiles owner Anne Kempton will give a curator’s talk on Stitched Up, a fascinating show at The Lock-Up featuring 24 artists that provides a voice for the 193 girls who attended the Newcastle Industrial School 150 years ago, translated into contemporary fibre art.
The tour includes a paper-making pod workshop by Kempton, and refreshments.