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Interview: How Has The Pandemic Affected Local Art Galleries?

This article was originally published on 4 March, 2021.

Junor Gallery Director, Beth Junor, speaks to Deputy Arts & Culture Editor Mairi Alice Dun about the challenges of keeping her gallery alive through the pandemic.

Covid-19 and successive lockdowns have transformed many aspects of life over the past year. I caught up with Gallery Director, Beth Junor, of the now online, Junor Gallery (formerly of South Street, St Andrews), about how the virus has changed the art world, the way she runs her gallery, and her current projects.

I volunteered with Ms Junor before she had to move her gallery online this summer, and was saddened to hear that she had lost the space she loved so much. “It was heart-breaking losing my gallery premises on South Street. I miss my gallery visitors, that social interaction with people from all walks of life and from all over the world. Simply by entering my gallery we instantly had something in common – whether it was curiosity, a love of learning or a love of art and literature. The Saturday afternoon events that went with each exhibition were terrific too. Nothing online can replicate that magic, the dynamism of people coming together in the same room.” Ms Junor noted, however, “thankfully, human beings are very resilient – we have this tremendous capacity to adapt. For me, it’s been exciting learning new skills! The first thing I did was obtain training in film making and editing, to enrich my online content. There’s lots more scope there, once we get out of this lockdown. Having a presence at art fairs, also online, has helped too.”

Of course, moving online has forced Ms Junor to totally change how she runs her gallery, “The main thing is to remain visible. When you’ve lost your footfall on the street, you’ve got to do everything you can to signal that you’re still here. In response, I’ve received lots of messages from my gallery visitors – that’s been very gratifying. I’m constantly grateful for having Dominic Walmsley’s St Andrews jewellery collection.” How she interacts with artists, however, is not completely different to before, “A gallerist has to be pretty unobtrusive in communicating with artists at any time - one needs to leave them to their work. Practical things are organised in the same way. However, a huge loss has been the studio visits, such an essential part of the exhibition process, whether their work’s going to be shown in a physical gallery or online. When everything’s online, it’s even more important that I’ve seen the artworks in the flesh. Luckily, everything online so far are works known to me in reality. I can speak about each piece with confidence.”

When asked her opinion on how the pandemic and successive lockdowns have affected the artists, Ms Junor stated that “by their nature and training, artists would seem to be a resilient lot – after all, art history is littered with examples of artists who’ve kept going regardless of circumstances.” She wisely noted that, “we’ve turned to culture for sustenance – listening to music, watching films, reading, visiting theatres, museums, galleries and cinemas online as well as actively participating in arts and crafts.” As for the art scene in general, Ms Junor was optimistic: “there’s an accessibility and international scope that’s grown during the pandemic. I’ve enjoyed some top quality online meetings. Two of my favourites were about the writer Naomi Mitchison’s art collection and the modern arts of Africa, with St Andrews University’s own Kate Cowcher and a superb Zoom meeting with two of the Gee’s Bend Quiltmakers from Alabama , Mary Margaret Pettway and Loretta Pettway Bennett.”

Ms Junor is hopeful about the future of the Junor Gallery, but understandably sees the artistic experience as difficult to replicate online. “It’s a model that works better for other kinds of small businesses, even within the cultural sector. For instance you can support your local independent bookshops pretty well online where you can browse new titles, read standardised descriptions of an old book’s condition, etc. and you know what you’re buying. It doesn’t work so well for art because that whole emotional connection of standing in front of a painting, in the quiet of a gallery, with knowledgeable staff on hand is difficult to replicate.” She maintained that there are some ways of enriching the online art world, however, in the form of projects like the London Art Fair.

Ms Junor’s most recent achievement is being accepted into that fair, which is occurring online this year. She is exhibiting four artists whose work was to be exhibited in her South Street gallery, but were moved online due to lockdowns: Calum Colvin OBE RSA, Sarah Longley, Alexander Moffat OBE RSA and Helen Bellany. “The organisers had this idea that each image of an artwork would be accompanied by an audio commentary. Hearing the artist’s voice in itself is compelling. It helps us to dwell a bit longer with each image and gives us new insights into the artist’s inspiration and processes,” Ms Junor told me. The London Art Fair is still online until 31 March.

Ms Junor leaves us with some words of wisdom, “We will get out of this tragic, hugely challenging situation. But let’s not wish our present time away – how we act and adapt during a crisis is the real test. Planning for anything involving groups of people coming together in the social sphere is still a gamble but we will get through this.”

You can find Ms Junor on Instagram @junorgalley and on her website

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