Updated: Feb 7
Thanks so much to Rosie Haas from the Affordable Art Fair for including me in her recent blog about women starting their own galleries.
Shona Bland, Art Friend
Shona Bland is the founder of Art friend – a collaborative and welcoming online and pop-up gallery, started in 2022.
Why did you want to start your own art gallery?
I felt like not having an art history degree was holding me back from getting gallery jobs. So after a while I thought – I’ll do it myself and set something up on my own. I wanted to create an arts / gallery experience that would be really inclusive and open to anyone. It’s why I love the ethos of Affordable Art Fair. The name Art Friend came about because I realised not everyone has that ‘art friend’ to take them to cool exhibitions, gallery openings, art happenings etc. So I want to be that Art Friend and create that experience for my clients.
So – how did you make it happen?
It was in lockdown 2020 – so I had a lot of time to think about it! I worked on the concept a lot with my friend Shep, a typographist who was so supportive of me. But really sadly he passed away, and it was quite difficult to return to the project because everything reminded me of him.
But, at the start of this year, I thought – I can’t waste all our hard work, so I bit the bullet and decided to put on an exhibition; LeAF – an alternative to the Chelsea Flower Show in May. It was an arts and plants show – with 20 artists producing work inspired by the power of plants. I wanted to do it in a space that doesn’t normally host art events, as it felt more welcoming. It was a real success and then we prepared to exhibit at the Affordable Art Fair, Battersea in October 2022.
‘I’m really interested in showing art in non-traditional spaces – spaces that feel more welcoming for audiences who might not usually want to go to a gallery.’
Shona Bland, Founder of Art Friend
How have you built relationships with artists?
Well – true to our name, most of the artists I represent are friends that I’ve built up relationships with over a period of years. I only want to work with artists who are nice and friendly and down to earth. It’s more of a collaboration than a transaction.
Happy customers buying art by Adam Bartlett from Art Friend at Affordable Art Fair, Battersea Autumn, October 2022.
What was it like preparing for Affordable Art Fair?
It was overwhelming! And a big gamble for our second ever exhibition, but it helped establish Art Friend as a brand! For Fair Director Hugo Barclay and the Affordable Art Fair team to believe in us was a huge compliment.
I selected some of my favourite artists to present at the fair, including Craig Keenan, Claire Halifax, Sara Hoque, and Adam Bartlett. I was super excited to share Adam’s work with visitors as I’m obsessed with his pieces – they make me really happy. And it seems visitors agreed! So many of his works sold, he had to get on a train from Margate to drop more pieces off! I was surprised at how busy Affordable Art Fair was and how many pieces of art we sold. Visitors really wanted to connect with the story of the gallery and who we are.
What’s next for Art Friend – what are you planning for 2023?
I’m really interested in showing art in non-traditional spaces – spaces that feel more welcoming for audiences who might not usually go to a gallery. And of course, we will be back at Affordable Art Fair, Battersea in March!
Original blog by Rosie Haas can be found here.