Baltic x Fenwick

Fenwick x Baltic Open Submission Exhibition: Q&A

We check in with Leo Fenwick (Strategic Partnerships Director at Fenwick) and Sarah Munro (Director at Baltic) about the Fenwick x Baltic Open Submission Exhibition, running until 1 September

Caroline Dask

Journalist at Luxe

15 March was an incredibly important day in every art-fanatics social calendar. It was the launch of the Fenwick x Baltic Open Submission Exhibition, displaying the work of over 100 North East artists, aged 11 – 83.

While the partnership between Fenwick and Baltic is the first of its kind, this is the second time the popular art centre has organised a call for open submissions.

With 1,400 applications received, the exhibition showcased 107 carefully selected artworks spanning painting, sculpture, photography, video and more. So, once the invitation to the VIP launch event landed in our emails, there was no question about it, we’re in.

Before the big event, we had the pleasure of chatting with Leo Fenwick, Strategic Partnerships Director at Fenwick and Sarah Munro, Director at Baltic about their exciting partnership and the importance of showcasing local talent.

Fenwick x Baltic

This will be the second open submission exhibition at Baltic. What can you tell me about this one and the one that took place in 2020?

Sarah: There are quite a few differences. The first one we did in lockdown. As a result of that, we were aware a lot of people weren’t going out and about in the same way. So, back in 2020 we reproduced some of the images and had them around Metro sites and transport hubs.

This time we’re not doing that because now we’ve got everybody back into the gallery. So, I think the first thing is, this will be a much busier exhibition than our previous one. We also wanted to still keep the outdoor element, so this year we’ve commissioned a couple of different pieces, which are displayed at Newcastle Castle.

The other different element is the number of people that have submitted their work. This time, we had 1,400 applications and last time there were about 700 of them, so the exhibition has grown in popularity.

The other thing that’s quite different is I’ve got two of our curators both from the North East who are working on this project. They’ve got a really good knowledge of the region and the practice here.

What’s the significance of showcasing local artworks in a venue like Baltic?

Sarah: From our point of view, we have so many international artists that we work with. And so many different visitors come to appreciate their art but there’s something about being able to bring that creativity to the local region.

It’s important to have these local artists displayed here and to introduce more people to our local talent. The youngest person that submitted in this exhibition is 11 years old and the oldest is 83. To me, it’s just a gorgeous celebration of all the different creative ideas that live and reside in our region.

Fenwick x Baltic

Could you describe the diversity of artworks and artists featured in the exhibition?

Sarah: We wanted to steer away from the stereotype that big galleries are only for artists who are well-established and have gone to art school. We wanted to put out a call and communicate to artists that we would like to celebrate their art and not the route they took to get there.

So, we are displaying artists from various backgrounds and there’s even a small percentage of creatives who never trained in art at all. It feels important to us to celebrate everybody’s everyday creativity.

Leo, you have been on the selection panel for this Baltic x Fenwick collaboration. How was this experience for you?

Leo: I think when you’re on the selection panel, you have to go into it with a lot of thought, you have to think about each work. There was so much work and each piece was unique in its own way but because there were quite a few of us on the selection panel, we were able to lean on each other for different points of view, different thought processes and tastes.

Overall, the exhibition has something for every type of viewer and that’s what really makes it so engaging.

Are there any specific themes or trends you noticed among the submitted artworks?

Sarah: That’s a really good question! The creators would tell you that there’s a very strong romantic theme. I think, what you’re seeing around is people who are just responding to the city around them lovingly and appreciatively.

There are a lot of familiar sights around, some from St. James’ Park, some from the Hoppings, so I think what you can see is a glimpse into people’s lives, where they live, where they go for walks etc.

There’s a quite strong reference back to the North East with very unique perspectives, ideas and concerns.

Leo, what inspired Fenwick to collaborate with Baltic on this open submission exhibition and how does it align with Fenwick as a company?

Leo: At Fenwick, we always had a very strong affinity with art. We’ve always used art to tell our brand story. Whether it’s in the Christmas windows, digital campaigns, or in-store. In the past, we have also worked with illustrators to advertise our products.

So, art has always been a really integral part of who we are as a brand. More importantly, supporting creative talent is a part of our DNA. To see the creative talent that we have in the region on display – it’s magical. So we are always looking for ways to support and promote the creativity that we have and to provide a platform for them to showcase their work, which they otherwise might not have.

Same question to you Sarah, what inspired Baltic to partner with Fenwick for this exhibition?

Sarah: The first time Leo and I had our first conversation was when they did this wonderful exhibition in Fenwick for their 140-year anniversary. At the heart of that was this beautiful collaboration with the Northumbria University fashion students. And I remember thinking: ‘This is amazing, they’re really inspired by these young creatives in the region.’

When I moved to Newcastle, the first thing that everybody talked to me about was the Fenwick window, and I think it’s this beautiful sense of commitment to create something magical for people that made me want to partner with Fenwick.

I also really loved that it’s two iconic brands, Fenwick and a young upstart like us collaborating, bringing different sorts of knowledge together to uplift the region and its talent.

Leo: There’s also such a strong connection between fashion and art. We see that all the time with the collections we sell in-store, and this exhibition is our interpretation of fashion and art working together.

Newcastle is a small city but we have different audiences, different customers. So, through this partnership, we get to speak to Baltic’s audience and we know our customers love art and culture, so we’re encouraging them to come to Baltic to see the exhibition and vice versa.

It’s all about bringing something new to the customer and surprising them.

Q&A with Leo Fenwick and Sarah Munro

Finally, how do you measure the success of a Fenwick x Baltic collaboration, and what outcomes would you deem most significant or rewarding?

Sarah: From my perspective, this already feels really successful. The fact that we had this conversation and we’ve done this together, feels like a successful collaboration. The exhibition is going to be seen by thousands of people and introduce viewers to young, old, new, established and aspiring local artists.

Leo: I agree. For me, success has already been made by achieving this curation of art. We’ve had more submissions than last time and for us, one of the objectives was to reach more people, to get more people to come forward, because that in itself takes courage, to submit a piece of work to the Baltic, a world-renowned gallery. So, we hope that through this, more people will submit their work in the future.

Fenwick x Baltic open submission exhibition runs until 1 September.