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Art attack

Wed 9 December 2015, 10:53 am

As Medway’s creative sector undergoes a renaissance, Maria Shahid explores the organisations and venues that are helping to bring visitors and residents to the area in their thousands

Artists like Peter Reed, who started painting at age 11, benefit from the low-cost studio space at Nucleus Arts, Reed has been a full-time artist for the past 12 years.

The creative industries in Medway are flourishing; festivals such as ArtsFest, a five-day event to celebrate the arts in Chatham, which is in its fourth year; the Medway Studios & Arts Festival, which takes place every July throughout Medway; and Nucleus Arts, the award-winning arts organisation with its roots in Chatham, and is now looking to expand further. 

“The creative scene in Medway is thriving, extraordinary and wonderful and is making a quite significant contribution to our local economy,” says Dalia Halpern-Matthews, the current director of Nucleus Arts.

Founded by the Halpern Charitable Foundation in 2002, with the aim of making art ‘affordable, approachable and accessible’, Halpern-Matthews explains that Nucleus Arts was originally the brainchild of her father, the late Hilary Halpern, whose dream it was to promote the arts in Medway and Kent. “Back in 2002 there was nothing like this locally. 

The University of Creative Arts (UCA) was sitting on the hill, producing artists of fantastic quality, but there was nothing to keep them in the local area. Our ethos was to create something to make them want to stay, and also to draw artists to the area from London.”

Hilary Halpern was born in Chatham in 1928, and went on to start the international architectural practice, the Halpern Partnership, which was involved in town centre projects across the UK, and became responsible for redeveloping landmark buildings in London. He founded Nucleus Arts after he retired, close to where he grew up.

From its modest beginnings on Chatham High Street, Nucleus Arts has now spread to include the Arts Hub on Chatham Riverside, which features a coffee shop, studios, a co-working community and Doverbrooks bookshop, as well as the Nucleus Arts shop in the centre of Rochester. 

With the mantra ‘affordability, approachability and accessibility’, Nucleus Arts aims to prove that beautiful, original and unique works of art can be both attainable and affordable, while providing low-cost studio space for artists in order for them to be able to practise their art.

Halpern-Matthews is proud of what Nucleus Arts has achieved in the last 13 years. The organisation hosts around 35 exhibitions a year, and has approximately 30 resident artists. “We are creating about five extra studios a year,” she adds.

Recent events hosted by Nucleus Arts included ArtsFest in Chatham – a free celebration of creativity in Chatham, which incorporates professional and amateur live music, poetry, dance, comedy, alternative street theatre, film, free workshops and an artisan market.

 More recently, the Medway Fun Palace took place at Nucleus Arts in early October. The event was part of Fun Palaces 2015, and is a free, nationwide celebration of community “bringing people together with arts and science”. 

Halpern-Matthews carries on her father’s legacy with great enthusiasm and vigour, and has been a key part of a bigger initiative to create “critical mass”, as she puts it, in the creative industry in Medway. 

“We have big plans for Medway.  The key is not to be blinkered”.

A longer version of this article appears in the latest edition of Medway1 magazine.

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