WHERE IT ALL BEGAN, AND WHERE IT'S ALL GOING

Like most great ideas the White Elephant Gallery came into life by accident not by design. A chance convergence of an abandoned retail space on a high street gasping for air as shopping turns digital by the day. Into this evolving environment step two dissidents from rather different backgrounds. Paul Kondras, a theatre scenographer, a conjuror, a showman. Having spent too long in television, advertising and film, and now looking for a clean break. Similarly, having crashed out of an increasingly corporatized health care system Neil Wilson, poet, therapist, subversive.  This unlikely coupling was soon joined by two illustrious inter-continental outriders. Namely, Oulan Nagardo and Rabo Karabekian, to act as project advisors and collaborators.

In April 2018 the first exhibition was launched called Little Man Your Time Has Come. A whimsical satire on those who rule over us, at home and abroad. By now the gallery USP was born and it goes something like this. Imagine you are in some acclaimed cultural hot stop like Antwerp or Bilbao and you come across an amazing looking art gallery hosting an astonishing exhibition of work. Now here’s the mad bit; transpose this gallery to the almost forgotten seaside town of Morecambe on England’s northwest coast! And all this in anticipation and belief that it too is set to become its own cultural hot spot. From the beginning the gallery was seen as a cultural experiment. Namely, could this type of gallery in this location succeed? Would people in number and variety come through the doors, and crucially would they return for more?

Over the coming months the gallery was getting noticed. Early on the chief executive of Arts Council England made a detour while in our region to find out what all the fuss was about. He left with a broad smile, clutching one of galleries own T shirts emblazoned with the slogan Art Revolution and Optimism. He was also heard muttering something about the audacity and wit of opening a top of the range contemporary art gallery alongside a Greg’s and Poundland.

Since then several factors have helped the gallery build a foot fall that would be the envy of any private or municipal gallery in the region. The quality of work on show was crucial, but also a high street location combined with an open and hospitable space.

In which a friendly conversational style of gallery culture prevails. Foot fall isn’t everything of course, it does not reflect the rate of return. People should be coming back for more, because they value the experiences afforded them and come to see the place as belonging to them. The White Elephant in less than a year and a half has built a following of regulars ranging from gallery virgins to art aficionados and all points in between. In this respect the results are now in on the original cultural experiment and the outcome is clearly positive.

From the beginning words, slogans and ideas have featured to help define the centre of gravity around which the gallery rotates. One such is Locally Rooted Internationally Minded, the White Elephant has been busy living up to these fine words and in 2019 visited Lublin in eastern Poland to found links with the city’s vibrant cultural scene with plans to run joint projects in 2020. Meanwhile, a representative of the gallery was in Brussels talking to European arts and cultural bodies about new relationships in a changing world.

In January 2020 The White Elephant Gallery will open its doors at a new exciting venue in Morecambe. It has learnt a lot in the last year and a half and in that time made many new friends and allies. Now, The White Elephant looks forward to a future, in the words of the aforementioned T shirt, of Art Revolution and Optimism.

Oulan Nagardo

Budapest, January 2020