Early in 1997 whilst a Caretaker and Classroom Assistant at Lifton School I formed an after-school Art Club. Word got around quickly and a few adults joined us, including Pam Ackary and a little later Gill Whitford. A friend and former work colleague of Pam’s, Cliff Best, visited the Group a couple of times when in the area whilst looking to move down here from Bracknell. He explained he had been tutoring and running an Art Group for a number of years and would be happy to join us and tutor, etc, when settled, which he did. About this time I finished my role as Caretaker and so we couldn’t afford the School hire fees and so we, with Cliff, moved to the house of one or our Group – Sally Old. We were about 8 strong and all adults. We remained at Sally’s for several months but as interest grew we recognised we needed larger premises and moved to the Church Hall.
The Ethos of the Group was as a meeting of persons who wanted to paint and draw, with no pressure being put on individuals as it was all for pleasure and fun. We also continued to learn and improve our skills. The Group remained as such with Cliff very much at the helm until he moved away, about 2012. The Group had grown during that period and we didn’t want it to fold so we decided we would try and carry on. Linda took on the role of coordinator, Heather as Treasurer and myself as Group spokesperson. As a whole the Group decided against having a Committee as we wished to remain a democratic organisation and retain our original concept of informality. Our very low funds increased and people enquired about joining us, some declining as they expected to find a tutor in residence (not at our prices – where were they coming from?). As we became more solvent we realised we could afford to have ‘tutored workshops’, again mainly chosen by the Group, and these were introduced widening our scope of abilities and skills. (Some potential members were discouraged from joining as it was obvious they only wanted cheap ‘workshops’ and weren’t interested in becoming a part of the Group and our weekly meetings).
So, over the years we have steadily grown and steadily evolved but always remaining true to that original ethos of why we formed in the first place. We were then, and will continue to be, an amateur Art Group. Cliff introduced an Exhibition very early on as a means of announcing ourselves to the local community, many of whom were unaware that an Art Group existed in the village. It has always been a display of our own work. We do not allow persons outside the Group to exhibit their work, neither do we permit members to exhibit work on behalf of non-members. The primary focus of the Exhibition has always been to show ourselves to the local community, families and friends. Along the way some members have chosen to use the Exhibition to offer their works for sale, but this has always been a secondary element and not the main purpose. The manner in which we have staged the Exhibition throughout the years has always attracted very favourable comments, both for content and professionalism of presentation, etc. It is designed to be a “self-funding” project as the Group as a whole does not exist to be a “profit making” exercise. Our funds are kept “in the black” to enable us to cover any expenses we might incur with regard to rent, tutors, materials, excess on insurance, etc. Likewise, our fees are kept to a minimum. The object and objective of this Group has not been about producing work for sale, that is very much an individual’s choice and that principle is reflected in our Exhibition.
As a democratic Group we allow members to vote on certain matters, however the ethos, principles, original concepts and objectives of the Group are not for voting upon as we feel that members have already done so by opting to join this Group and for what it stands. The most important aspect is to continue, as we have become, being the friendly, supportive group of people coming together to enjoy being creative!