The Quay Arts story
Newport Quay was once a bustling, noisy place lined by warehouses where barges carried goods up and down the River Medina. There was a sliding railway bridge over the river (where the dual carriageway is today) that opened so the barges could unload their cargo on the quay or leave for the mainland on the tide.
The current Quay Arts building was originally known as the Porter Store and was used as a bonded warehouse by Mew Langton Brewery. Island-brewed beers were stored on the ground floor, and spirits stored on the first floor and in 1884, the Rope Store was built by Robert Croucher.
In the 1960’s, following the success of ferries to and from the mainland and the improved road network, the railways closed and Newport Quay went quiet. Mew Langton sold The Porter Store to Strong of Romsey, who sold it on to Whitbread in 1969.
A fortunate discovery
In 1975, Anne Lewington stumbled upon the now abandoned warehouse and thought it would make a perfect venue for an arts centre for the island. A steering committee was formed in 1976 and they met for the first time in Calverts Hotel in Quay Street. Many island artists were involved as well as representatives from the Isle of Wight Council and the Island MP Steve Ross. And so, the Isle of Wight Visual Arts Centre was formed, with a membership of just £5 per year.
The arrival of the Wests
Anne Lewington met Christine West, a patron of the arts, who was keen to help raise funds for the Arts Centre. The first event was held at the West’s home in Bembridge and a second fundraiser, an art auction hosted by Mike and Christine West, raised £4,000. In 1976, the Isle of Wight Council bought the warehouse building from Whitbread and leased it back to the Isle of Wight Visual Arts Centre for a peppercorn rent of just £10 a year for 28 years.
Work began to make the building safe. The ground floor was cleared of rubbish and abandoned fruit machines, to make way for works of art by friends and members of Quay Arts, along with six workers from Manpower Services Commission. The first exhibition was The Left Bank Show, which was a one-day event where local artists were invited to turn up and sell their work.
In 1982, the Quay Arts Centre was officially named by Sir Hugh Casson and the Michael West Gallery was named in honour of Sir Michael West who had helped to raise funds for the centre. A bequest of paintings was also received from the Basil Green estate.
In 1987, Quay Arts appointed its first full-time paid director, general administrator and part-time exhibitions organiser. However, there were financial pressures and major problems with flooding resulting in the centre being run once more by volunteers. The Basil Green bequest was sold raising around £27,000.
In 1991, a funding agreement was reached enabling the appointment of Anne Toms as Director. Quay Arts was successful in obtaining a grant from the Arts Council England’s National Lottery Board for over £1 million to redevelop the Centre in 1996. Work soon started on expanding and upgrading the building led by award-winning architect, Tony Fretton.
In February 1997, Quay Arts was reopened with the new Michael West Gallery, Café Bar, Craft Shop and the new Rope Store Gallery. Anthony Minghella officially opened the theatre in his name in 13 December 1997.
In 1999, the Leaning Curve Gallery was opened to act as an exhibition space for schools and community groups.
In July 2000, the first programme of workshops started at Jubilee Stores. These would soon include pottery, painting, printing, jewellery and textiles. In July 2010, a Heritage Lottery-funded project titled ‘The West Collection – A Quay Vision’ took place and the Michael West Gallery was renamed the ‘West Gallery’ due to the discovery of Christine West’s major involvement with Quay Arts in the 1970’s.
In July 2016, the Learning Curve Gallery was renamed to the ‘Clayden Gallery’ to commemorate long-time supporter of Quay Arts and Island artist, Jenny Clayden.