When asking Hannah Barry, the gallery owner and founder of Bold Tendencies what she was hoping to achieve when she started her answer is simple. “I didn’t have any hopes,” she says. “The honest answer is to tell you the truth and that is that I didn’t have any. I was just, and still am, so immersed in doing this. But I did not imagine to be where I am today when I started.”
Bold Tendencies, which is based in the disused car park just off Rye Lane, has been an annual summer platform since 2007. Open for visitors to come and experience visual art installations, architecture and classical music all while enjoying cocktails at Frank’s Café.
And even though plans were not big from the beginning the project has grown larger by the years and is now a cultural site attracting people from all over London in the summer period. “I would say that the most important thing that we have been able to achieve over these ten years is a lot of progress,” Hannah says.
“But I don’t think things should be measured by achievements and benchmarks but rather by how much progress you are able to make and how much you are able to learn from your mistakes and missteps or things that don’t go right rather than things that do go right,” she adds.
The beginning of Bold Tendencies happened after Hannah attended an exhibition at the Chelsea College of Art. “I met an artist called Shaun McDowell. He was organising an exhibition here in Peckham at the Bar Storey, which had a gallery space at the back, and he asked if I would come and see the exhibition. I thought he was an exciting person and I sort of followed him like people followed the ‘pied piper’.”
After a while she began setting up exhibitions with Shaun and a group of artists at Lyndhurst Way which later developed into her own gallery. “Each exhibition had a very basic subject to look at and the final exhibition was about making work for outside. That was the first Bold Tendencies exhibition and it was called ‘Bold Tendencies,’” she says.
The Multi-Storey Car Park which originally hosted a Sainsbury’s has for the past ten years been used for other purposes such as Bold Tendencies and a cinema.
Frank’s Café opened in 2009 at the top of the car park in as the first architectural project for Bold Tendencies. And as one of the first rooftop bars in London Frank’s has attributed to the growing attraction of the site ever since.
Moreover, an orchestra has been performing on the site since 2011, giving audiences an orchestral experience outside the regular concert hall. “We were very interested in classical music and the idea of it in addition to sculpture and architecture. It was an area where we could try and do something interesting,” Hannah says about the idea for the project, that since has grown into its own independent charity called The Multi-Storey Orchestra.
“Surrealism is about the encounter between two objects that shouldn’t be together. When you look at surrealist exhibitions, the first few are all about that and in a way we are doing this kind of accumulative idea in the carpark. There is some funny inspiration from that kind of thinking,” Hannah says.
Although the car park is now one of Peckham’s most popular places having attracted more than one million visitors, establishing it in Peckham was not Hannah’s decision. “I didn’t choose Peckham, it chose me,” she says. “I have always enjoyed being here. Something I certainly felt very intensely when I first visited Shaun here, was the sense that a lot of things were possible, and I had never experienced that as a young person living and working in London.”
“I had the sense that a lot was happening in London, but I didn’t necessarily feel a part of that. However, suddenly coming to visit Shaun in the environment which he and the other artists worked made me feel very welcome. It made me feel like a lot of things were suddenly possible,” she adds. “I think Peckham had a sort of no man’s land type of feeling. I think that it is the sort of permissiveness of the environment that made the opportunities arise rather than having a great strategy and a plan and an investment behind it.”
But the opportunities for Bold Tendencies continuation are doubtful. The building where the programme has been based for the past ten years is under proposal by the Council to be redeveloped when the contract ends in 2023.
Peckham Vision, a group of local activists, has been campaigning against the council’s proposition for changing the site. “There is no evidence or justification for this redevelopment. We are not saying that it can’t be done but we are asking for the argument for it to be done,” says Paula Orr a team member at Peckham Vision.
The local organisation hopes to get more people in Peckham involved in the campaign to make the Council drop their plans. “It is kind of a loss of a mass of things which have not really been weighed up against what they are producing for Peckham, if they go through with this,” Paula says.
Hannah, on the other hand seems less worried concerning the situation. “I think it is inevitable,” she says before explaining what will then happen to her establishment. “Bold Tendencies will have run its cause then,” she says calmly.
And knowing one project will reach its end, Hannah has turned her focus towards a new one, Bold Everywhere.
“Bold Everywhere is about what Bold Tendencies can do without the building,” she says.
“Bold Tendencies exists because it is sort of like a funny system of opportunities where lots of different people can get involved at different moments. Bold Everywhere is a more formal mechanism to deliver that kind of system of opportunities. In particular, for very young people from primary school age children up to twenty-five year olds.”
“It also includes our art trainee program which is a kind of traineeship for people interested in a career in the arts or culture to have a practical and learning experience at the same time,” she adds. “So if we doing anything at the moment that is what we are doing.”
Photo: Trishna Goklani