Braintree Open Art Exhibition lives on(line)

Braintree Open Art Exhibition this year suffered the same fate as many of the world’s biggest festivals but rather than postponing altogether the community centre decided to go virtual. 2020 will be remembered for many a tragedy and plenty of triumphs, too, in the face of everything. The first Braintree Open Online Art Exhibition will no doubt be the latter.

CommunityAd had the delight of chatting to James Sewell, a local artist who had entered the Braintree Open Art Exhibition several times in the years prior to the merger between Community Centre and Braintree District Arts. In 2016 James volunteered to take notes for the committee, before he knew it he was the centre’s go-to ‘general helper’ and now four years on is still very much part of the team and the community centre’s resident ‘organiser of all things arty’.


So, James, it must have been an extremely difficult year for the centre, how have you adapted?

It’s certainly been different! The Centre was closed from mid-March until early July, and we’re now gradually working towards getting our weekly classes up and running again and welcoming back our regular hirers, while working around social distancing measures. We’ve realised we need to adapt to survive, so we’re enhancing our technological capabilities to enable us to host hybrid Zoom meetings – meaning a safe number of people in the hall along with a projector beaming in the rest of the group via Zoom. This will allow those who are still shielding at home to still be involved and hopefully reduce the feelings of isolation that many are experiencing at the moment. We’re currently even looking into starting up a new Pilates class via Zoom!


Tell our readers a little about previous years of the art exhibition?

The Braintree Open Art Exhibitions used to be organised by Braintree District Arts (established in 1972 if my facts are correct) up until 2015, hosted in various venues including the Town Hall and the Museum. Braintree District Arts then merged with Braintree Community Centre, and as we have a nice big hall it made sense to host the exhibitions in the Centre, too! The exhibitions have a different group of selectors each year, who decide what to put in the exhibition and which artworks will win the prizes. This year’s Online Open is of course a bit different as there will be no selectors or prizes, but also no entry fee, so we hope lots of people will get involved including some who perhaps haven’t exhibited before. We’re constantly surprised by the variety and quality of work submitted year on year, by the very talented artists and craftspeople living in our local area.


Art and creative projects have ‘boomed’ during lockdown as people looked to fill the void. As an artist yourself have you found lockdown a time of creativity or not particularly?

Personally, I found lockdown sort of interrupted my creative routine so I haven’t done very much in the way of art at all over the last few months, but I’ve got projects in mind and ready to go as soon as I get back in the mood. Besides, even with the Community Centre closed there was still plenty for us all to be getting on with behind the scenes!


Why should people consider entering a piece of their art into the online art exhibition?

No entry fee, no judging – just a great opportunity to get your work out there and seen! We also have a very nice supportive community of artists that enter the exhibitions regularly, which you would be becoming a part of. If you’ve been unsure of exhibiting in the Open Art Exhibitions before, use this as a risk-free introduction and see how you like it. Hopefully we’ll then see you again in person once the “physical” exhibitions can resume.


How long have you lived in Braintree and what makes it such a pleasant place to call home?

I’ve lived in Braintree for over 20 years now, apart from the three years I was in Norwich studying art. Working with the Community Centre I’ve met a lot of people in Braintree that put so much effort into helping others – whether that’s the Management Committee of volunteers running the Centre, or the various charitable organisations and social groups that hold their meetings there – that’s true community!

Entry Details

We’re asking for artists and craftspeople to submit their artworks online throughout September, for free, which will then be shown in an online gallery on our Facebook page and website in early October. It was disappointing for us and for our community of regular exhibitors to have to cancel entirely, and we still wanted to see what everyone’s been up to creatively over the last few months! We hope this will help tide our artists over to next year when we will hopefully be able to have a “physical” exhibition again, and that it also introduces the Open to more local artists. Artworks can be submitted via the form on our website or via email.


Be sure to check in when the virtual exhibition begins to show some love for the community’s wonderful artists!

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