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Jo Marsh and Sarah Featherstone explain how relocating Wrexham’s art gallery to a market and parking complex has helped make the arts a part of people’s everyday lives.

Photo of exterior of arts centre with car park entrance

James Morris

Tŷ Pawb, translated as ‘Everyone’s House’, is a new model for an arts venue in Wrexham, located in the People’s Market, a purpose-built multi-storey car park and market hall. Commissioned by Wrexham County Borough Council, it challenges the assumptions of traditional arts spaces.

The overlap between the arts, community and market is exciting, and moving forward there are still many more shared opportunities to be explored

Wrexham has suffered from high levels of poverty and deprivation, and in 2015 the council drew up a masterplan for its regeneration. The People’s Market was identified as a key building and its future was secured when funding was awarded from the Welsh Government’s Vibrant and Viable Places project, Arts Council of Wales and Wrexham Council to expand Oriel Wrecsam gallery and create a new arts and cultural centre.

Sharing spaces

The original brief asked for a new arts venue with three traditional gallery spaces separate from the existing market stalls. Early consultation with market traders and the wider community indicated that the two activities might not sit well together.

Recognising that there were potential benefits that the two could bring to each other, the architects, Featherstone Young, suggested the brief be revisited and  proposed only one dedicated gallery space with a series of looser, less defined spaces that both the market and arts centre could share. We refer to this as the ‘baggy space’ concept, where designers create a light-touch framework which enables others to fill the gaps.

We also adopted this baggy space concept in our arts programming, building in looser space around the fixed touring exhibitions for shorter, more immediate exhibitions that respond to pressing local issues - now known as the ‘Urgencies’ programme.

The main art gallery and looser exhibition and event spaces are supported by a range of other facilities including a performance space, learning centre, art shop, cafes and studios. These sit within and around the main market hall, which is spatially conceived as an extension of Wrexham’s streetscape, with covered squares and streets that offer a shortcut through the building, linking out of town to town centre.

Large cuts in the building’s floors and walls open up spaces and put all activities on view. Sqwr y Bobl (People’s Square) is at the heart of Tŷ Pawb, and its transformative transparent curtains allow people to use this space for a range of different events.

Wal Pawb (Everyone’s Wall) changes what could have been a large dividing wall between the market and main gallery into an interactive element featuring built-in seats, windows and a large billboard, with changing public art selected by a panel including market traders and the local community. The first commission, by Katie Cuddon, has proved to be a vibrant backdrop, often featuring in visitors’ social media posts.

Collaborative ethos

At the opening Easter Parade, Tŷ Pawb saw over 10,000 people pass through its doors. Market traders were welcomed back to trade alongside new food retailers in the spaces animated by cultural activities. More prosaically, we have longer trading hours that offer opportunities early morning coffee and late-night drinks.

Many traders have wholly embraced this new collaborative ethos by introducing different aspects to their standard retail offer. The Plat Bach restaurant is running pizza workshops in the food square, and some traders participated in an arts trail where objects were embedded within their stalls.

We are trialling small and large-scale community events. Among the most popular are Community Thursdays – weekly events including tea dances, children’s workshops, busking and free lunchtime concerts performed around the market hall. On a much larger scale, we were able to accommodate Focus Wales, an annual music festival usually located in a number of venues across Wrexham, but which used Tŷ Pawb this year as its main venue.

The overlap between the arts, community and market is exciting, and moving forward there are still many more shared opportunities to be explored. The ‘Urgencies’ programme is set up to do just this. Events so far have included Nascent Inclinations, that gave a platform to local fine art graduates, and a one-week takeover by local arts group Undergun.

International recognition

It is also important to acknowledge that alongside our local arts and community projects, we are gaining growing recognition within the international art scene. With the new 250 square metre gallery, we are able to host big national exhibitions. ‘Is This Planet Earth?’, our inaugural exhibition, received 15,000 recorded visitors across three months, with good reviews and a feature in Art Monthly.

This was followed by ‘On Paper’, a touring exhibition featuring works by Cornelia Parker and Damien Hurst. Upcoming exhibitions include works by Grayson Perry: it feels highly appropriate that we will be displaying an artist known for his astute commentary on contemporary society and culture.

Jo Marsh is Creative Director of Tŷ Pawb and Sarah Featherstone is Director of Featherstone Young Architects.

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Photo of Jo Marsh
Photo of Sarah Featherstone