When Zuzana Greenham started exhibiting local artists on the walls of The Duke Pub in Deptford, she didn’t expect to be sat in her own gallery two-and-a-half years later. While the word organic may be over-used in the startup community, its an apt description of the pub-manager-turned-business-owner’s story.
From the stark lack of self-promotion to the succession of chance events that led to a physical space on Deptford High Street, there’s a sense Deptford Does Art has grown entirely of its own accord. “Part of the fun,” they say, “is not knowing totally what’s coming.” Its central mission, however, remains constant.
“I started Deptford Does Art when I was a manager of the Duke Pub on Creek Road,” said Zuzana, a Deptford resident who moved to the UK from her home in Slovakia in 2005. “My husband is an artist, I studied art – have an artistic background. I know a lot of creative people from the area so I thought, ‘Why don’t I help these people and put works on walls and then create some sort of a community of artists where they can meet one another.” She continues: “The whole idea was to bring people together and to not judge, so giving a space and a platform with advice and guidance for anyone who creates art.”
Zuzana’s exhibitions weren’t confined to The Duke for long. As interest grew, she worked to fill the walls of other local spaces like the Brookmill Pub, Wunderlust (now closed), Deptford Cinema and the Jobcentre Pub.
For Zuzana and Dan, who met in New Cross four years ago, this encapsulated the purpose of Deptford Does Art; harnessing the tight-knit community and showcasing the best of it.
“The project that Zuzana started really took off in quite a big way in the numbers of venues being interested and the number of artists who wanted to be involved,” said Dan. “So it was definitely something that had grown and it was just a natural progression that it would go somewhere because it had momentum. Exactly where, we never knew and it was a combination of a few things coming together that created this space in the end. We weren’t really setting out as a couple to start a business.”
Alongside fast, organic growth came some inheritance money and a business venture courtesy of Lewisham Council who were looking for a sustainable business with community and culture at its heart to occupy the council-owned High Street building. Following an extensive application process, the couple were given the keys in late October 2017, beating nine organisations to the property.
“This time last year we had no idea that we would be here, it wasn’t a plan,” said Zuzana.
The multi-purpose space is a cafe by day and bar by night, with a retail area selling gifts, prints and frames and the all-important gallery located downstairs.
Working on a three-week rotation, the gallery is free to exhibit – all that the pair ask for in return is for the artist to provide an event, such as a workshop or a talk, for the local community to enjoy. Showcasing a wide spectrum of art, from paintings and prints to photography and performances, Deptford Does Art is already serving its purpose as a community hub.
“For our second exhibition in the programme we were approached by two local groups – Sayes Court and Deptford Is Forever – and they wanted to put on an exhibition that coincided with the Anchor coming back,” said Dan. “So we had archived material upstairs about the protest to get it back and downstairs in the gallery was an exhibition by a Greenwich University student Max Barnes who’s done his MA in landscape and planning.
“He’d done a whole thesis on the Deptford Anchor and this academic abstract piece of how it could be brought back and all the social implications. It was illustrated beautifully and it went all round the gallery in a story. That was amazing.”
Dan added: “What’s very important is that everyone gets a chance.Art is a great unifier but we’re aware that the art world can be quite cliquey, snobbish and class-driven.We both enjoy the fact that it can be and should be for everyone.”
In December 2017 the part-time project became a fully-fledged business when Zuzana and Dan opened at 28 Deptford High Street.
“When you’ve got a community like Deptford which is very rich and vibrant, all different cultures and ethnicities coming together, it’s ridiculous to not think of those artists and creatives having the ability to showcase their work on the high street where they live,” said Dan. “I think that’s what we’re about, making that visible and with no strings attached – it’s not about the big sell or having a house style of art where nothing else counts.”
“The reason why it’s so diverse and it reflects the local community so well is because there’s no filter to stop that community coming in here so we get a representation of all artists, “ continued Zuzana.
As well as continuing their monthly exhibitions at other venues, Zuzana and Dan are focusing on expanding the cafe’s vegetarian and vegan offerings (they are meat and diary free) and developing their website to allow for online shopping. Their list of workshops can be found on their Facebook Page in the events section or at Obby.co.uk.
“People from the community who come in enjoy this lovely space, it’s like an oasis on Deptford High Street,” said Dan. “You can come in and have a relaxed moment, take a bit of time from the stress of your life, see some really good art from the local community but also sit down and enjoy a cup of tea or a glass of wine. The best part is that by doing that you help keep the gallery space free and therefore support local artists.”
The Wharf Newspaper Thursday 22 March 2018, article written by Erica Bush (edited for website by DDA).