Case Study: Fronteer
Fronteer is run by Michael and Sharon Borkowsky and began as a freelance arts initiative to provide exhibition spaces and host open calls for artists. In October 2020 they opened a gallery of their own; Fronteer Gallery in Sheffield and have established the annual art prize 'The Fronteer Open'.
"Our focus is to provide opportunities to artists through exhibitions. As artists, we felt that there was a lack of open calls looking for contemporary or exciting work, or they weren’t transparent with what they were looking for. This seems to be changing now though, as there seem to be more artist-led open call opportunities around. From the outset we strived to be open, honest and approachable with other artists and we want to host a varied programme of exhibitions in order to give as many artists as possible opportunities to exhibit.
Our very first open call exhibition as Fronteer was took place in September 2017 at Access Space in Sheffield. The exhibition was called 'Alternative Portraits'. We started out small and juggled Fronteer with part time work alongside our own practice. As such we were hosting 2 'Fronteer' exhibitions a year. From 2018 we decided we wanted to establish a yearly exhibition and arts prize in Sheffield, which we called the Fronteer Open. So far, we have staged the Fronteer Open in 2018, 2019 and 2021, with a covid-induced hiatus in 2020.
Although we now have our own Fronteer Gallery we still think of The Fronteer Open as being a kind of end of year blockbuster! And we do like the fact that we don’t stage it at Fronteer Gallery, instead choosing to source another venue. This feels true to how we operated originally; sourcing venues to make things happen. The Fronteer Open feels like an established and recognised event, as evidenced by the fact that it is always our most popular show in terms of submissions. In 2021 we had 120 submissions and we were able to accept 75.
I'm not sure if the fact that there are prizes involved is what results in those extra submissions, but CuratorSpace’s sponsorship, as well as the support of other organisations such as Yorkshire Artspace and BasementArts Project, helps attract artists and gives the show a certain sense of reputation. It’s great to be able to work with other organisations that want to help artists and make a difference. We now feel fully established as an organisation and, while we do still retain small part-time jobs, we also have a full programme of exhibitions lined up at the gallery in 2022 and can confirm that The Fronteer Open will once again be staged at Exchange Place Studios this December.
CuratorSpace is a pretty vital resource for us as it enables artists from across the UK and internationally to see our open calls, and the customisable submission forms make it easy for artists to submit work. It would be difficult to run The Fronteer Open without CuratorSpace because we wouldn’t be able to attract the range of artists we currently do, and it would be harder to manage. CuratorSpace makes the administrative side of running exhibitions easy and affords us more time to manage other aspects of exhibitions.
There are some exhibitions that we stage at Fronteer Gallery that have fairly niche themes, such as 'Summer Solstice' or 'Dirty Secrets', and we do find ourselves pushing these a little through social media in order to attract artists. What we’ve found is that allowing artists to respond to somewhat broad themes, such as 'colour' or 'space', or staging shows with no formal theme, presents us with the most submissions. But sometimes we want to run themes that are a little different or niche, so it's about finding a balance.
Most of the artists we work with we have initially found through CuratorSpace. The winner of the Fronteer Open 2021 Peoples’ Choice Prize, Rana Farooq, submitted her work through Curatorspace and it was the first time she’d submitted work to any exhibition. We were very pleased she won and hopefully it has given her confidence going forward. The winner of the Fronteer Open 2021 Judges' Choice Prize, Loukas Georgiou, is an artist who first submitted work to use through CuratorSpce for the Fronteer Open 2019. We’ve loved his work ever since then and were delighted to be able to award him with our prize.
We put all our open calls on CuratorSpace, so searching for 'Fronteer' in the search bar will enable people to find our current opportunities. People can also find us through www.fronteer.co.uk or through our @fronteer_art Instagram handle. They can, of course, also pop to Fronteer Gallery; we’re always up for a chat! We’re at 18, Exchange Street, Sheffield S2 5TS.
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