My last blog was about potential uses for empty retail spaces in cites, so to continue on a similar theme I spoke to Jim Ricks, the Director of 126 this morning. 126 (previously G126) is an artist-run collective gallery which has just moved into a disused shopfront in Queen Street in the city centre of Galway. It must be almost four years since I first heard Ben Geoghegan and Austin Ivers discuss the complete lack of independent spaces for visual art in Galway. I didn’t really think they would do anything about it, but to my delight and surprise, they soon afterward set up a gallery in the living room of their house, number 126. Since then, and in a very short space of time, 126 has become a well known fixture on the national art scene and, even though it’s in Galway, has managed to lure certain entrenched Dublin art people (like me) all the way to the west just to see an exhibition, on occasion.

Talking to Ricks, I got a real sense of what a huge achievement this new space represents for the organisation. After moving from Ben and Austin’s front room, 126 next found a home in the suburban wasteland of the Ballybane Industrial Estate. It was always a bit strange to visit this contemporary space in the middle of such a setting, and a bit of a mission to get to if you didn’t own a car. 126 being the only organisation of its kind in Galway, it deserved and needed to be located in a city-centre space. This was easier said that done, and despite the high numbers of recently vacated retail spaces going a-begging, landlords still want to be paid. After over a year of negotiations, Ricks and the 126 team have now set up in a former bike shop, which is, as I type, being redecorated and refitted by the dedicated volunteers on the board of directors.

The grand opening of the new Queen Street space will happen on 9 May with a show by Fergus Byrne, but previous to that 126 will tonight launch the second in a series of collaborations and exchanges (the first one was an exchange with Catalyst back in February) with artist-run organisations. This time they have teamed up with Pallas Contemporary Projects, the idea being that 126 will curate a show in the Pallas space, and Pallas will reciprocate by bringing an exhibition to Galway later in the year. The exhibition opening in Pallas tonight is by San Francisco-based artist Stephanie Syjuco, whose work is concerned with authorship and the internet. I asked Jim if artist run galleries teaming up in this way gives them a greater clout internationally, and allows them to entice ‘bigger’ artists to show in their small spaces. His response indicated that it’s actually not difficult to get international artists of a certain career level to show in Ireland, as long as you can pay for their plane ticket. Like Catalyst in Belfast, the ethos of 126 has always been about exchange and generosity, so this ‘gallery swap’ idea is less a tactic to improve their programme and more a symptom of the original mission of the place.

Next up in line for a swap with 126 is my own personal favourite shopfront gallery, Monster Truck. We have asked Sharon Phelan to curate a show in the 126 space some time towards the end of the year, with 126 simultaneously bringing a show to the Monster Truck space. Also planned for 2009 is a swap between 126 and Blank Space in San Francisco. What Jim termed “the year of the exchange” will hopefully allow for new connections between a huge number of artists in Dublin, Galway and San Francisco. I have no doubt that 126 will thrive in its new home, and add some much-needed enrichment and confidence to the contemporary art scene in Galway. I would love to think that it will be able to entice even more dyed-in-the-wool Dubs to make the journey to Galway now and then, and hopefully we will have a gallery full of Galwegians in Monster Truck in the not too distant future.

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