Norwich [thou] art fair – the shaping of an idea 2012-2015

<<Update 30 July 2015>>

Since my original blog in 2012, I’m delighted to say that Norwich has had some big wins on the art front. In 2014, the Sainsbury Centre hosted the wonderful Masters exhibition. Houghton Hall also showcased some of the finest classical pictures from the Hermitage art museum in St Petersburg. We’ve also seen successful cultural events like the Hostery Festival, Holt Festival and Voewood Festival.

In 2015, the Sainsbury Centre had a major show called Bacon and the Masters – and the Castle Museum hosted the only exhibition of Jeff Koons work in the UK this year. More importantly (although perhaps less widely noticed), Will Teather and Friends ran the first Art Fair East – which in many ways felt like the art fair I imagined three years ago. I hope it was enough of a success to return and grow.

As a result, I am expanding the focus of the @NorwichArtFair twitter account. Rather than concentrating exclusively on Art, I’m going to support the wider creative community – including Digital Creative and Business Innovation. Instead of thinking of Norwich Art Fair as an event – think of it as a statement: Norwich [thou] art fair.

<<UPDATE 6 March 2014>>

I wrote the original version of this post in July 2012. Plenty of you offered to support but (like me) no one had the time or resources to turn the idea into reality. (As you will see when you read the original below, I anticipated this.)

However, there are still masses of excellent cultural events in Norwich and Norfolk – and they are growing in scope and stature all the time. This post sparked blogs from Rosie Winn and others, which in turn helped unite local artists and art lovers on twitter and other social media platforms.

We still run the @NorwichArtFair twitter account. We hope you continue to support the ambition of building Norwich’s international reputation as a great place to experience wonderful art.

Thank you


The original Norwich Art Fair idea from July 2012:

Written in haste (other stuff pressing)…

Thank you to @Rosie_Winn who posted this on her blog It lists all the ideas (many and varied) for an international art fair in Norwich and Norfolk, which came up at our first tweetup (at @SirGarnetPub) last Thursday.

Thank you to everyone who came along and contributed their time and enthusiasm – particularly those who volunteered to help build, design and write a new Norwich Art Fair website. I really appreciate your support – particularly since there is no reward, save our gratitude.

It’s important to stress, these are early days. At the moment I’m just looking to see who might get behind this idea. Exploring ways we might mobilise forces in Norfolk to support what we already have (from the glorious productions of #NNFest to your local art gallery’s open day) and help build on it. Our ambition is to establish Norwich and Norfolk on the international art scene as a centre for creativity and talent.

You can join my list of interested tweeters (here simply by sending me a tweet asking to join #NorwichArtFair list.

You might who want to tell me this won’t, can’t, hasn’t or shouldn’t happen – but, quite frankly, I’m not interested in why nots. Instead I want to hear from people who want to help raise the profile of Norwich and Norfolk. If you think you are already doing this or something like it, then please let me know because I’d would love to support you.

Realising these ideas may be a dream. It might take years to attract enough sponsors and artists to stage a world class event. Even the shape of that event is not clear.

I hope it might be both high brow and inclusive. Drawing big crowds and big money but supporting local artists and encouraging more people to become involved in the arts too. But now the most important thing we can do is start the conversation.

At the very least, I hope we can build a network of people on social media who will support art events in Norwich and Norfolk – and share that support with the world. We need to convince people who love art and culture to #VisitNorwich and #VisitNorfolk.

Elsewhere, I have talked about the power of the Norfolk and Norwich Twitter Network (jokingly referred to as #NaNTwiNk). If that network supports the exciting cultural events going on in our community (from the smallest to the largest) it will benefit all who live and work in the region.

Thank you for your continued help and support.

@HuwSayer – July 2012


6 thoughts on “Norwich [thou] art fair – the shaping of an idea 2012-2015

  1. Thanks for the report back Huw, and I have read Rosie’s too. I am very supportive of the Art Fair although I am not going to volunteer to directly get involved as it is one thing too many for me but I will offer help and advice where I can.

    Some of the notes referred to other areas of activity including festivals, promotional things etc which are more in my field of vision. I am keen that we don’t duplicate effort nor start up new things when we are best to build on existing (as you are also saying) as there are a lot of people with ‘initiatives’ all with essentially the same intended outcome. And we need to co-ordinate these. It is great that many of them are grass-roots, from the community but we need to also tie them in with the top-led more strategic moves by City and County Councils, Visit Norwich, City Centre Partnership etc, plus the strategically funded arts organisations such as Writers’ Centre Norwich, Norfolk and Norwich Festival, Norwich Arts Centre and others that are not core-funded such as HEART, Norwich Puppet Theatre, Creative Arts East etc.

    There is a long-term and true story about Norwich that has been going for centuries and in particular the last 10 years or so since Norwich bid for European Capital of Culture in 2003. I have been part of this story and can see a strategic thread running from then to the rich cultural scene we have now. I have a really strong view of what has happened when and why, initiatives which have started, stumbled, re-emerged in a different way, much like the way water sticks to its true course but has to find ways to emerge and make progress.

    I think that the Art Fair feeds into this overall strategy of raising the profile of Norwich through creative and cultural activity but it must all be joined up otherwise it will end up a misdirected jumble without the backup of some of the biggest influencers. This is not a criticism by the way, I am just pointing out that we must be very aware of what everyone is doing in the city on different fronts and work together. Generally, I make it my business to have a good overview of what is happening where, and as I said before, I also have the historical long view which informs where we have come from as well as where we are going. And the various forums and network groups that I run help this along (Visual Art Forum, Music in Norwich, Culture Shift and now write2screen). So that is where I can be most help – joining the detail to the big picture.


    • Hi Marion – thank you very much for the support and detailed feedback.

      Thank you also for the link to Music in Norwich – I had not come across the blog or twitter feed before – or the other forums you mention (save Culture Shift). This is another area where N&N could raise its profile, by building strong supporter networks. It is all very helpful.

      I agree that there is a huge amount going on across the year (from the big stuff to the small independent events) – and the Norwich Art Fair idea is not to detract from any of this in any way. Instead, it is based on the perception (which I find shared by many people) that we could do so much more.

      Although you (and people in the organisations you mention) are very aware of all you are doing, I get the feeling that many people in the wider community are not – and in fact would be very surprised at how rich and varied cultural life is in the county.

      There seems to be a need for a more obvious big, high brow, internationally recognised, central event (that is focused more on selling than celebration) which also links with lots of the other events already going on (a ‘hub and spoke’ format perhaps). While it would be great to build on what we have, I get the feeling that we might need to look at creating something new.

      As I said at the meeting, if one or more of the big players (#NNFest or similar) says ‘this is what we are doing – or we want to do this’ then I am sure the group would get behind them. However, you say we should co-ordinate – and yet that appears (from this outsider’s view) to be exactly what is lacking. You name around a dozen organisations (plus etc.) who might be involved – but you don’t appear to name one body that brings all this wonderful work together (although #NNFest seems the obvious one).

      The various arts and heritage bodies run numerous twitter feeds (and other social media sites) – but they rarely seem to coordinate activity or cross-support other community events to build goodwill. Too often events and organisers appear to be in competition (and resistant to ideas “not invented here”) – when we should all be on the same side – batting for Norfolk and Norwich.

      The next #NorwichArtFair tweetup is on 13 September [corrected] – 6pm at the Sir Garnet – anyone is welcome to come along – including representatives from all those organisations you mention. They might just discover army of interested people who are willing to help create a real buzz about art and culture in the community across social media platforms. Forgive the cliché, but the whole art scene in Norfolk and Norwich could be so much greater than the sum of its parts.

      Kind regards



  2. Hello Huw
    I realise just after I pressed send that I shouldn’t have actually posted this from the Music in Norwich blog, should have been from my own. An Art Fair is one product which I agree should be new, should do its own thing as, to my knowledge, no-one else is doing a commercial push apart from privately-run galleries and they should get behind this initiative I hope.

    As for the more general cultural profile of Norwich, it is more complex. It is very difficult for ‘leadership’ to come from one place in a city. In a way, it should come from a city council who have the remit to ‘look after’ and promote the place that they have been elected or employed to serve, but rarely do people from other sectors want that to happen. That’s when initiative such as culture bids become effective but they rise and subside and the energy and direction rises and subsides with them. But there is a coherence, there are some repeating themes – independence, radical thinking, otherness, ‘do different’ call it what you like but there is a general agreement that Norwich has an alternative and independent approach to doing things. And that ideas and creativity is important. Radical thinking goes back a long way with Quakers and other non-conformist approaches to religion, people such as Thomas Paine, Thomas Browne, Harriet Martineau to name a few who all ‘stirred things up’.

    We need to work to one brand and one sort of values – and by brand I don’t mean a logo and cheesy strap line – come to Norwich the city of differences/radical city/undiscovered gem – we have been through them all and they all set you up for a fall. But there are true values that, underneath it all, the true Norwich supporters get behind, often without realising it.

    But it seems as though no-one has the remit to impose this one a city, and there needs to be a cultural leadership which i think is more likely to come out of the Writers’ Centre than the Festival. We had the beginnings of it at City Hall a few years ago but it was scuppered by our previous Chief Exec and her pet head of comms we had a few years ago. We did a lot of work with John Murphy of Interbrand which is still relevant – I have it all – but it is probably a conversation that we should have offline. Plus I have to get on with my work and get out of Music in Norwich’s account.

    FYI Music in Norwich and Art in Norwich are back-room forums to help organisations to work together which is why you haven’t heard much about them but hopefully the sites I am setting up will help the work they generate to be better known.

    Let’s have a coffee soon
    ps not sure when 13 Norwich is!


    • I agree with your point about branding (have started to hate the word) – also interested in your point about Writers Centre – agree leadership can’t be imposed but co-ordination can be volunteered – perhaps, if nothing else, the Norwich Art Fair movement can act as a catalyst for that coordinating presence to come forward. Thank you again – and coffee would be good. H 🙂


  3. Thank you Marion – glad you mis-posted because Music Norwich looks great – and thank you for spotting the typo – comes with bashing too fast (real work is shouting to be done) – 13 September would be a better date 🙂


  4. Pingback: #NorwichArtFair now on Twitter and Facebook – #NaNTwiNk please RT | Huw Sayer

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