ldfw3 brand ambassador: ellie halls schiadasBack
With Matthew Andrews, Ellie has been running Leeds Gallery and Café 164 on the ground floor of Munro House since autumn 2011. Leeds Gallery is about combinations: art and food, gallery design and theatre design, creation and curation, Leeds and London, Ellie and Matt.
“We always liked the idea of having a gallery, of having a space in which to curate and put on visual things for other people. It’s kind of what our degree was about,” said Ellie. She met Matt at St Martin’s College in London in 2002, where they were both studying theatre design. “We always worked and collaborated together on set design projects, film projects, anything that was design and visual led. We always harboured this ambition that one day we would open up a gallery, that one of these days we would do it.”
It took a while to move the idea from a dream over wine to the space that exists today. While Matt worked in graphic design, Ellie was working at Bakery 164, which has fed hungry students on Woodhouse Lane since 1994. “I was getting a lot more experience in the food industry and new skills, but Matt and I were still having this conversation about this gallery that we wanted to open.
“We thought, shall we just try it in Leeds? And then we came across this space and thought, okay, if we don’t do it now we’re never going to do it, are we?”
The curved wall and enormous windows of Munro House have made it a landmark of long-standing when seen from outside, while inside the space can be anything you think of – and is now exactly what Ellie and Matt thought of it.
“If I showed you the original plans that we had, it’s exactly what we imagined,” said Ellie. “We came into the space, and we said we’ll put a café there, we’ll put the gallery here. The original idea has stayed the same, but we’ve just been slowly changing and moulding it according to what our customers are telling us.”
The first exhibition was a Terry O’Neill retrospective, bringing selections from three previous shows to Leeds, along with a number of exclusives, in a look back at fifty years of iconic celebrity portraiture. That the opening show brought a previously London-only exhibition to Leeds was not an accident.
“We wanted to make it really exciting and glamorous, and something that was very new to Leeds, because there weren’t any other independent commercial galleries in the city centre. That’s something we feel quite strongly about, about bringing a little bit of London up to Leeds. Places like ours are everywhere in London, but it’s taking quite a long time to filter up north.”
Equivalent places in London are also able to draw on much larger teams of people, whereas in its two years so far Leeds Gallery has been run every single day by only two people. “We’re here every day!” said Ellie. “When you’re a business owner you have such a personal connection with your business anyway, but it is just Matt and I. It’s two of us and we do everything. We’ve got a fantastic team in the café, and a lot of people think we must have loads of people working for us. But we don’t – we literally do everything.”
That self-reliance, and the long hours that come with it, makes the support from Leeds people incredibly valuable. “We’ve had such a massive amount of support from local artists, and we have so many applications from local artists to exhibit, so we’re hugely aware that as well as bringing exciting and innovative shows from outside Leeds, we still have to support people who are in Leeds as well and make it equal. We’ve shown a lot of Yorkshire artists, and with find with the Yorkshire based shows there is a real sense of community.
“We want to make a mark on Leeds, and we want to be known for showcasing amazing talent. But we also want to be known for bringing interesting exhibitions from national and international artists.”
Opening this week at Leeds Gallery is Faces, the Anatomy of Autonomy, an interactive exhibition of graphic art by Lee Goater, which explores the ways his Polaroid-sized magnets featuring simple yet characterful faces were interpreted when they were distributed around the UK. That’s followed by an exhibition of photography in and of Yorkshire, a celebration of neon artwork, and the sixth installment in Leeds Gallery’s Yorkshire Artists series.
All during LDFW3 the exhibition space in Café 164 will be host to a pop-up exhibition organised by Ellie along with model, nutritional therapist and blogger behind Model Eats, Gwyneth Harrison. Photographs, tear sheets, and modelling paraphernalia picked up over ten years of modelling will adorn the walls, alongside mouth-watering recipes that you can take home and try yourself; we’ll have more about the exhibition later this week, but for now you should head to Munro House, get some coffee and something good to eat, and see it for yourself.
“Art and coffee go together really well,” said Ellie. “I couldn’t just move away from those extra skills I learned at Bakery 164, and it just made sense for me to bring them here. Matt brought his abilities as a graphic designer, and we called upon all our skills as theatre designers to bring it all together into this one place.”
Originally published in The City Talking Leeds: Issue 07