Interview with Woodrow Kernohan, Director of John Hansard Gallery

Woodrow Kernohan, Director of John Hansard Gallery (JHG) sits down with Arts Ambassador Katherine Wells to discuss his career in the arts and the gallery’s plans for 2019.

Woodrow Kernohan: My name is Woodrow Kernohan and I’m the Director of the John Hansard Gallery in Southampton City Centre.

Katherine Wells: How did you come to work within the arts?

WK: My background is as an artist. I first started working professionally within the arts by organising exhibitions for myself or for my friends, I then started working with independent galleries, and then started curating exhibitions with artists from those galleries. So it’s been a kind of steady progression since then through festivals, biennales, galleries, and the fabulous John Hansard Gallery now.

KW: Can you talk more about your role now with John Hansard?

WK: I was appointed just over a year ago to transform the gallery and to relocate from our historic home on Highfield campus to the city centre. We’ve now tripled in size, so our team is growing and we’re working with wider public audiences and we’re very visible in the city centre.

KW: How has John Hansard Gallery brought a wider awareness or engagement to the arts to the public?

WK: The gallery, importantly, has windows onto the street – it’s very important to us that the building is porous so that audiences can see into the building and be part of the programme. We have lots of opportunities for audiences to engage in different ways. Our preview programme which took place in February this year included a soft-play installation on the ground floor and engaging audiences, asking them what they wanted the gallery to be about. Now that we’ve moved into the city centre, we have a very different audience, we’re within the local communities, within St Mary’s, Northam, and New Town. A lot of our projects are both inside and outside the gallery, aiming to work with communities as well as bringing them into the gallery.

KW: What are your plans for 2019?

WK: We’ve just re-opened the gallery with a mini-retrospective by the German artist Gerhard Richter. We’re working with all the galleries across the building from now on, so there will be a continuous programme of rotating and overlapping exhibitions, with one keynote exhibition each year. We have a series of curated and new commissioned exhibitions next year, and a highlight exhibition which will be an installation that takes over the entire gallery. We haven’t released our 2019 programme yet, so I’m not able to give full details, but our next exhibition, which opens on the 7th September is called Time After Timand features six artists and it’s a reflection on the gallery’s historic, site-specific programme that took place at Highfield (Campus). Our former director is coming back as a curator, who’s going to return to a number of projects he realised in the former location.

KW: What advice would you give to people wanting to establish themselves in the arts?

 WK: Everyone who works as an artist or as an arts professional has a very unique and individual story or journey. I think the key thing which was relevant for me was perseverance. In terms of artists, their dedication to their practice is paramount. In terms of curators and arts professionals, it’s really about finding those opportunities and making the most of them. I remember very early exhibitions that I curated in a theatre pub, in a café, before working in galleries, and so it’s really about taking those opportunities and making opportunities for yourself if they’re not apparent.

Arts Ambassadors is a paid opportunity, supported by the Careers and Employability Service’s Excel Southampton Internship programme, University of Southampton 

Cover Image: John Hansard Gallery Exterior, 2018. Photo: Steve Shrimpton

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