Curating The East Midlands: Divine Locale

Divine Locale is a female and artist-led visual arts organisation based in Derby. Co-founded in 2017 by Jennifer Birch and Jade Foster, Divine Locale aims to provide a platform for emerging artists, combatting in particular Derby’s low retention of creative graduates.

Whats happening behind the scenes at Divine Locale?

JB:   Recently we’ve been creating FLUCTU-8 Festival ‘18 our second annual, grassroots, graduate, and artist led contemporary arts festival.We have a planned two-week programme of installation art, performance art, film, live residency, talks and workshops. The 2018 edition of FLUCTU-8 festival will explore what it means to be a part of a diverse community. This years soon to be graduate curators have chosen the theme of Cultivate, by cultivating our community we want to promote a sense of belonging and a more connected society. We will be commissioning work that not only responds to the context of the theme ‘cultivate’ but also inspires a sense of community in discussion and debate. As a visual arts company we have a genuine commitment and interest in reaching out to local people within and beyond an established art audience.

JF:   I along with Jennifer am providing a platform and mentorship to soon-to-be recent graduate, emerging artist and budding curator Tamara Mellon. Passing the baton on by taking on graduate curatorial interns for FLUCTU-8 Festival 18 is necessary and important to our festival ethos- for and by graduates. 

After the success of the first festival last year, we are working with some fantastic partners including Derby Museum and Art Gallery plus Level Centre to develop our organisation’s presence in the East Midlands. We want to position ourselves radically within these spaces, bringing DIY initiatives, a critical lense and fresh perspectives in and outside of the institution. By trying to make use of disused and existing spaces in Derby we are able to make art more accessible to the public. We are undergoing an Arts Council England application to get a good amount of funding to make the second festival an even greater success- so fingers crossed!

Pierce Starre ‘/hɪə/’ (2017), Live Durational Performance, 110 Hours. Photography by Sam Lindley.


Who are the artists you are working with?

JB:   Divine Locale is a female led organisation and this year we also happen to be a mostly female team – Presenting FLUCTU-8 2018 curators: Tamara Mellon and Jeannean Howe, both soon to graduate from the Fine Art programme at the University of Derby. We’ll also be working with Derby University graphic design student Stephanie Takyi and 2017 Derby graduate Nathan walker who is currently studying MFA Fine Art at Ulster University, Belfast. I hope to continue working with Derby graduates going forward with Divine Locale.

JF:   Last year and this year we will be working with black and female performance artist Jade Blackstock – recent Royal College of Art graduate and Tiffany & Co. X Studiomakers Prize winner 2017.

Jade Blackstock, Untitled, Live Performance, The Spot, Derby

We will also be working with Jade Montserrat who is a black, female multi-disciplinary artist. She is radical in her approach and will bring a necessary perspective interpreting archives through a live art residency at award-winning World Cultures gallery at Derby Museum and Art Gallery between the 16th – 19th August. We are working with Stephanie Takyi, who is a soon to be Graphic Design graduate from the University of Derby. She will be supporting us with marketing, designing and other aspects of the festival.

Tell us about your upcoming projects and collaborations.

JB:   This year we’re collaborating with Derby Museums where artists will respond to the World Cultures Collection in live art residency. We have also partnered up with Level Centre Rowsley, Matlock which brings rural Derbyshire the kind of contemporary art space facilities and technical resources normally only found in cities. At level centre we’re particularly looking for digital arts, performance art, sensory, interactive, film, and installation art. We are currently under search for our third premises in Derby City Centre; which will hold our standing exhibition from 16th-31st August, we will be securing a great space shortly.

JF:   Our plan is to support around 40 artists this year so anyone reading this apply to our open calls or get in touch! We prioritise and proud of working with those underrepresented within our institutions such as the young, LGBTQI+, Disabled, working class and BAME creatives. We have opened up to graduates and emerging artists working in any medium. I expect an array of talented artists to apply to an open call from across the country working in exciting and experimental ways with art mediums such as Live Art & Performance, Installation, Participatory Practice, Sculpture and Photography. Cultivate welcomes work that explores the diverse communities that already exist, encouraging inclusivity, intersectionality and providing insights into the social fabric and its potential fluidity.

How do you select the artists you work with?

JB:   Within Derby city we found a lack of opportunities for both graduate and emerging artists. Which is why we wish to support early careers by providing a platform for upcoming artists, curators and creative professionals in the region. With the upcoming, influx of graduate shows I will be attending and travelling to as many as I can to talk to artists personally about their work. More generally, I like to work with regional and national artists and curators who are interested in giving a voice to projects and exhibitions in the East Midlands. We are consciously investing in BAME, LGBTQI+, working class artists and minorities who are less visible in the art landscape. This plays a role in the selection process of works, we wish to remain inclusive of all parts of our community. I also find social media to be a valuable tool to scout out regional talent and interest as well as a great way of building a collective and sharing valuable information.

JF:   I go see exhibitions, degree shows, travel as much as I can and talk to artists about their work. It is important for me to understand not just what artists make but the artist themselves – the person behind the work. I am passionate about getting in touch with those underrepresented in the arts, undiscovered artists or to those that are politically ’easy to ignore’ meaning the artists that lack cultural and social capital to be successful within this industry.


What dates should we put in our calendars?

JB JF:   FLUCTU-8 festival 2018 – 16th to the 31st of August at V21!

Derby Museum and Gallery: 16th -19th August
Level Centre: 22nd – 26th August
We’ll also be programming other event’s throughout this time, within these spaces and dates.

Audiences at Divine Locale Contemporary Arts Festival 2017, Graduate and Artist Led Annual Contemporary Art Festival.


What or who are you really excited about?

JB:   I enjoy hard to approach topics discussed in art- Mark Neville’s Battle Against Stigma is part of FORMAT International Photography Festival Off Year Programme and also QUAD’s year-long season of ‘Wellbeing’ This first UK exhibition of Mark Neville’s project aims to address issues of mental health problems in the military. Also included is the UK premiere of Displaced Ukrainians, focussing on the plight of children in a zone of dispute and conflict. Worth the visit this exhibition goes on until the 24th of June.

Mark Neville’s Battle Against Stigma, part of FORMAT, QUAD

















I’m also quite excited for UKYA City Takeover Nottingham 2019 which will be held early next year. This event supports 200 young artists from over 3 continents throughout the city of Nottingham with a diverse selection of arts and events, these large scale projects I find really exciting to see happening within the East Midlands.

JF:   I am extremely excited about Here, There and Everywhere (HTE): Africa, delivered by the Midlands-London-Leeds Consortium led by New Art Exchange partnered with QUAD/FORMAT, Mac Birmingham, The Tetley, Delfina Foundation, Primary and Eastside Projects alongside a variety of African Partners.


The innovative and ambitious project will support the UK’s understanding of the vast and significant Contemporary Art scene in Africa. It will provide an opportunity to support Artists/Curators within the region and provide them with a platform to create or showcase their work in the UK. It’s an exciting project currently in development, which I am happy to be involved in alongside Louise Clements at QUAD / FORMAT in Derby.


What do we need to see more of in the East Midlands?

JB:   Art debates have always been rife with discussions on the gallery space, we now see more public art and more exploration in the exhibition and curation of art and we value variety. I’d like to see more use of our empty buildings and of abstract places bringing life to forgotten or quiet parts of city centres. I’d also like to see more symbiosis of urban to suburban creative partnerships drawing in the benefits of each. When we consider the amount of emerging artists in the information age, competition can seem ruthless and unforgiving, this is something I would like to see spoken about more in creative industries, as well as the element of voluntary in the creative community, why must artists be poor? Oddly enough it doesn’t seem to be a topic well addressed; even by creatives themselves. Through the applications we receive we see art becoming increasingly more political (again). I am interested in the debate and discussion surrounding the value of modern day arts, artists and creative professionals both culturally and financially and the impact of this kind of debate in smaller cities.

2 The Spot, Empty Retail Shop, Derby

JF:   Diversity and an open conversation about Leadership, Representation and Decolonising the Arts and Arts Education. I am an advocate of inclusivity, intersectionality and creating accessible spaces. I want to try and create a more diverse creative community in Derby as I feel there is a noticeable and unignorable lack of diversity and representation within our cultural institutions.

Along with this I feel their needs to be more grassroots and artist-lead arts organisations exhibition and project space in Derby, especially led by young people and women. More organisations, businesses and our local authorities need to mass support arts graduates and their intergration within the community post-graduation – in my opinion not enough is being done!


For more information about Divine Locale, head to their website here.

ARTISTS – get your applications in for FLUCTU-8 Festival ‘18! Deadline:15 June.
More info here –