This stunning gallery has become a must-visit for locals and visitors to Cambridge, writes Siobhan Godwood
Byard Art is a real Cambridge institution, familiar to so many of us for its beautiful, striking window displays and prominent King’s Parade location. So it might come as a surprise to learn that it started life in a different city entirely. “The gallery is named for Byard Lane in Nottingham, where it started life as a commercial gallery in 1993,” explains Jessie White at Byard Art. The name remained when the gallery relocated to St Mary’s Passage in Cambridge in 1998, and finally in 2009 to its current location. “We feel really fortunate to be in such a wonderful location, because King’s Parade is one of the most important streets in Cambridge,” continues Jessie. “So many tourists come along here to see King’s College, and of course Cambridge locals know we’re here too; it’s really the heart of the city.”
That mix of tourists and locals is a big part of the huge success of Byard Art. “We have a core of regular, local customers who come back to us frequently,” explains Jessie. “Art is such a personal thing, and because we know our subject really well, we can offer a lovely service to our customers, recognising them and suggesting things that we think they might like, or new work from artists that we know they’ve bought before.”
As well as being good for business, these relationships makes the gallery a really fantastic place to work. “It’s lovely when a customer that we know comes in, it’s like seeing an old friend. And because everyone who works here is an art lover in one way or the other, either as a working artist or a background in art history, we have a real shared interest with our customers. We all feel really lucky to be able to combine our passion with our job, and it’s great to be able to help people find what they’re looking for; we’re a very friendly, personable gallery.”
Of course, with the huge numbers of tourists that Cambridge attracts, Byard Art also gets visitors from all around the world; but it’s not just passers by, en route to King’s College, that comprise the gallery’s international clientele. Several times a year, Byard Art takes its show on the road and visits international art fairs. They visit four exhibitions in London, as well as cities as diverse as Stockholm, Seattle, Amsterdam and New York. “These fairs raise the profile of the gallery,” says Jessie, “but they also give our artists a chance to exhibit in other cities, which is really important for their profiles, too.”
The team choose work from eight to ten artists for each fair, and sell the work there and then, although visitors to their stands at fairs often get in touch afterwards to buy other work which can then be shipped to wherever they are in the world, and customers who have seen the gallery at fairs often come back to see them when they visit Cambridge. Of course, international visitors often don’t want to carry large paintings home with them when they travel, so their purchases can be shipped to them, too.
Although they are building up their international collection of artists, Byard Art’s main collection of artists is based in the UK, including a number of artists from Cambridge and the surrounding East Anglia area. They do a special exhibition every year called Up Your Street, which focuses on these local artists. “We feel it’s nice for visitors to Cambridge who want to see something that celebrates our beautiful city and countryside, as well as local customers who like to see their home town represented,” says Jessie.
Each year the gallery hosts between eight and ten exhibitions, from mixed theme shows to solo shows, mostly in the upstairs gallery. Then downstairs they exhibit their regular gallery artists, whose work they show all year round. “It’s good to have some artists on display all the time,” explains Jessie. “We find that often people will see a piece that they love, then go away and think about it for a few weeks or months, and come back and ask if we still have it. Then quite often, even if we don’t have that same exact piece, we can tell them that we have that artist on display downstairs so they can perhaps find something else that they love just as much.”
"The gallery is really magical at Christmas"
Byard Art also has three floor to ceiling cabinets, filled with unique, handmade jewellery that you can’t find anywhere else in Cambridge. “A lot of people might feel intimidated about walking into a gallery, believing that there won’t be anything on display that they could afford,” Jessie says, “but our jewellery covers a huge range of prices, and we also display ceramics, crafts and sculptures: so there really is something for everyone.” The gallery even does a gift list service, so that if you’re planning a wedding or have a special birthday or anniversary coming up, you can ask your friends and family to contribute towards a special piece of art or even a personal commission from one of Byard Art’s exhibiting artists.
As we approach the festive season, keep your eyes open for Byard Art’s Christmas Cracker Exhibition, which starts with an opening on 18 November with mulled wine and mince pies. All the artists that exhibit with the gallery throughout the year will be represented, so it’s a real treasure trove of lovely things to suit all budgets. “The gallery is really magical at Christmas,” says Jessie, “and we offer a chance to browse beautiful art, crafts and jewellery while ticking friends and relatives off your present list!”
So next time you’re on King’s Parade admiring Byard Art’s fabulous windows, why not step inside? You never know, you might discover your new favourite artist, or find the perfect gift for yourself or someone special.
Byard Art, 14 King’s Parade, Cambridge, CB2 1SJ | 01223 464646