The Baldwin Gallery The Baldwin Gallery

Finbarr's practical and inspirational advice and his sheer confidence in me have made all the difference in the first year of extremely hard work




Name: Dennison Baldwin Smith

Course: MA in Creative Writing, PhD in Creative and Critical Writing

The Baldwin Gallery is unique in it's use of narrative and the interdisciplinary as a platform for appreciating visual and applied arts. We offer art in context and relationship and forge links between artists with strong place-based philosophies, whether indigenous North American or European. We offer quarterly literary, academic and performance salons to create community and expand the appreciation and understanding of contemporary art.

An elegant home-based gallery, we think art should be an integrated experience. 'One taste' is the expression. From the white cube to the bedroom wall, or even open the closet, and it's there.

And so we bring contemporary art into the European home life, with special attention to indigenous North American artists. Inspired by the Native American understanding of art as who you are, where you live, what you breathe, and not as mere commodity. The Baldwin Gallery's motto is Art is Home.

How did UEA Student Enterprise help you?

Finbarr Carter at the Enterprise Centre helped to guide me through the many stages of imagining and creating a business. His practical and inspirational advice and his sheer confidence in me have all made the difference in the first year of extremely hard work. The Student Enterprise team also helped to prepare me for my application for the Graduate Entrepreneur Visa, carefully vetting my business plan before submission.

What worries did you have while setting up your business, and how did you overcome them?

The greatest worries involved time, energy and money. Starting a business whilst finishing my PhD was not the wisest move on my part, and there's no doubt I'm overworked. Yet it was important to move forward quickly - doors were open and I wanted to walk through. I continue to 'keep calm and carry on' by attempting to take two approaches simultaneously:

  • to address one task at a time, and think only of the need at hand
  • to revisit the overview, the vision, the short and long-term needs and goals of the entire enterprise daily. This way I stay on top of everything without letting the thousand-and-one tasks turn into stress.

As to the money, I am applying for grants through Student Enterprise, and with regard to my personal investment in my business, I'm constantly reminding myself that you've got to spend it to make it. I'm trying to catch the balance of being thrifty and fully committed to investing in my vision.

What motivates you?

For me the question 'what motivates you' is a little different. It's more 'why does a novelist, in the throes of finishing her fourth book, open an art gallery'? What looks like a curve ball isn't.

Unusually for a novelist, the most important players in my life have often been fine artists. I have taken my inspiration from, and my intentions have been shaped by, the visual arts, even more than the literary. As a mother, I spent many long days in the National Gallery with a baby hitched to my back - becauze you aren't going to read Crime and Punishment to keep a baby happy. As a young struggling writer, I spent my starving artist years in Cornwall, where my dumpster diving boyfriend provided the food, and I whipped up large dinner parties for other young struggling artists. Some of them are quite successful today, amongst them Tim Shaw RA and Alexandra Roussopoulos, who I will be showcasing at The Baldwin. But the sense of community forged in those early years continues, and today it takes shape as an art gallery. 

I've always flipped back and forth between the solitude of writing and the collaborative spirit of entrepreneurship. The gallery is just the latest manifestation. 

Far more unusual is the impact that a Navajo family of shepherds had on my life. Taken into their family and initiated into their customes, I acquired a deep respect for their integrated worldview and it's expression through art. These continue to shape my novels, and now The Baldwin Gallery. I consider The Baldwin's commitment to Native North American art a way of giving back.

How do you define success?

Success has numerous faces. I'm seeing some of those faces already: a happy productive team, a beautiful product, and the excitement and commitment of our artists. Later, I aim to see a good income for everyone involved, fully booked salons and private viewings, artists work selling swiftly and their reputations continuing to grow, and The Baldwin Gallery becoming known and respected in the art world. 

What has been your most satisfying moment in business?

These are early days, and I imagine the first show and the first sale will be hugely satisfying. But thus far, the most satisfying moment was witnessing the commitment and excitement of my team, the first day we got together around my kitchen table.

What piece of advice would you give to university students who want to become entrepreneurs?

Do it. And keep breathing.