Gloucestershire may be the home of rugby, horse-racing, and odd things to do with cheese, but that doesn’t mean everyone is an adrenaline junkie with the bruises to show for it! There’s enough arts and culture here to fill every waking moment. Sometimes it’s in plain sight, but sometimes you might have to go look for it…
The Wilson gallery in Cheltenham is Gloucestershire’s largest art gallery, and arguably the centrepiece of the art scene in the county. Free to enter, and home to a café and the Tourist Information Centre, it’s a grand and imposing building with very friendly and helpful staff. In addition to their normal gallery space, they also have frequent roving exhibitions covering myriad topics: they’ve just finished simultaneously hosting one on Queen Victoria and one on art forgery. Next up is A Window into The Wilson.
Aside from paintings, The Wilson continues its role as the key location for art in Gloucestershire with a huge variety of events, talks, and classes – from print-making to creative breakfast sessions to tai-chi in the gallery. The Wilson is also home to the Wilson Arts Collective; a group of 16-25 year old artists who use it as both a meeting place and a springboard for creativity, and hold semi-frequent ‘takeovers’ that showcase creative chaos!
It’s not strictly accurate to call Chapel Arts ‘off the beaten track’, but it’s unknown territory for people who stick to the High Street and the Prom. As it’s named after the old Baptist chapel that the building used to house, you’d be forgiven for accidentally wandering into the Catholic church just before it. A tip: it’s the second building with a graveyard in the garden.
A gallery space with beautiful acoustics, Chapel Arts is a two-for-one deal: it houses local artists and is also a performance space for groups. It recently housed a production of ‘The Parrot, the Poet and the Philanderer’, a play by a local playwright about Victorian poets in Cheltenham. Filled with gorgeous artwork, friendly staff, and a large well-lit performance space, Chapel Arts is well worth a visit. It’s even got a café.
Right next to Chapel Arts is the arts café Flonyx. To be fair, calling Flonyx a mere café is understating it. It’s a creative studio space, complete with photographers’ studios that are rentable by the hour, twenty-four-hour art studios, and photoshoots. It’s the sort of venue that leaks artistic vibes with delicious coffee on top; the perfect place to grab a drink and sit with your notebook.
(Not to mention, their Instagram is full of dog photos, in case you needed another reason to turn up!)
In the old days, before the Brewery redevelopment, finding Smokey Joe’s was akin to trekking through a narrow labyrinth. Now, it’s not so much – so there’s no excuse to not pay a visit.
A vintage American diner with a vegan menu, waffles, and fantastic milkshakes, it’s a great place to go to lunch. But it’s in the evenings that Smokey Joe’s comes into its own. Following their Facebook account will attest to the amazing array of events they have on, from Christmas markets to swing dances to art classes. A personal favourite of mine are the storytelling nights at the end of the month, where people from all walks of life are invited to grab a drink and a chair, and then share a story or two. You certainly learn some interesting things.
In one of the alleys of Westgate Street, tucked away in the shadow of Gloucester Cathedral, is the tiny Tailor of Gloucester Museum. In 1894, Beatrix Potter visited Gloucester and came away with the idea for The Tailor of Gloucester (see, we’ve always been an inspiring place), creating an enduring childhood classic and a strange clock for Gloucester (RIP).
It may be a small museum, but it sends you straight back to childhood. You can explore the kitchen downstairs, and then go upstairs to learn about the real Tailor of Gloucester and the building itself. It’s a very nice link to our literary heritage, and is just shockingly cute.
Only opened in the last few years, Blackfriars Priory in Gloucester is a hidden gem: one of the best preserved Dominican priories in the country, and home to the oldest purpose-built library in the country. Just off the wonderfully named Ladybellegate Street, this incredible venue is both an English Heritage site and a cultural centre. Blackfriars has just recently been the central place for the Gloucester History Festival, which it hosts yearly, and has also held comic book festivals and theatrical productions, as well as not-quite-artsy-but-still-exciting alcohol festivals. Rock the Cotswolds had its launch party here so we know the atmosphere is incredible; don’t miss out!
Painswick is a beautiful place, full of honey-stone buildings, history, and rolling trees. And quirky wearable art festivals.
ACP (Arts Couture Painswick) is both a gallery and shop of unique and beautiful pieces and a festival devoted to body artistry, tucked away in a tiny Cotswold village. Their mission statement says that they ‘inspire extraordinary wearable art’, and you’d be forgiven for coming away thinking that ‘extraordinary’ is an understatement. The body art on display is amazing, full of striking bold designs and colours.
In addition to this, ACP are a charity, and run creative workshops and artistry outreach programmes, aimed at inspiring young people to create more. They’ve even had workshops working with Dyson!
One of the best things about the Cotswolds is the gorgeous array of views right on our doorstep, and Hilles Studio is right in the middle of them. Set in the midst of the beautiful Hilles Estate, which has its own roots in the arts history of Gloucestershire, this studio is available to be hired for your own events, as well as hosting its own. Most intriguingly, the studio hosts yoga and chocolate sessions, which sounds like a dream combination!
The Hilles Studio also has an artist in residence, Saffron Knight, who coordinates and curates events and workshops at the studio. There are frequent classes for children, and even lectures on historical figures such as William Morris, all in a stunning setting.
Rock the Cotswolds is a not-for-profit campaign created to promote the talent and creativity of the area.
It is sponsored by Crowe Clark Whitehill in Cheltenham – their belief in what we’re doing and generous support helps keep the campaign alive and kicking!