New world-renowned cultural centre planned for Lewes

This autumn the world-renowned cultural institution Charleston brings a season of exhibitions and a programme of community projects to central Lewes for the first time.
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Following a period of consultation exploring options for expanding Charleston’s educational and cultural activities, Charleston’s board of trustees and Lewes District Council have agreed a move into the former district council offices in Southover Road, Lewes.

Nathaniel Hepburn, Director of Charleston, said: “Since Charleston reopened after the pandemic, we have been working in partnership with the council and community groups in Lewes to develop a bold and ambitious vision which could transform the cultural life of Lewes and replicate the ‘Rodin effect’ from 1999 when Tate lent the famous Kiss sculpture to the town.

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"It is exciting to be able to announce plans to launch this space in time for a major cultural season happening across Sussex to coincide with the largest contemporary art prize in the world – Turner Prize – being hosted in Eastbourne. It’s a great moment to put Lewes on the map as an important part of the region’s cultural offer.”

Charleston, LewesCharleston, Lewes
Charleston, Lewes

The building had accommodated council offices and a public reception area. However, in June the council will open a new public reception area in the former Paperchase building in Cliffe High Street.

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Charleston’s new space in Lewes will open in September with Bring No Clothes: Bloomsbury and Fashion, the first major exhibition to explore the influence and legacy of the Bloomsbury group on fashion.

It will feature catwalk fashion by the likes of Dior, Fendi and Burberry alongside never-before-seen Bloomsbury portraits and personal items including Virginia Woolf’s handbag, embroidered by Vanessa Bell.

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A second exhibition will be the first UK survey show on leading British contemporary artist Jonathan Baldock, opening concurrently with an exhibition at Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Alongside this will be a free programme of co-produced community projects, artist-led workshops and gallery activities, welcoming families, young people and other community groups to Charleston’s new spaces.

There will be a learning programme for local state schools, further education and higher education groups. A pop-up café for the town operated by Lewes-based Caccia & Tails, and a shop providing retail space for local artists and makers will complete the offer.

Councillor Zoe Nicholson, Leader of Lewes District Council, said: “I’m very excited that Charleston, a world-renowned cultural institution, will soon have a presence in the centre of Lewes. Extending the reach of Charleston to people who may not have visited their home in Firle is an ambition shared by many who will warmly welcome this move. I’m also delighted that we will have a new reception area in the town centre where residents can have all their enquiries handled quickly and efficiently, in addition to the systems we now have in place online.”

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Charleston has been operating as an independent cultural charity in the Lewes district for over 30 years. Founded in 1980 to safeguard the former home of Virginia Woolf’s sister Vanessa Bell and her friend and fellow artist, Duncan Grant, it opened to the public in 1986.

Today Charleston welcomes visitors from all around the world to its rural site in Firle to experience the extraordinary house and studio, a portfolio of festivals including the renowned annual literary festival, and a critically acclaimed programme of exhibitions.