Ten Years of Shop Contemporary

John Leighton, our Visitor Service Manager, looks back 10 years to when he was first appointed to run Nottingham Contemporary’s shop, with the help of Katie Viggers, one of this year’s Craft Fair Contemporary exhibitors.

Our annual Craft Fair Contemporary opens its doors on the evening of Fri 22 Nov and it’s very appropriate that you’ll be able to visit the stall belonging to Katie Viggers & Eightbear. Katie was instrumental in developing our shop and the idea of a craft fair was hers alone.

The first day of September 2009 was my first working day for Nottingham Contemporary, an organisation still without a home but planning to open its doors nine weeks later. I applied for the job of Shop Manager and succeeded despite spending most of the interview telling them it was the wrong job. So here I was, the Customer (now Visitor) Service Manager.

The organisation was in a state of controlled chaos - 11 Nov was inked in as the day the doors would open and at that point there were no actual doors in the concrete shell. Coming from the closeted, corporate comfort of Britain’s largest bookseller meant that while I was confident about what I thought we could sell, but no real idea about how to do it. I was comforted by finding a consultant document on the shop. A thick page turner designed to replicate just about every Gallery/Museum shop you’ve ever seen. I think I lost faith with it on page one where it confidently stated that given a lead time of six months, all this could be achieved. We were now down to 8 weeks.

Katie Viggers
John Leighton

Before I could build a shop, I had to build a team. We received over a thousand applications for Front of House roles and interviewed close to a hundred of them. Katie Viggers has been interviewed for the Shop Manager position. I’d worked with her before and I needed help. Katie agreed to help open the shop. Had she not, I doubt we would’ve had a shop to open and I doubt I’d have lasted very long.

Buying books is relatively easy, especially when you can hide your mistakes in the vast shelves of a big bookshop. Every decision we would make would be glaringly obvious.

Stock was one issue, but we had to research, source and order an Epos system. The shop units designed by the building architects were attractive yet presented practical limitations. For all that was frustrating, it paled compared to not being able to get into the building for so long. Inevitable delays meant we would have no chance to have any kind of trial opening of the shop. It would go out on the opening morning for the first time.

Katie knew a lot about children’s books, like me she was blagging the rest, but her instincts were very good. We established a principle that continues today. Our buyers are sympathetic to each others interests but we buy what we think we can sell and back ourselves. We’ve made mistakes, we’ve found out the hard way that there are some products you’d call dead cert gallery shop winners that have sat sadly on the shelves before entering the tailspin of the clearance sale process and let’s not talk of branded items.

Our craft fair is now in its 9th year and has established itself as a highlight in Nottingham Contemporary’s calendar. With every passing year the quality of stalls improves and we’ve got better at putting it on. This year the very best of contemporary print, Jewellery and design will be available alongside a brilliant exhibition, all for free. Its fitting that Katie and Eightbear will be there to celebrate with us, I hope you can too!

Katie had ambitions beyond us, after two whirlwind years her alter-ego as a talented illustrator with an obsession with bears could not be denied and she relocated to glamorous Walthamstow to start Eightbear and a family.

Eightbear, survived the mysterious emergence of a ninth species of bear to become one of our most popular suppliers of books, prints and cards. Her books are being re-issued through Laurence King and global domination is surely approaching.

This may be the last Craft Fair we have before she goes global, come and say hello while you have the chance.

Nottingham Contemporary in association with Eightbear is offering you the opportunity to win a set of the original Eightbear books as well as the Almost an Animal World map print.

To enter the competition, just email info@nottinghamcontemporary.org with what you are hoping to buy at this year's craft fair. The winner will be selected and announced on Fri 1 Nov.