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Cool new arts venue

Check out Regency Cheltenham's edgy side at the new Chapel Arts gallery whose debut exhibition included the likes of Michael Craig-Martin and Antony Gormley. I know!

So the metropolis may have its White Cubes and Hauser & Wirths, but now Gloucestershire can put its hat in the ring with the capital for cool gallery spaces with the opening in Cheltenham on Friday 17 Feb of Chapel Arts, which for its debut show is exhibiting artworks by the dozen esteemed Royal Academicians, including Antony Gormley, Michael Craig-Martin, Christopher Le Brun and Chris Orr. I know! London eat your heart out!

A print by Michael Craig-Martin

The space, a former Baptist chapel in St James’, Cheltenham’s answer to Hoxton (really, it does actually feel quite edgy on a dark February night and the atmosphere is heightened by a very cool-looking new bar, The Bottle of Sauce, next door), is the brainchild of Ian James, formerly of Martins Gallery in Montpellier Parade. James has a great pedigree in picking out intriguing art and giving gallery goers a great experience – Martins Gallery was actually an extension of his home where visitors were welcomed as guests and could view artworks in domestic situ.

A print by Albert Irvin

Chapel Arts is a new proposition which has expanded James’ imagination to even greater heights. Presented with the glorious six-metre-high building, with stunning original windows and decorative ceiling, James has reimagined the former chapel as a multi-disciplinary arts space for exhibiting paintings and sculpture, as well as hosting music concerts and poetry readings. The design is ingenious with a new mezzanine from where you can gaze down and gain a different perspective on the art below. Upstairs, the space is fully flexible with panels on trackers that can create one, two or three rooms. And downstairs there is a two metre by three-and-a-half metre moveable canvas where artists will be able to create live artworks.

Prints by Christopher Le Brun

James sees Chapel Arts as a new way of thinking about gallery space. “You could have say a string quartet and project close-ups onto the wall,” he says. “The building lends itself to performance.”

A work by Chris Orr waiting to be hung

In March, he’s planning an exhibition that will shine a light on urban art and give a platform to “an amazing group of young artists who have up till now remained on the edges of the established art world.” A show featuring the incredible glass sculptures of Sally Fawkes and Richard Jackson will follow and in July the gallery will be collaborating with the Music Festival. And after that? Watch this space – it seems that James’ imagination knows no bounds.

Chapel Arts, Knapp Road near St James Square, Cheltenham GL50 3QQ. Tel: 01242 580077.

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