As Sarah Brown takes over at the helm of The Lightbox, Woking, we talked to her about her career in the visual arts, why The Lightbox appeals, and whether you can really 'judge' art.

Where did your journey with art begin and what most excites you about the visual arts?

Like many people, my journey began visiting museums and galleries on school trips. Artists enable us to see and think about the world in different ways which is not only exciting but critical for all of us. That’s why it’s so important that young people have access to the arts, and that creative subjects are included in the national curriculum. Creativity is the foundation of the innovations which will be so essential for our future.

You have curated exhibitions extensively throughout your career - which particularly stand out and why?

I have always enjoyed the process of making exhibitions for audiences and have been very lucky to have worked on historic, solo, group, and contemporary shows from the quinquennial exhibition like British Art Show with over 45 artists, to an exhibition focusing on the overlooked artist, Marlow Moss. They have all been so different and it is very hard to select a single show, but all involve building a relationship with an artist and their work which is an incredible honour.

In addition to curating as Principal Keeper at Leeds Art Gallery, you also commissioned a number of pieces of new work. What does that process look like?

The process can take shape in many different ways, but Lothar Gotz’s wall painting Xanadu springs to mind because that was created specifically for the staircase at Leeds Art Gallery and we worked with Art Fund Art Happens. They are a great platform that includes audiences in supporting the creation of extraordinary commissions, fundraising alongside artists, museums, and galleries to realise ambitious projects. Bringing audience, artist, and location together in that way was a real thrill.

Whilst at Leeds, you also led on a number of key acquisitions for the gallery. Which were you most proud of?

During my time at Leeds, I was involved with major acquisitions of work by Alison Wilding, Anne Hardy, Andy Holden, Martine Syms and with the support and generosity of organisations like Contemporary Art Society, Art Fund, Leeds Art Fund members, and private donors we were able to really grow and develop the collection for everyone to enjoy. Like the Lightbox, Leeds has a fantastic collection, and the opportunity to build and develop that collection played such an important part of my role. Collections are at the heart of an organisation and I feel very strongly that it is our responsibility to acquire the art of our time and ensure collections are there for future generations.

In recent years, you have judged a number of art prizes - the Paul Hamlyn Award, the Hepworth Sculpture Prize, and the Northern Art Prize, amongst others - how hard is it to 'judge' art and why are prizes important?

Prizes and awards are an important way for artists and exhibitions to reach a broader audience. They invite everyone to have an opinion and generate lively debate and discussion about art, artists, and current concerns that we all can contribute to. It has been a great privilege to be involved in the nomination and judging of artist's awards and prizes. I am often introduced to artists that I am unfamiliar with and it was wonderful to see Array Collective win the Turner Prize recently in Coventry. The Paul Hamlyn Award provides invaluable support for artists at a pivotal stage of their career and prizes like The Hepworth Prize for Sculpture and Northern Art Prize recognise achievements and create opportunities for audiences to engage with artists. The Ingram Prize supports artists at the start of their careers and I am looking forward to the winner’s solo show in 2022 at The Lightbox.

It's an exceptionally precarious time for galleries and museums across the UK and internationally. What do you think will be the key to recovery?

The last two years have been incredibly challenging and museums and galleries have proved more valuable than ever - we have all experienced how important creativity is to our mental and physical well-being. The Lightbox has carried out some remarkable work in its’ short history and the staff and volunteer team worked incredibly hard to continue this during the pandemic, finding new, innovative ways of working together. We are part of the social fabric and ecology of the region so it is vital that we are relevant and useful to our local audiences, with our café, shop, garden, exhibitions, and events. These new ways of working have opened up digital engagement and access of audiences who previously could not attend. Visitors have become audiences online and I think that will be an increasingly important part of our offer.

What drew you to The Lightbox and what most excites you about your new role?

From The Ingram Collection, the nationally significant exhibition programme, and award-winning community engagement, The Lightbox is also home to a remarkable collection revealing Woking’s great literary and home of the UK’s first mosque. It’s within easy reach of London but connected to some of the most beautiful countryside in the country. I think it’s ideally placed to be locally relevant and nationally and internationally recognised. I am completely delighted to have been appointed as Director of The Lightbox and it is such a privilege to work with the team who have established The Lightbox over the last 15 years.

What one piece of art would you take to a desert island?

What a tough question – I am afraid the environment of a desert island would not be great for any art so I would opt to take an artist if that is allowed. I am excited to think about the amazing work they would create from the island.