Ort Gallery is on a social mission to redefine contemporary visual arts by rejecting the sector’s exclusivity, centring access and equity, and by providing inclusive high quality art experiences. We support this mission with a care-centred approach and give artists, team members, and participants autonomy over their projects.
We believe everyone should have access to high quality art experiences and aim to provide that standard by providing exhibition and professional development opportunities to artists, creatives, and community members.
We are particularly focused on investing in and engaging with community members of the Balsall Heath area that are often overlooked. We use our space to provide our community with art focused events, activities and volunteering opportunities. We believe that art holds transformative power for mental wellbeing, bridging gaps between communities. We believe that you are never too young, too old or too different to learn a new skill or engage with art.
We place Warmth at the heart of all our work. We recognise that galleries are sites of oppression which centre and reproduce white normative and elitist ways of ‘being’ under the supposed guise of neutrality. We are interested in challenging this head on; whilst also committing to creating space for local artists and marginalised community groups of the Balsall Heath and wider Birmingham area to play an active role in shaping such practices, in the hopes of transforming our city and industry.
We are proud to provide exhibition opportunities to Black and Brown artists, those from working class backgrounds, the LGBTQ+ community and artists with disabilities.
We always compensate artists and staff for their work and contribution to our space – no matter the stage of their careers. We strive to provide further earning opportunities through extending artists networks and offering opportunities for them to sell their work.
Ort Cafe was set up in 2011 by Ridhi Kalaria and Josephine Reichert (with the help of short term partner Noemi Rincon). The idea behind the space was that Ridhi and Josie had lived in and travelled to Europe and loved the cafe scene with its vibrant, inclusive nature where the arts were consumed and celebrated in a non-elitist way. The artist scene in Digbeth stood in stark contrast to these experiences and both partners had a wish to create a space that was safe for everyone to access and make their own. The space quickly became a talking point in the city with weekly exhibitions, live music and poetry performances, vegetarian food and home made cakes on offer. Josie and Ridhi ran Ort Cafe for 5 years when they sold it on. It continue to exist and thrive to this day.
Ort Gallery was set up in August 2012 by Josie in the same building. The room above the cafe was empty and Josie set up a deal with landlords to renovate the space and use it for exhibitions until funding could be sought.
In October 2013 Ort Gallery was incorporated as a Community Interest Company, it recruited Ridhi Kalaria and Ian Sergeant as directors and set down its Mission Statement. The reasoning behind the initial decision to incorporate was to become more attractive to potential funders as a non-for-profit organisation. However, the reasoning went above that, as a CIC has clear directives for the directors ensuring that the mission statement remains at the heart of decision making, and profits are reinvested in the organisation. This also gives our local community the clear message that our organisation is ethical with strong core values.
By 2014 Ort Gallery started showing more ambitious exhibitions by International artists Leah Gordon, Ellie Harrison and Juneau Projects. Each artist organised an event allowing the community to become part of the project. This was done in a variety of ways including exhibition opportunities, poetry recitals, a zombie walk and henna workshops.
In 2016 Ort Gallery was successful in receiving Elevate funding from Arts Council over £100k. This allowed us to grow the organisation significantly and increase the ambition of our work, grow our reputation and attract more acclaimed artists and public monies. Our social mission remained at the core of the programming and we soon started representing only artists from underrepresented groups, especially Black and Brown artists.
In 2021 following a tumultuous year Ort Gallery published the ‘Warmth’ report, which, since then, has been the methodology behind all our work. Find out more here.