A large-scale retrospective examining Plymouth’s nightlife and culture through the voices of those who’ve experienced it will go on display at The Box – Plymouth’s award-winning museum, art gallery and archive – from 25 June. ‘because the night belongs to us’ will include rarely-seen archival material, oral histories from key nightlife figures, works from artists ranging from Tracey Emin to Beryl Cook and specially commissioned photography and film.

Mod, hippy, punk or raver, all have found their time and space in Plymouth.

‘because the night belongs to us’ explores the fun, the dangers, the relationships, and the drama that we form at night. Through a five-year community project, working with those that were there, this exhibition presents the story of Plymouth’s nightlife over the past 60 years. From the Van Dike Club of the late 1960s to the world-famous Union Street and its club culture of the 1990s - the relationship between music and subcultural identity, experimentation and creativity, from avant-garde jazz, through psychedelia, acid house and hardcore punk are explored and celebrated.

‘because the night belongs to us’ will also highlight the work of those who support the night-time economy; champion the often hidden workforce that work through the night, and look at some of the issues surrounding life at night for a range of people. These issues include safety, violence and drug use with specific experiences explored throughout the exhibition, such as the safety of women at night, unprovoked attacks on clubbers on Union Street, to police raids on clubs.

Tony Davey, Community Engagement Officer and co-curator of the exhibition said: “The aim of the exhibition is to allow people from the city and beyond to recognise themselves and their experiences reflected in an unexpected environment. Stories that are not often told, people who are often under-represented and culture that is often dismissed are explored and celebrated throughout.”

Plymouth’s extensive archives will be highlighted within the exhibition, with documents, photography and film from The Box’s collections helping to tell the story of live music events and raves that were enjoyed by thousands. The Box collection includes around 10,000 hours of film footage and over 2 million photographs, with new material being uncovered in the archives for inclusion in this exhibition. Rare footage from the Westward TV archive will be included throughout the exhibition; newly digitised images from the Western Morning News photographic collection and objects from some of Plymouth’s nightclubs from our Social History collections has been conserved for display. Alongside these, loans from some amazing local private collections will be publically displayed for the first time, including a collection relating to well-known Plymouth punk clubs of the 1970s including Metro, Woods and Clones.

Artworks from some of the UK’s leading artists will be shown, including loans to the exhibition by Tracey Emin, Gillian Wearing, Malcolm Le Grice, Denzil Forrester, Carl Slater, Dan David and Keith Harrison. Alongside these, works from The Box’s art collection by Beryl Cook, Marie Yates and Vincent Bennett help to contextualise, represent and reinforce the experiences of life at night.

‘because the night belongs to us’ is the culmination of a five-year community engagement project called ‘Plymouth After Dark’, which The Box has been running since 2017 to uncover stories and experiences and add even more material to the archives about life in Plymouth when the sun goes down.

A major achievement for the community engagement project were the 50 oral history recordings made with both those with direct connections to the city’s nightlife. These include Jeff Barrett of Creation and Heavenly Records, folk superstar Seth Lakeman, free-improvisation legend Keith Rowe and a host of local legends including performer Katy Tokus, Cultural Vibes founder Verdi, rising star Grace Lightman and original punk Mark Davis. Many of these will be included within the exhibition, but all will be added to the extensive archive collections held by The Box for the region.

The project has also included a series of creative responses and commissions, many of which will be included in the exhibition for visitors to experience and enjoy.

These commissions range from images of communities of interest that meet at night by photographer by Dom Moore; documentary drawings of service and support industries, such as out-of-hours social services, a soup kitchen and the Naval Provost by artist Simon Grennan; a sound installation created with young people from the Southway area of the city by acclaimed composer Simon Dobson; a film exploring the multicultural and multigenerational experience of grass-roots evening football in the city by Imperfect Cinema; films by local students from Plymouth College of Art and University of Plymouth and a range of responses from Plymouth creatives.

Adam Milford, Senior Engagement and Learning Officer and co-curator of the exhibition said: “Collaboration and community engagement have been a key part of the ‘Plymouth After Dark’ project and ‘because the night belongs to us’ will give us a great opportunity to celebrate he contributions that so many people have made. Many of the people involved have been integral to the city’s night-time culture over the past 50 years. We’ve also been lucky enough to have had the support of award winning DJ, psychotherapist and broadcaster Nemone [BBC Radio 6 Music, Radio 2, Radio 1, BBC and ITV], artist Keith Harrison [recent commissions include Jerwood Open, V&A Ceramics Resident, Outlands Network] and award winning journalist, writer and critic John Harris [The Guardian, Rolling Stone, Melody Maker].”

‘because the night belongs to us’ will remain on display at The Box until the end of Sunday 4 September. A related events programme that brings together film, music and community activities will run across the summer. The exhibition will be open from 10am-5pm Tuesday to Sunday and Bank Holidays. Admission is free and there’s no need to book.

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