From cyclist to gallery owner: TSOTA meets Zack Whitehead, owner of The Old Grammar School Gallery in Otley



The Old Grammar School Gallery, located in Otley, is a beautiful space for local artists to exhibit and sell their own artwork. With its growing success after opening in January 2013, the TOGS gallery has seen many successful exhibitions, and once a month opens its space for the highly popular Chippendale’s Indoor Market. The State of the Arts recently got a chance to meet gallery manager, Zack Whitehead to find out more on his dramatic career change from a semi-professional cyclist to an art entrepreneur.

TSOTA: Hi Zack! So art, if you could own any piece what would you have and why?
ZW: One of the best paintings we ever had in the gallery was by one of our artists called Paula Dunn. She did a huge canvas painting of a beach in Skinning Grove up on the East coast and it was stunning. The type of painting that could stop you in your tracks and you could lose yourself in. We had it in the gallery for a while due to the size of it, which made it more difficult to sell and I secretly hoped it would never sell so I could enjoy it. Sadly at the beginning of this year it sold and went off to its new home. At least we have prints available of it in the gallery!

TSOTA: What do you think is important about art?
ZW: For us it’s been able to offer original art at an affordable price so that more people can enjoy it. We also try to promote local artists as much as we can.

TSOTA: From bike racing to owning an art gallery, what made you change?
ZW: Just before retiring off the bike I was involved in a crash that left me unable to do pretty much anything, so I decided to plan to own my own business so that if a similar accident happened it wouldn’t put as a big stress on me financially. Later that year I decided to retire off the bike but plans were already in place to open the gallery, and the rest as they say was history.

TSOTA: What was it like to convert and old grammar school into an art gallery – why this space?

ZW: Fortunately my mother in-law owns the building and still to this day they run the architects practice on the upper floor in the gallery. They don’t mind us as long as we make them coffees often! Before we moved into the ground floor of the building it was an extended office for the architects and being big art collectors it was already kitted out like a gallery as it displayed their own large collection of art. We decided the space would make a great commercial gallery and moved them out. With a few alterations it was ready to go.




Credit: Inside TOGS Gallery



TSOTA: What do you think of the current art scene in Leeds and the surrounding area?
ZW: Since opening the gallery I have worked mostly 6-7 days a week. Unable to get out and about, I rarely get chance to get into Leeds City Centre, but the buzz in Otley itself is quite amazing. We have a large artist base and also now have over 9 art spaces, and for such a small town this is great. Each gallery has its own style and you could easily spend a morning or an afternoon walking around Otley’s art spaces alone.

TSOTA: Where do you think your gallery fits in this Otley scene then?
ZW: I have met some amazing artists over this past year or so and I have wanted to work with them. Sadly however, my business head has to come on and at the end of the day bills need paying so we are a commercial gallery, which means we need to sell. Sometimes though, this means playing it safe and often people have come into my gallery and commented that we are too traditional for them. I obviously disagree but we do like a landscape. We do try to work outside the box and have given exhibitions to graffiti artists as well as classically trained landscape artists so it’s an interesting mix at times. Ultimately I would say the paintings and work you see in the gallery are very much my own taste as I have to look at them all day!

TSOTA: Your gallery exhibits a lot of local artwork. Do you think there is enough display for locals in Otley?
ZW: I think it’s important to support local artists and opening up our space enabled artists to get that exhibition space they would normally have to travel further for, which is a shame for Otley. One of our main selling artists in Otley is Julia Odell who does some amazing local landscapes and has already had two successful exhibitions with us.

TSOTA: What can we look forward to in the future with The Old Grammar School Gallery?
ZW: Each year is a new challenge and ultimately we have a ten year plan but as with any business, this is hard to stick to and things change. Next year we are looking at doing a series of joint exhibitions, so any interested artists can get in touch with us via our website, Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks Zack!

Jasmin Vincent


To find out more about The Old Grammar School Gallery visit the website for updates on exhibitions and featured artists.

Follow TOGS Gallery @togsgallery

If you wish to get in touch with Zack to exhibit or hold a stall at Chippendale’s Indoor Market, you can email at [email protected]






Filed under: Art & Photography