“It’s nice to be pioneering again,” said Kate Dore, the director of Sheffield’s Yorkshire Artspace, describing her vision for the studio network’s future which visitors will be able to catch a glimpse of this weekend.
The organisation’s Open Studios event returns tomorrow (Friday), Saturday and Sunday, when visitors will be able to meet 150 artists across Yorkshire Artspace’s three sites, watching them in action and finding out about their craft.
Demand from artists for workspace in the city is soaring, in line with a Sheffield University report published earlier this year, which pointed out that demand for studios increases with supply.
Kate’s group led the way with Persistence Works, an award-winning, £4.25 million complex on Brown Street in the heart of the Cultural Industries Quarter, which offers workspaces for 70 artists of all persuasions.
The buuilding was joined in 2010 by Manor Oaks Studios, which has four large rooms for artists, and in 2013 by Exchange Place Studios – originally built in 1927 for WH Smith, and later used as transport offices behind the now-demolished Castle Market.
“Castlegate is one of the most promising places in Sheffield,” said Kate, who has been with Artspace for nearly 25 years.
“We’re starting to realise what its potential could be.”
Exchange is 100 per cent full with 80 artists, who can access their studios 24 hours a day.
Among the occupants is woodworker Henk Littlewood, who was one of the first to move in three years ago. Previously he was working in a ‘pretty dire garage set-up in Chesterfield’, he said.
“Most of my clients are in Sheffield so I came here for a really decent location,” he said.
“The things I like about it are the other artists, mostly. I was working on my own, and that’s not really a good thing, for all sorts of reasons.”
Henk showed off his latest works – a fine mantelpiece made from English yew, a shelf carved out of ash and an extraordinary wooden cabinet, shaped like a womb and made for a fellow artist ‘obsessed with Dante and the grotesque’.
Folds were created inside the cabinet, allowing jewellery to be stored inside.
“I exhibited it at Art in the Gardens – some people were repelled, I’m not going to lie, and some people just thought it was fab,” he admitted.
Meanwhile, Sam Bryan’s studio is a treasure trove of objects and artefacts, ranging from toys and children’s books to brightly-coloured yarn and fabric, which all feed into her line of work – making fairies.
Sam’s dog Betty, a wire-haired daschund, pads around her feet as she explains more.
“They’re not your classic fairies – they’re my own fairy species,” said the artist, who was making progress with five new pieces to take to a ‘handmade expo’ in Munich later this month.
“They’ve got vehicles, helmets, woolly bottoms and all sorts of things.”
Sam has been at Exchange Place since last September. Her husband lives in Sheffield so she relocated from West Yorkshire.
She said the Open Studios event offered visitors valuable insight.
“I go out and do retail shows a lot, but to see an artist actually in the space gives a background to what we do. You can’t really replicate it.”
Signmaker Russ Young moved from Lincoln to Sheffield ‘just because of affordable art space’.
Prices at Yorkshire Artspace are around £7 per square foot, when the average commercial rent would be more than double.
“Everyone’s in the same boat here,” said Russ.
“If you’re on your own it can be a bit isolating, but when you see others struggling or their successes it’s equally inspiring.”
He said Open Studios showed that art was a viable industry.
“It shows that it’s doable. Whereas if we were all locked away it would feel like a bit of a mystery.
“There might be a myth that artists are in a cave, but I don’t think it’s the way at all.” Gill Alderson, who works in mixed media, agreed with Russ’ sentiment.
“I’m building a really good network of friends,” said Gill, who also brings her dog – Ella, a black Labrador – to work.
“I live in Derbyshire so travel quite a way – the idea for me is I can just leave things out if I want to, and think quietly.”
Gill had just finished making a cabinet for an exhibition called Curious Cabinets, and was experimenting with the idea of placing oyster shells under a glass dome for a show on theme of ‘courtly love’.
She said opening up her studio was a ‘pleasurable thing’, adding: “You do loosen up.”
Kate, who is chair of the Sheffield Culture Consortium for the next year, is focusing on efforts to buy the art deco building from the council.
A decision is expected to be made at a cabinet meeting later this month and, if successful, an application will be submitted to the Arts Council asking for just under £500,000 to carry out repairs.
Already £200,000 has been spent on the place to mend damage caused by metal thieves who broke in.
“My number one ambition is to keep Exchange Place Studios open for the artists that are here,” she said.
l Persistence Works and Exchange Studios are open tomorrow from 5pm to 9pm, and on Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 4pm. Manor Oaks Studios will be open on Saturday, 11am to 7pm, and on Sunday from 11am to 4pm. Entry is free. Family-friendly activities are held at the weekend, and there are cafés at all three sites.