Art field of dreams

Unbelievable effort: Lea and Ashley Gage at the new art gallery inside the Grade 2 listed Lion Works. picture barry richardson
Unbelievable effort: Lea and Ashley Gage at the new art gallery inside the Grade 2 listed Lion Works. picture barry richardson
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IT is an inauspicious place for a cultural revolution, perhaps, this Victorian metal mill in Neepsend.

“We have light industry companies all around us,” says sculptor Simon Wigglesworth-Baker. “We get on well but I’m sure the staff sometimes wonder what these arty weirdos are doing.”

Ah.

Allow The Diary to explain, then.

Here in the Grade 2 listed Lion Works, in Ball Street, those ‘arty weirdos’ have spent the last 12 months creating what they hope will become a cultural destination capable of attracting thousands of visitors to one of Sheffield’s least glamorous areas.

A network of open studios has already been built (and largely occupied) while, this weekend, the project’s flagship gallery and performance space - based on an old factory floor - will be unveiled for the first time.

“It might seem like an unusual place but it’s that old Kevin Costner quote, isn’t it?” says Simon, founding member of the 23-strong Kelham Island Arts Co-operative, which is behind the scheme. “‘If you build it they will come’.

“Well, we’ve built it - now we’re just hoping people will come. And if they do, we’re sure it can help to regenerate the whole area by bringing visitors to Neepsend.”

Attractions at the new gallery - called gage - will include both touring and local artists with theatre, dance and music performances also planned.

And if Costner’s Field Of Dreams was a success, there’s no reason why this shouldn’t be either. Especially given the work gone into getting this far.

Two years ago, Simon - a one-time arts teacher at Stocksbridge High School- was looking for studio space after his previous base in nearby Mowbray Street “started falling down around me”.

He stumbled on an advert for space in the Victorian Lion Works, spoke to the landlord and moved in.

But on his first day he opened a neighbouring unit’s door and stumbled on what, straight away, he wanted to turn into a gallery.

“It was an abandoned factory floor,” says the 51-year-old of Neepsend.

“But because it has this huge skylight ceiling, it’s flooded with the sort of natural light most galleries would kill for.

“It was obvious it would make a fantastic exhibition space.”

So, together with those 22 other artists who slowly took up residence in this new KIAC complex, they went about turning it into one.

“It’s been an unbelievable amount of effort,” says Lea Gage, one of those 22. “Stripping, cleaning, painting - I’ve had my son Ashley in here working with me - but when I look at it now, almost ready to open, it’s definitely been worth it.”

And that first exhibition will now launch on Saturday.

It’s called Intrinsics and will feature work by Sheffield artists Foster M and Crampton.

And after that?

KIAC is looking for more artists, theatre groups and musicians who want to host work there. “It’s a fantastic venue in the heart of historic Sheffield,” says Simon, again. “We just...want people to come.”

Intrinsics opens Saturday 6 - 9pm. To inquire about exhibiting work, email sibaker48@hotmail.com

Gage: The First Exhibition

IT’S called Intrinsics and it has been created by Sheffield artists Foster M and Crampton.

But - some advice - don’t ask if either are looking forward to it.

“No,” answers Mr M, when The Diary wonders. “It should be alright,” is Crampton’s slightly more lucid response. Then both disappear.

That’s artistic temperament for you, explains Simon Wigglesworth-Baker.

What they meant to say, notes the founding member of Kelham Island Art Co-operative, is that Intrinsics is “the beginning of a philosophy, a new way of thinking, hearing and seeing painting as the only visual art experience”.

So, now you know.