Town’s den of creativity

Art project: The Rotherham Open Arts Renaissance team outside their new base
Art project: The Rotherham Open Arts Renaissance team outside their new base
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ROTHERHAM is the new Berlin?

Fashion spotters may have clocked this phrase blazoned on T-shirts in South Yorkshire of late - and perhaps it shouldn’t be taken entirely tongue-in-cheek.

Interior: Westgate Chambers

Interior: Westgate Chambers

Because, while comparing the little steel town to Germany’s alt-cultural metropolis might be over-egging things just a smidge, the town’s art credentials are set to be boosted next month when work begins on S60’s first ever dedicated studio, gallery and performance space complex.

The £100,000 project - partially funded after the scheme won a TV vote - will see abandoned offices at Westgate Chambers transformed into a 7,000 square foot den of creativity - and drumming workshops.

“The town really has nothing like this,” says Karen Sherwood, chief executive of Rotherham Open Arts Renaissance, the group behind the scheme. “We see this as key to helping develop a strong, healthy and vibrant artistic community here and, yes, creating something of an artistic renaissance.”

And, of course, as Karen points out, that renaissance is somewhat down to you.

Or at least it is if you were one of 3,000 viewers who voted for the development to be granted £50,000 after the proposals featured on TV. It beat several other projects competing for the cash in the National Lottery’s People’s Millions.

“Only 10 of those votes were mine,” says Karen, who also runs Cupola Gallery in Hillsborough, Sheffield. “So there must have been a fair few Rotherham folk supporting the project.

“The town has had some bad press of late what with talk of empty shops and the recession hitting South Yorkshire particularly hard but this is a great chance to boost the area and spark some investment and regeneration.”

The space, a one-time employment centre with a Grade II listed frontage and based above the Onyx Rooms nightclub in Westgate, will include eight studios, a gallery, rehearsal areas and office.

A waiting list for the studios, which it is hoped will be opened by December, has already attracted several names including the town’s Open Minds Theatre Company.

“It’s exciting,” says Karen. “I’m an excitable person but this is just incredibly exciting full stop.”

And those T-shirts? Is Rotherham really the new Berlin?

“Why not?” laughs the 42-year-old of Vere Road, Hillsborough. “There’s people here doing stunning creative things under the radar, they just don’t get the attention which maybe they would in Sheffield. Perhaps we can change that.”

Oh, and the T-shirts’ designers are chuffed their prophecy is becoming reality.

“It was a joke when we made it,” says Alasdair Hiscock of Article, an independent design and magazine company based in Sheffield. “But because of the cheap rents and ample free spaces, more artists and designers seem to be going there. It’s becoming something of a place to be.”

Respect. Or perhaps that should be achtung.