Got 20x20 vision?

Seeing double: Organiser Lisa Wallbank.           Picture: stuart hastings
Seeing double: Organiser Lisa Wallbank. Picture: stuart hastings
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THE only rule is it must be on a board 20 inches by 20 inches.

“Other than that you can do what ever you want,” says James Wallbank. “As long as it’s not illegal, of course.

Welcome, reader to preparations for the annual Sheffield 20x20 exhibition.

Now in its seventh year, this unique show invites city folk to submit a piece of art – with organisers guaranteeing that, as long as it meets those measurements, it will go on public display.

“Painted, pencilled or pastel, it doesn’t matter,” says James, founder of Access Space, the technology and art charity which runs the exhibition at its Sidney Street centre. “You can do a collage, a conceptual piece or a comic book picture. We just want people to do something - anything – creative.”

It can also be not very good.

“One year we had a submission which was basically a plain white background with the words ‘404 idea not found’,” explains James, who runs the centre with wife Lisa. “What does it mean? Who knows. Was it any good? Debatable. Did it go display? Of course. This is a complete democratisation of art.

“Think of it like the Olympics. It’s great people got enthused about it but now it’s about trying to turn that into people going out and doing sport.

“We’re similar in that Sheffield is great for people who like to go and look at exhibitions but this is about saying to people come and have a go at it too, get involved, anyone can do it, and it’s good for you. For this show, if it comes in, it goes up. And it goes up with just a name and a title.”

And it’s growing every year.

Access Space – which aims to improve access to technology and the arts for people who may otherwise not have such opportunities – opened in April 2000.

Its first 20x20 exhibition in 2006 attracted barely a handful of entrants. Last year there were 60 with the works later being shown off on The Moor. This year, with the deadline for pieces not until September 12, there have already been 45 confirmed submissions.

About a third tend to come from professionals, a third from youngsters and “a third from people who just get a kick out of doing it,” notes James, who has had work displayed at Tate Britain in London.

“It’s a great equaliser,” he explains. “We ask people to nominate their favourite work without knowing anything about the artist. Last year the most popular was by a teenager – that was great.”

Work for the show needs to be submitted to Access Space, based in the AVEC Building, in Sidney Street, by September 12.

Boards measuring 20x20 can be picked up from the centre for £3.50 but work can be done on any board of those measurements. The show runs September 15 to November 17 with a preview night on the 14th. Details at

What is access space?

IT goes about its business without courting much publicity – but Access Space is doing impressive things in Sheffield.

Set up by James Wallbank in April 2000, the charity offers the young and disadvantaged access to computers, electronics, photography, design and art at its Sidney Street centre.

Workshops, drop-in classes and support sessions in everything from IT to programming, drawing to designing, are all offered on a regular basis.

It is run by six part-time staff and several volunteers, and overseen by a board of trustees.