“This building is amazing,” said Graham Duncan, surveying Sheffield’s new Art House on Carver Street in the city centre. “Just walking in and looking around is inspiring by itself.”
Of course, this suits perfectly the £1.5 million project’s aim to nurture people’s creativity, no matter what their age, experience or background.
The Art House has been created in part of St Matthews Church, providing a community pottery, workshops, a café and workspaces.
A wide programme of classes will be offered, along with studio time for projects, with tutors - all talented local artists - available to offer a helping hand.
The centre has been almost five years in the making, and came about through a partnership between St Matthews and St Mary’s Community Centre on Bramall Lane, where Graham is director.
“The building was semi-derelict, and the upstairs rooms were not fit for purpose,” said Graham.
“So it needed thoroughly modernising and making up-to-date, otherwise it would have been lost to the community altogether. We’re really pleased with the progress that’s been made.”
Activities start on Saturday, and throughout this month there will be a series of art workshops and demonstrations, all free or for a small charge.
Then, from September 7, a ‘major programme’ of art courses begins.
“We’ll be able to get people into the building so they can see what we’ve got and what we can do,” Graham said. “Everyone is really excited about it.”
The pottery will take up an entire floor. The kiln was being set up when the Sheffield Telegraph dropped by.
“It’ll be the biggest community pottery in Yorkshire, so we’re really chuffed about that,” added Graham.
“We’re kitted out with everything we need. The other rooms will be for other forms of art - watercolours, life drawing, oil painting and textiles.”
The Art House’s approach is that ‘anyone can be creative’.
“Our courses will draw that out of you. Creativity and art is not just for the elite who have it within them. At certain times during the day there will also be courses for people who are homeless and have mental health difficulties, who are often hungry to learn the skills involved with art but don’t have the opportunity to do it.”
Graham said many individuals with the potential to be good artists ‘get put off at school’.
“Quite often schools are not the best at teaching this sort of thing. It’s well researched. Creativity is just a set of skills that, given the right training, anyone can learn.
“Anyone can learn how to take a pencil and look at something with new eyes and make a drawing. They might only be making marks on the paper to represent what they’re looking at, or what’s in their mind... but I’m like that.
“I’ve always thought I cannot draw and cannot paint, but partly through researching this I have been challenging those assumptions as well.”
Courses will be tailored to complete beginners through to those who want to boost their skills to a professional level.
A ‘small core team’ will set the ball rolling at the Art House, with plans for more manpower as momentum picks up.
The programme of classes is being organised by Ali Kitley-Jones, while Sarah Vanic, formerly of Chupinka Pottery on John Street, will run the pottery.
“We’ve also got a whole load of freelance artists who we’ve worked with and are tried and tested,” said Graham. “They’re all good at doing what I said earlier - giving people the confidence to be creative.”
Around £800,000 came from the European Regional Development Fund to cover costs, and St Matthews Church contributed £100,000. Further funding came from the Church Burgesses, JG Graves, Osborne and Sheffield Town trusts.
As for what the Art House brings to Sheffield, Graham believes it builds on the rich opportunities the city already offers to artists.
“Sheffield is really good as a city where artists can thrive and come together. We’re one of the best cities for that, certainly better than Leeds and Manchester for the artistic community.”
He cited Yorkshire Artspace and CADS as examples of similarly successful projects.
“We’re not fighting over a small pool of people – there’s a whole raft of people in Sheffield who will benefit generally.”
Visit www.arthousesheffield.co.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.