Art Practice in a Social Context – SYMPOSIUM


I went to this symposium this week, the aim of which was to explore and examine the role that art, artists and arts organisations can play in communities and neighbourhoods.

Can the arts and artists make a valuable contribution to a neighbourhood?

The event took place at the Knutton Road Studios, part of the new SOAR Works mixed-use development, in the heart of Parson Cross neighbourhood, Sheffield. This innovative model of culture within regeneration and housing renewal initiatives was a starting point for imagining the role that artists and studios could play within the ongoing development of a community. The morning saw presentations from resident artists commissioned by Yorkshire Artspace during 2011. There was an introduction from Rachael Dodd, Programme Manager, about the rationale for working in Parson Cross, the focus on arts practice within this social context and the research being supported by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

Steve Manthorp introduced Turning Point, the national initiative to give a voice to the visual arts sector, and asked “In a harsh economic climate, how can engaged practice be made sustainable? Should it be expected to demonstrate a return on investment and if so, how?” Turning Point is a national initiative, led by a network of regional groups who want to galvanise the visual arts sector nationally. It has started to drive regional leadership for the visual arts and encourage greater co-operation, collaboration and communication.

During the afternoon we explored the role that buildings can play within communities and how artists and arts organisations can be part of developing their use. There was a presentation from Francis McKee Director of the CCA Glasgow (Centre for Contemporary Arts), who talked about how they have shaped and adapted their building and programme in changing times. This was followed by representatives from SOAR Enterprises and Yorkshire Artspace talking about SOAR Works and the Knutton Road Studios.

How can artists contribute to a successful neighbourhood?

Rachael Dodd, Programme Manager Yorkshire Artspace gave an introduction to the day and the Yorkshire Artspace Research Programme in Parson Cross. Part of the project looked at defining socially engaged practice and there were discussions around this theme throughout the day. The Knutton Road residency programme is about community engagement, but its also about finding out for Yorkshire Artspace what they can do to improve the impact or influence of artists working in community settings. The new neighbourhood studio development at Knutton Road in Sheffield is run by SOAR. Up to 9 artist studio spaces, within the mixed use building, will be managed by Yorkshire Artspace. The idea was to place artists in the heart of the community. The building is situated behind a row of shops and is surrounded on all sides by housing. A neighbourhood artists residency programme was established across 3 sites in the city; Knutton Road, the flagship Persistence Works in the city centre and Manor Oaks Studios to the south of the city. The plan was to find artists who could engage with others to make work. An engagement research programme, supported by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation was established for the neighbourhoods. The project helped embed Yorkshire Artspace in the neighbourhoods where they have had little impact previously, but more importantly would encourage them to think differently about how they, and artists, engaged with local communities in a meaningful and impactful way. What has taken place is a genuine exchange and interaction between people who happen to be artists and other people who happen to live in areas local to studios. The project pushes beyond basic community workshops. To put this research in context Parson Cross is an interwar garden city council estate. After the utilitarian idealism of the the 1930s the estate has seen long periods of decline. Since 2000 it has been part of targeted Creative Places and Housing Market Renewal intitiatives. As part of those initiatives art and culture were placed at the heart of regeneration and development. This new utopia was about more than just housing. The idea was to develop creative hubs in the hearts of communities. Eventus, Museums Sheffield and others have all been involved in the cultural life of the estate. The work that they had undertaken clearly showed that beneath the surface there are people who want to engage, who want to get involved. This can be hard sometimes but its about finding the right way to reach so-called difficult audiences. Sometimes the best way to “reach” might be just talking.

Steve Pool and Kate Genever, the first resident artists, have social engagement at the heart of their collaborative practice. By talking to local shopkeepers they developed relationships. They talked to them about “useful solutions” for their shops. Lisa Gallagher made garments with residents. All residencies took on a collaborative working approach. Ruthie Ford ( ran 1 day per week guerrilla knitting for 6 weeks in the old library. Make! Do! Grow! was a collaborative adventure into urban growing and craft ( The residencies have encouraged artists to try new things but this was not a social experiment making an anthropological study of the “residents”. It was clearly important not to alienate the community.

Steve Pool & Kate Genever (who interestingly studied as a printmaker, which as you know is a very sociable artform) are artists in their own right but they also regularly work collaboratively. They are against “elitism” and for “proactive-social practice”. At Parson Cross they looked to new ways of working. “We want to make work that is not individual.” This is work which is truly interactive. It is developed out of conversations about what is “needed”. In their practice they explore ideas of small changes having some impact. If money is taken out of a situation, what is it that people value? There were individual conversations that looked at the idea of exchange: “These are our skills what do you need from us?” A conscious decision was made not to work with established groups, choosing instead to work locally in the heart of the community. All of this contributed to raising profile of the studio developments. It was felt by the artists that it was important to recognise the history of creative activity in the area, rather than jumping in and saying “here we are…the expert artists are here, we are going to change your neighbourhood”. They wanted to do things for people. Make work that would be “useful”. For a local bed shop Steve Pool took a picture of a sunset, for a sandwich shop Kate Genever painted a picture of a large sandwich. The nearby English Cafe wanted photos which would start conversations so a collection of old photos of the estate was gathered. Stallions, the barbers shop, wanted a neon sign, and Kath wanted Rose’s Hardware shop to be decorated. The artists also sub-commissioned 4 artists to develop ideas for multiples. Peter Griffiths, Tessa Bunny, Paul Allender (who was brought up on the estate.) and Psalt Design all came on board. Bread tools were made (the bread baked using the tools would be the multiple to be shared across the estate) a photographic portrait of the community was developed into a magazine for waiting rooms and public spaces, window vinyls depicting estate skylines were developed and a film of the estate was made. The artists are committed to Ruskin’s concept of aesthetics for the everyday man. The value in the work is in the building up of connections. “This is about engaging with people, not about improving skills or something.” A significant level of trust is necessary between commissioner and the artist. The artists need to be able to have freedom to explore the ideas that interest them. There’s so much stuff being made and at what point does that stop being valuable. Artists have a social obligation to be socially active. That said the artists are averse to a do-gooder role. They find their role morally problematic. They are, after all, being paid to be artists who come into communities to make stuff. But on the question of sustainabilty it is important to measure impact in terms of relationships developed and maintained. “We are still friends with some of the people we have worked with. As artists it’s hard to leave the people you’ve worked with behind.”

Francis McKee, Director CCA Glasgow, then talked about adapting and shaping a failing public building through engaging directly with its public and local communities. A sense of community ownership has been encouraged which Francis McKee assured us has turned around the building and its community. It has re-invented itself as a necessity for communities in the city of Glasgow. Experimentation has been an enormous part of this regeneration. Offices were emptied and the empty room become a Creative Lab: A residency room. CCA now gets 150 applicants every year from around the world to use this space. An other well-lit, south facing room became a greenhouse. Staff grew tomatoes and runner beans and shared them with people who were coming into the building. People could take away what they wanted. CCA became an open source building, all rooms became available. The cinema is now in constant use. Bands use the performance space. And in return CCA gets to develop its programme and attract audiences. People began to reclaim ownership. As curatorial control diminished, so audiences increased. In return for subsidised rents the community has to contribute to the programme.

People come together because there is a particular need. Art has the power to transform expectations, ambitions, outlook, ways of thinking. Chance encounters with art, artists or creative people can be liberating. Culture is one of the things we can’t do without.

Information about Yorkshire Artspace

PW10 is an excellent opportunity celebrating 10 years of persistence works featuring objects for sale made in editions of 10. All the proceeds from the sale of the Paul Morrison piece, a limited edition mirror polished stainless steel laser etching entitled ‘Cicad’, will help Yorkshire Artspace to continue their work with different community groups in the new studio neighbourhoods of Manor Oaks and Parson Cross.

Knutton Road Studios is loated at: SOAR Works, Knutton Road, Parson Cross, Sheffield, S5 9NU

To apply for studio space at Knutton Road Studios:

More about the Yorkshire Artspace Residency Programme and our work in Parson Cross on our website at:

And keep up to date with the latest from our Resident Artists via our residency journals on our website at:

A brief history of ‘initiatives’ in Parson Cross area \ The work in Parson Cross, which ultimately led to the Knutton Road neighbourhood studios is built on many years of joined up thinking in the North East of Sheffield, which has expanded to the rest of the city .

• 1999: Southey Owlerton area awarded Single Regeneration Budget (SRB) funding.

• 2000: Creative Futures, a cultural action plan for NE Sheffield (Eventus) commissioned through SRB, matched culture to all 7 locally identified regeneration themes.

• 2002: Southey Owlerton Area Regeneration (SOAR) Neighbourhood Strategies used teams of planners, artists and landscape architects to work with local people to capture a vision and identity for each neighbourhood (6 in total)

• 2005 – 2007: Sheffield City Council awarded Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) / Local Government Association (LGA) Cultural Pathfinder Status on the back of work in Southey / Owelerton. This evaluated the impact of culture on 4 shared local and central government priorities of health, community safety, environment and economic vitality.

• 2006-2008: Creative Exchange, funded by Objective 1 set up to support the spread of creative and digital industries into regeneration communities including NE Sheffield.

• 2007- ongoing: Creative Places, a partnership between Sheffield City Council, Arts Council England and Eventus set up as a follow on to Cultural Pathfinder, to embed culture into all the Housing Market Renewal Areas of Sheffield.

• 2007: A feasibility study undertaken by Yorkshire Artspace commissioned by Creative Places to explore opportunities for artists studio/workspaces in regeneration neighbourhoods.

• 2008: 2 sites identified in North and South Sheffield

• 2009 Funding agreed through LEGI (Local Enterprise Growth Initiative) for both sites (Knutton Road and Manor Oaks studios) as part of economic regeneration of areas and encouragement of enterprise and entrepreneurialism. Local regeneration agencies (SOAR and Green Estate developing the studios with Yorkshire Artspace. A high level of integrated cultural activity has taken place across the Southey Owlerton area since Creative Futures. In 2007, at the end of the Pathfinder, SOAR formally adopted the Cultural Strategy Steering Group as one of its core theme groups. Neighbourhood Studios – Case Study The challenge / issue /problem

Yorkshire Artspace is one of the most established studio providers in the UK with 84 affordable studios offered to artists and crafts people in Sheffield city centre along with a comprehensive programme of professional development activities. Demand for studios is growing year on year. At the same time arts capital funding has dwindled and, due to regeneration in the city centre, property prices have risen beyond the reach of most arts organisations. The challenge was to find a development partner for a new model of studio complex outside the city centre that connected with and responded to its neighbourhood. In order to secure such a partner, the non-financial benefits of providing studios needed to be heard and understood. The solution Yorkshire Artspace fed in to the Creative Places programme through Karen Durham at Arts Council England, Yorkshire. With support from Miranda Plowden, Programme Director of the North Sheffield Regeneration Team, a feasibility study was commissioned looking at the potential for the development of affordable artists’ studios in the three Housing Market Renewal areas within Sheffield. Yorkshire Artspace was appointed to undertake phase 1 of the HMR Workspace Study in May 2007. The first piece of work completed was a survey of demand for artists’ workspace in the city-region, commissioned from Paul Swales and Keith Hayman. This was followed by a further study in to how artists felt their needs were being met, and how their needs may change in the future. Paul Swales was also commissioned to review current policy that could have an impact on the development of artists’ workspace in HMR areas on both a local and national level. In order for any of the model projects to be delivered it was recognised that the support of officers and members of the local authority needed to be won. The same applied to the private developers that make up the HMR Developer Panel. A number of advocacy events took place during Phase 1 of the study to secure this support including a Lunch Launch for the study to which all the HMR teams, the HMR Steering Group, the LEGI Workspace Steering Group, the HMR Developer Panel, the Area Co-ordinators and other key officers within Sheffield City Council were invited. Val Millington, director of the National Federation of Artists’ Studio Providers, gave a presentation on the public benefit of studios. Paul Swales presented the early findings of the Demand and Needs Study and Kate Dore, Director Yorkshire Artspace showed a wide variety of existing studio types and talked about neighbourhood criteria. Presentations were also made to the Cabinet Working Group and the HMR Developer Panel. Following the Lunch Launch we met with representatives of all 3 HMR areas to identify potential sites. The representatives identified 6 potential sites in the north, 2 in the east and 18 in the south. All 28 sites were then visited, photographed and a site analysis completed for each including an assessment of the neighbourhood (services, shops, transport links), potential links to education and community activity, potential partnerships, funding and the potential size of development. The final report focused on seven preferred sites; those that scored highly on the neighbourhood assessment, offered good opportunities to add to neighbourhood vitality, had clear ownership/development plans and identifiable potential capital funding. Each site study looked at background, development proposal, scale of development, local linkages, potential capital funding and revenue implications. As a direct result of the HMR Workspace Study, Yorkshire Artspace went in to partnership with two local regeneration organisations to deliver studio developments; Manor Oaks Studios – an eco-designed neighbourhood studio complex which opened in Summer 2010 providing 4 new studio developed in partnership with Green Estate 3 studios have been let to artists/makers reflecting the values of both partners the fourth studio will become a Starter Studio for Ceramicists with funding secured by Yorkshire Artspace from Foyle Foundation and Arts Council England to support emerging artists at an early career stage in developing their ceramics practice/career. The focus on ceramics at Manor Oaks Studios not only makes the most of the pool of talented ceramicists that have studios at Yorkshire Artspace, it also references the archaeology of the site where the earliest examples of ceramic production in Sheffield have been found. Facilities include parking, service block and other onsite developments including a café/farm shop heritage skills centre and a visitor’s centre. Knutton Road Studios – being developed in partnership with Southey Owlerton Area Regeneration (SOAR) as part of SOAR Works, a mixed use development of office and light industrial spaces in the heart of Parson Cross neighbourhood, due to open in Summer 2011. Yorkshire Artspace will manage 10 studio units on the top floor. The studios are particularly suitable for quieter visual arts practices. Facilities include free on-site parking, a triple height communal atrium space and access to business services. Studio sizes range from 365 sq ft to 675 sq ft charged at £6 per sq ft per annum. One of the 10 studios will be the Starter Studio for Engaged Practice which will support artists at an early stage of their career to explore a collaborative, socially engaged and community focused practice within this neighbourhood. A grant from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Arts Council England will support the programme activity in this neighbourhood.

What we learnt:

• That the benefits of affordable studios as part of regeneration projects can be understood and acted on but only after a period of advocacy.

• That hard evidence (such as demand for studios) has an important role in that advocacy.

• That it needs at least one key advocate for artists’ studios within the local authority to engage colleagues and ensure that advocacy events are attended.

• That artists will trust in an experienced studio provider to deliver non-city centre studios that are fit for purpose and form part of a city-wide network.

Unexpected outcomes

Once it was clear that it was Manor Oaks and Knutton Road sites which were being taken forward it became more evident that as an organisation we needed to focus on how we might make these areas both more interesting and desirable to potential artists considering setting up their business/practice in these areas as well as providing opportunities for local community to benefit from the influx of new artists. Therefore the Yorkshire Artspace Programme adapted to incorporate the new studio sties and reflect/respond to the new locations. Yorkshire Artspace Programme Managers have secured considerable funding over the next 2-3 years to support Starter Studios (see above), artist’s residencies and community focused project activities as well as our Open Studio events across all studio sites with the overall ambition of embedding the organisation and artists in the long term.

This event was supported by: Turning Point Yorkshire and Humber

Yorkshire Artspace Programme Funded by: Paul Hamlyn Foundation & Arts Council England-Yorkshire


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