On Wednesday I attended the opening of Set The Controls’ latest exhibition, Pedestrian Confetti, a solo show by Glasgow-based artist Toby Christian. It’s a great example of how this place invites artists from outside Leeds to show here for the first time and to play with reasonably large-scale, experimental installations. But there’s a BIG problem…
STCFTHOTS (the name is an artist’s commission by Rory Macbeth, referencing the 1968 Pink Floyd song) is an artist-led organization housing studios, a project space, a permanent collection and a bookshop across two floors on Wharf Street in central Leeds.
Since 2014, STCFTHOTS has run on a completely self-funded basis and worked with over 200 artists. They’ve built the space themselves and done a great job of it. Last week the group, led by Tavienne Bridgwater, posted an urgent call for help via Instagram. They face closure in a matter of weeks unless they can raise a few thousand to get them through the next few months. A Kickstarter campaign will go live next week, and a fundraiser followed Wednesday’s exhibition launch.
This space is absolutely critical to the existence of a healthy artistic community in Leeds. It’s a social hub where artists and others can meet, and it supports emerging artists to make and show work. Crucially, it has drawn studio holders to Leeds from other major centres of contemporary art across the UK, and it regularly showcases the work of young artists based as far away as London and Glasgow, as well as giving a platform to home-grown talent and artists across the North. That should tick a whole load of boxes for the ideals of the Northern Powerhouse, retaining creative talent in the city, and the Leeds 2023 bid campaign, right?
It would be bitterly ironic if this space closed at a time when the British Art Show arrives in Leeds. The fact is that without spaces like STCFTHOTS, there won’t be artists of the future to fill shows like BAS. It’s exactly the kind of place where young artists base themselves, commit to their practice, socialize, become part of something, and lay the groundwork for the future of contemporary art. That’s how Project Space Leeds [PSL] started out (the space I co-founded in Leeds in 2006) and several others that have come and gone since then.
Having founded PSL, I know the pressures of starting out with zero funding, working long hours on low (or no) pay, and sinking heart and soul into something with an uncertain future. But this is the way it goes – people doing things they truly believe in, for no greater reason than the fact that it’s important, it matters, and someone’s got to do it. The money this place is aiming to raise to continue their work is peanuts compared to, say, the money being spent on the new south entrance/exit from Leeds train station. But it could help secure the future of dozens of young artists.
What can you do to help? Well, please donate if you can. Or get along to the Manchester Contemporary this weekend and buy some art by a rising star from STCFTHOTS’s stand. But if you can only give a little, Membership costs just £12 a year and each studio holder is on a mission to sign up 12 new members immediately. If you do one thing today or tomorrow, please do this!
Image credits: Free Things (2015) curated by Jack Fisher. Pictures of Spring (2014) by Phil Coyne.