Artists Studio provision – comings and goings

Last week I woke up to the shock news that the building occupied by Rogue Studios in central Manchester for the past 15 years, Crusader Mill near to Piccadilly station, has been sold to developers Capital and Centric. It’s game over and all 100 artists based there will have to leave.

This is a serious loss to the art scene in Manchester, and indeed the north: Rogue, which celebrated its 20th anniversary with Open Studios in October, has become an institution and a firm fixture within the north’s contemporary art infrastructure. Many artists based there (Liz West, Owl Project, Hilary Jack, Nicola Dale, Mike Chavez-Dawson and Pat Flynn among them) have earned a level of visibility that gave Rogue its reputation as a home for serious practitioners.

I am saddened that personal friends are losing their studio spaces and that the energy around this important centre for contemporary art could be lost as its residents disperse to other corners of Manchester and further afield. Following a meeting of the steering group on Tuesday evening, Rogue posted an update via twitter which confirmed that they will need to relocate by December 2016. Rogue also used the message to thank all the supporters who have come forward since the news broke on Monday. Studio artist and steering group member Hilary Jack posted a typically upbeat twitter message that reads: #relocation #relocation #relocation and #Open Studios 2016!

Over in Wakefield, the start of December saw the reopening of The Art House, where I’m currently an Interim Director. The Art House has a long history too, having been founded in 1994, but hasn’t yet enjoyed the wider visibility that it deserves as a major site for artistic production in Yorkshire. From its based in Wakefield, this national organisation provides space, time and support for artists and enables debate around diversity within contemporary artistic production.

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The Art House, Wakefield

The event celebrated completion of the Art House’s £3m conversion of the Drury Lane Library, one of Wakefield’s most iconic buildings, in the heart of the cultural quarter around Westgate station. Gifted to the city by Andrew Carnegie in 1906, the Library was well loved by the citizens of Wakefield until its closure in 2012. Now repurposed as an arts centre with support from Arts Council England, the European Regional Development Fund and Wakefield Council, the conversion has added an additional 34 studios to the 14 housed within the Art House’s first building, adjacent to the Library, which opened in 2008. The facilities on site, all fully accessible, now also include a project space, dedicated print studio with laser cutter, meeting rooms for 2-60 people, and a new Reception which has reoriented the building towards the Westgate station side.

Having invested many years in developing high-quality, accessible workspaces across the two buildings, The Art House now represents a major asset for the region and contributor to Yorkshire’s cultural ecology. A small number of studios, described as ‘superb’ by Hepworth Wakefield’s Director, Simon Wallis, are still available in the new Library development – contact me for more details.

The immediate area around Wakefield Westgate, undergoing major regeneration, is also home to Unity Works, Neon Workshops, the Theatre Royal and the soon-to-relocate Beam. It’s exciting to work within the context of a city that has a flourishing cultural offer and a nascent but energetic Arts Partnership, as well as being the home of two internationally important visual arts organisations, The Hepworth Wakefield and Yorkshire Sculpture Park. With additional investment in the form of the £6.5m new West Yorkshire Archives building (including £3.9m from the Heritage Lottery Fund) currently under construction, the future for culture in Wakefield is looking bright.

Finally, in September I posted an urgent appeal on behalf of Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun, the year-old studio group in central Leeds. The organization is still working hard to secure its future, and continues to need your support. Watch out for more news and a Kickstarter campaign coming soon.

In the meantime, if you’re stuck for Christmas present ideas, membership of STCFTHOTS costs just £12 a year – see www.stcfthots.co.uk to sign up and help make a difference to this important place which has brought exciting artists to Leeds from outside the city.