Yorkshire, the largest county in Britain and, following a couple of learning visits to the far North and South of the county (99 miles difference to be precise), certainly one that is creative and artistic. Visits to both Scarborough and Sheffield were extremely insightful and made pertinent connections to art and place.
First up was Scarborough on 9th June 2022. Local creatives Lisa February and Matt Gray (Lowercase Theatre), Dale Wells and Darren Neave (Turntable Gallery) and Lauren Smith (comedian) accompanied Sam Dunstan and visit leader Paul Drury-Bradley from East Street Arts, alongside myself, Dean Evison, Programme Support Officer for Grimsby Creates. The aim and purpose of this visit was to compare a similar place to Grimsby in terms of being geographically on the tip of the Borough, alongside some economic similarities, with a focus on creative practice and building a network.
Our first stop certainly emphasised the concept of network building. Scarborough Museums and Galleries is within an enclave in the town, containing Woodend Gallery and Studios, Scarborough Art Gallery and The Rotunda Museum. The area is an oasis of calm and beauty, surrounded by exquisitely preserved gardens and grand Victorian terraces.
We were greeted at Woodend Gallery by Andrew Clay, who provided us with an in-depth plotted history of Scarborough and the present-day picture. There are some unusual juxtapositions within the town. In one sense deprivation and a brain drain effect, not too dissimilar to Grimsby. Young people are keen to up ship and move to the bright lights of nearby northern cities, sensing isolation and devoid of the modern-day features such as a multiplex cinema or restaurant chains that a larger urban settlement will provide in abundance. In another sense, there is an undercurrent of appreciation for the place. Professionals and retired groups are moving here, drawn by the quintessential seaside ambience and good value housing that is rare in commuter belts of major cities.
Underpinning this draw to Scarborough is the movement to promote art and artistic space. Creative people are being drawn in and this in turn is establishing Scarborough to be highly regarded as a creative place, thus triggering further inward creative migration. This is something that Sam Dunstan later described to me as the ‘Nash Equilibrium’, the benefit that competitors don’t deviate from their own strategy and, in actual fact, benefit from co-existing.
Woodend Gallery and Studios felt like a dynamic and contemporary part of the Scarborough Museums and Galleries Portfolio with a modern gallery and studios. The exhibition space itself was light, open plan and had wonderful views across the surrounding panorama, hosting vibrant modern art from Crescent Arts. By contrast, Scarborough Art Gallery had a sense of the traditional, alongside some more diverse and modern installations. The traditional aspects perfectly depicted place, no more so than the artwork of John Atkinson Grimshaw, evoking a nocturnal dusky Victorian-era Scarborough. From a more modern context, the intriguing ‘Quicksand’ by Emma Gibson ‘sees miniscule grains of sand transformed into megalithic forms’. Who knew that we are running out of sand as Andrew informed us?! It was great to also see that whilst Scarborough Art Gallery would certainly attract many from an older generation, a party of school children were engaging in the artwork, filling in observation activities and making use of the education room within the Gallery.
We made our way South along the rugged cliff line to Three Works. Less commercial than Scarborough Museums and Galleries, Three Works appears to be something of a labour of love for Chris Shaw. Chris moved Three Works across the country from Weymouth to Scarborough, in part to own outright a larger space but also thereby proving to be a case in point of artists being drawn to Scarborough (from a wide sphere). The concept is simple, Three Works choose three pieces of work from an artist to be exhibited, paint the room accordingly and display the work on the two side and back walls. There is also a space for the public to have a go themselves at drawing and painting too as well as a space for life drawing classes. The work being displayed was by Richard Meaghan. Colourful and somewhat psychedelic, Meaghan describes the work as representing ‘highly moralistic and repressed beliefs, in which we are no longer free to express ourselves without fear of insulting or offending’. There is a lot going on in the work, for some perhaps somewhat garish (perhaps the intention when considering the dark green wall that the art is installed on), for others bold and diverse.
We continued our journey back Northward and across the Cliff Bridge to take in the archetypal view of Scarborough Bay and headland and satisfy our hungry tummies at The Seastrand. Sat at the foot of the old funicular, the ground floor consists of a small space to sell artwork prints and above is a beautiful open terrace, where we were served delicious vegan food and had an opportunity to meet and chat with people from Crescent Arts and West Pier Studios.
Following lunch, it was wonderful to catch up with Adrian Riley of Electric Angel at his studio. Adrian has a strong association with Grimsby, having been commissioned to deliver public artwork in St James’ Square for his etched pathway ‘Come Follow Me’. Adrian’s artwork is renowned for being focused on typography, making it versatile to deliver public artwork but also branding and design.
Following a coffee to recharge our batteries, our final stop was Old Parcel’s Office, a new arts venue repurposing the listed building next to Scarborough railway station. This encompassed a large 100 square metre ground floor space of exhibitions such as sculpture work by Lesley Warner, which evokes the waves of the sea based on personal daily swimming experiences and seven studios, two of which we explored on the mezzanine floor. Artists can apply for studio space based on a series of criteria and, subsequently, licenses are granted for and reviewed annually. Artists commented on how at home they felt here, as part of the wider Scarborough artistic community.
Six weeks later the group led by Dr Jon Orlek and joined by creative practitioners Hetty Hodgson and Jessica Keightley and Grimsby Creates Programme Manager Sarah Smith, took the train to Sheffield. Whilst the Scarborough visit focussed on comparisons to some extent with Grimsby in relation to geography, creative practice and networking, the Sheffield visit looked at creativity at a city scale, the spaces that exist and the character of the people that underpin these spaces.
Dr Jon’s tour commenced by popping our heads into DINA, an independent, inclusive and innovative art venue that is truly versatile in its approach. Following this we visited Castlegate and were given a plotted history of the space. To some degree, Castlegate feels like an area that has fallen on tougher times, something of a zone of discard in the city centre. In another sense there are interesting dynamics occurring in the space. General public using it for activities such as skateboarding, Sheffield City Council focussing on regeneration of the area as part of the Castlegate levelling up fund and an agglomeration of creative practices seeing it as an ideal place for activity.
Fronteer Gallery is one of those practices that have seen the potential in a Castlegate location. The gallery is a curator space for artists to submit work focussing on a particular theme. The particular theme during our visit was a personal favourite ‘The Sea’. There was some truly stunning work displayed. The gallery was particularly useful for Dale and Darren, who were able to draw parallels with Turntable Gallery and ask important questions related to the nature of the space.
Close to Fronteer Gallery, we discovered features of Sheffield’s ‘Grey to Green’ scheme. The holistic benefits of urban greening are clear, benefiting public health, urban temperature, biodiversity in urban areas limiting runoff from rainwater, acting as a retention basin and preventing or limiting flood risk. In this instance, the green space also included a mini gallery of totem-like sculptures, although perhaps more could have been done to integrate further artwork and make this feature more prominent.
On our way towards lunch we popped by the unique sensory ‘Pinball Park’ (the name makes sense when viewed from above), where curator, writer and producer David McLeavy was preparing for the Urban Futures Weekender. David also has local connections, being a trustee of Our Big Picture. The striking aspect about Pinball Park, as perhaps is the case for Castlegate, is the welcoming nature for the public to take ownership of the space, in this instance by being able to move the street furniture around as to how they see fit or to suit the requirement. The space is unassuming and somewhat unspectacular, yet this perhaps enables this sense of welcome and inclusivity. Additionally, we had just enough time to venture opposite into Site Gallery which had much more of a state-of-the-art feel to it, with virtual reality and interactivity at the heart of the artistic experience. Both Pinball Park and Site Gallery are within a zone that has been coined the name ‘Cultural Industrial Quarters Conservation Area’ (CIQ) by Sheffield City Council. This perhaps seems something of a mouthful and somewhat corporate but at least demonstrates a specific zone of focus. Focus will need to be maintained on what makes this zone distinctive, given the recent emergence of other zones such as Kelham Island.
As we enjoyed lunch at Birdhouse Tea Company, we were joined by freelance filmmaker Brett Chapman ‘Brett in the City’, who loves making films about people and their stories and is keen to turn around place narrative into something different for what place is known for, consequently ridding stereotypes. It was a great opportunity for the Grimsby creatives to have a chat to learn about Brett’s practice and articulate their own. Brett also made a really good point that it is important for the creative community to not undercut one another, instead rely on their own unique identities (Nash Equilibrium in action again!)
Following lunch, we headed to Bloc Projects. Where we were met by the enlightening and entertaining Richard Bartle, who is now predominantly based in Turkey. A relatively small exhibition space opens up into a labyrinth of 56 studios across 3 main buildings (rented at a modest sum, inclusive of utilities), a small communal yard & garden space (including paddling pool!) and swap shop. Space has literally been maximised to its full potential, including two portacabin units on top of one-another. All studio units are taken and there is a waiting list. Bloc are signing for a further 10-year lease, although there is constant pressure to purchase and develop the space. When asked what he would change and how he would evolve Bloc, Richard frankly answered that he wouldn’t and that what they have works, a sense of satisfaction that ‘if it ain’t broken, why fix it’. The space certainly got me thinking that workspace for creatives goes a bit beyond bricks and mortar. That many creatives are not necessarily after mod cons or innovative designs but rather ownership of their space, and most importantly a sense of community.
Sadly, at this point a few of the party and I had to depart and catch an earlier train due to a cancellation of the later planned train. However, some of the group continued to explore Sheffield theatre spaces with talent development practitioner Tommy at Sheffield Theatres running the Crucible and Lyceum theatres in the city. Tommy described the artist residencies and development schemes that run for creatives to develop their practice as writers, designers, dramaturg and script writers. This element was particularly useful for Lisa and Matt and connections have been made for Grimsby creatives to tap into regional networks.
Overall there are many similarities between the creative community in both Scarborough and Sheffield. Both places have artists that are passionate about place, with the character of place being the driver for the work that takes place there. Both are evolving with the times to some degree, considering new and innovative ways to attract new audiences to art and creativity and supporting creatives to develop their practice and careers in the place. Yet in both places there is also something of a contentment to what they have. Ambition yes, but also embedded with the satisfaction that sometimes what works just works. Ultimately, both places have very different geography (settlement size and significance, catchment area and sense of isolation or inclusion, demographics and migration influences) and these factors underpin the distinctiveness of the artistic dynamics and work that is occurring in the relative place.
Three key takeaways:
- The character of people underpins the space that they occupy.
- The geography of place is important in terms of unique artistic representation.
- Creatives are both dynamic at responding to change and also contented with what works.
By Dean Evison, Grimsby Creates Programme Support Officer