Steel City a ‘source of inspiration’ to lively arts scene

Sheffield-based landscape artist Donna Brewins (credit: Gemma Thorpe).

Sheffield-based landscape artist Donna Brewins (credit: Gemma Thorpe).

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Sheffield’s close proximity to the Peak District, rolling hills and millions of trees are a ‘source of inspiration’ to its lively arts scene, according to a new report.

The views of almost 400 artists, studio professionals and arts organisations were compiled for the University of Sheffield to get a snapshot of the city’s artistic vibrancy.

Pub Scrawl is one of the many arts events in the city. Pictured are visitors examining a piece by city artist Pete McKee.
Picture: Ian Spooner.

Pub Scrawl is one of the many arts events in the city. Pictured are visitors examining a piece by city artist Pete McKee. Picture: Ian Spooner.

It found that affordable living and studio space, the “mental and physical space to think and act”, and a tightly-knit artists’ community helped Sheffield’s arts scene thrive, while the close proximity to the Peak District and the city’s 2.2m trees which are “never out of sight” provide a source of inspiration.

Artist Paul Evans moved to the city to study philosophy in 1980, when he started rock climbing in the Peak District. He said the landscape “worked its way” into his consciousness and still informs his work today, taking centre stage in ongoing collaboration between artists and poets The Seven Wonders.

“It’s astonishing to have that within 20 minutes of where you live,” he said.

The report, written by John Clark, who set up independent arts centre Bank Street Arts in Sheffield in 2008, found that art contributes significantly to Sheffield’s economy, with studios The Art House and Site Gallery alone having a collective turnover of more than £1m each year. The Millennium Galleries is the most visited free attraction in the North of England, with twice the number of visitors as Yorkshire Sculpture Park and half as many again as The Baltic in Gateshead.

But it warned that Sheffield is “outpaced” by other cities in terms of major arts events - with the city missing out on its bid to be the first UK City of Culture in 2013 and touring exhibitions like the Turner Prize. And it warned Sheffield “is not an easy place to make a living” as an artist, with a lack of inward tourism and selling spaces.

However, it praised the city’s studio scene, which builds on its history as a “city of makers”.

Mr Evans works from Yorkshire Artspace, which has three venues in Sheffield, offering workspace for 160 artists and craftspeople. Mr Evans said it was “immensely beneficial” to work in a studio environment.

“There is a peer group where I can go and talk about idea, and I have friends that have studios,” he said. “It is such a positive and healthy thing.

“I think it would be really difficult to work as an artist on your own in a garage. Art is a social activity.

“Sheffield is a great place to be an artist.”

Professor Vanessa Toulmin, director of City and Cultural Engagement at the University of Sheffield, said the report highlighted “the huge eclectic mix” of artistic talent in the city.

She added: “Artists have told us that they find Sheffield a huge source of inspiration; from its physical geography and sense of space, to its lack of pretension and ‘village’ feel.

“This is reflected back in the art they produce, all of which contributes to make Sheffield a very special place.”

Recommendations

A LARGE street art festival to rival those in Birmingham and Bristol; better promotion of the city’s arts scene; and better use of city’s buildings for arts events could all boost Sheffield’s arts scene.

The report recommended more help across the arts sector, rather than just for a handful of flagship projects; and most of all a “reciprocity of the feeling that visual arts matter for the city in the same way that the city matters to visual artists”.

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