Meet the pop-up artists who run a gallery in an old tax office building in York

Finding affordable studio space is one of the big challenges for working artists everywhere but there are a number of charities and not-for-profit organisations around the country trying to address this and provide low-rent places for artists to work.

Work by one of the artists in the Piccadilly Pop Up Collective, in York.
Work by one of the artists in the Piccadilly Pop Up Collective, in York.

One such organisation is the charity Uthink PDP, established in 2010 to support disadvantaged young people, which has been taking over empty buildings and opening them up as creative hubs. In 2019 they took over the former tax office in York city centre and it is currently home to the arts collective Piccadilly Pop Up.

“When Uthink took over the building from the Council, they put on a temporary pop-up exhibition, ran some workshops and then offered studio space to local artists,” says Richard Kitchen, one of the artists in the collective.

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“People have come and gone over the past year, partly because of Covid, but now there is a core of four artists who work there during the week and open it up as a gallery every Saturday. There are a number of associate artists, including poets and writers, so in total there are around eight artists who display work there.”

The artists work out of the former tax office building in the city centre.

The range of work produced by the collective is wide and diverse and includes everything from traditional figurative painting and drawing, to abstract works, street art and graffiti murals, collage, mixed media, sculpture and photography. Kitchen believes that the diversity of the work reflects the creative freedom that affordable studio rates can offer.

“Because of Uthink’s cheap rents we don’t necessarily have to make work to make money, even though we are dependent on sales to make a living, so it means that we can experiment.”

The gallery has been opening to the public weekly since the beginning of June, with the majority of work on display for sale, and the response so far has been very positive.

“We have had local groups coming to see us as well as members of the public who have read about us or seen the signs in the street,” says Kitchen. “I think it is really exciting. Lots of people who have visited the gallery have said ‘I never thought there was something like this in York’ – it is a genuinely creative enterprise.”

Raising awareness of the gallery’s existence has been part of the collective’s focus over the past few months.

“One of the disadvantages we have is that Piccadilly is not necessarily somewhere people go – it’s certainly not on the tourist trail – so it can be hard to attract visitors.” The collective are making the most of their residency at the old tax office as they are aware that it is only temporary.

“The site has been sold for development and at some point we will be given a month’s notice to clear everything out which is a shame because it is such a great space,” says Kitchen.

“It feels quite insecure but every month that goes by is a blessing and we are very good at staying positive. We have shown what can be done with a space even if it is short-term. I would say – take it further, artists should be seen as part of the cultural attraction of York and they are a real asset to the city.

"We want to take advantage of the success we have had so far and set an example of what can be achieved with a bit of help from community-minded forward-thinking enterprises.”

Piccadilly Pop Up collective, the Old Tax Office, 23 Piccadilly, York. The gallery opens every Saturday noon-6pm.