S1 Artspace provides studios for artists whose work is both contemporary and critically engaged.
S1 Artspace, an artist-led organisation, has occupied its city centre premises in Sheffield since it was founded in 1995. It provides studio space for twenty artists who define their practice as both contemporary and critical. Anxious to avoid the stagnation of practice which can occur in inwardly-focused studio organisations, S1 has made it a key part of its mission to develop and encourage innovative contemporary art projects within the city.
This profile forms part of a portfolio of material around studios including the studios toolkit - designed especially for artists thinking of setting up some kind of workspace facility - case studies of studio organisations at different stages of development and more.
S1 Artspace began in 1995, when a group of Sheffield based artists decided to create a different type of studio environment for fine artists than was available at Yorkshire ArtSpace (YAS), Sheffields biggest studio organisation. YAS was beginning to set out its vision for a new building, Persistence Works, but some of the founding members of S1 wanted to create an alternative model: a flexible, adaptable and sustainable studio group that encouraged dialogue between artists in the city by remaining open plan and artist-led.
S1 managed to secure an affordable and long lease (twenty-one years) on a privately owned building. It established a formal organisational structure a company limited by guarantee and a registered charity and a board of trustees. Anxious to preserve its artist-led ethos, however, decisions about the artistic direction of S1 are made by a committee of its twenty artist members. Changes in the leadership of the committee along with a healthy turnover of studio artists help to ensure that the artistic culture of the organisation remains dynamic.
S1 Artspace doesnt have a permanent dedicated exhibition space, nor does it operate a gallery-based programme. Its building comprises of fifteen studios, one of which also functions as a temporary project space, though it is used for the majority of the time as workspace by its members.
Steve Dutton, one of S1s artist founders, recalls how the project space came to be: S1 was set up right from the start as S1 artspace/projects to signal a two sided activity: making and showing. We never intended, though, to use the studio space for projects; our intention was always to try to organise things off site, such as a show in a nearby warehouse called S1 specs.
What became the project space within the studios was initially a studio space shared by myself and Percy Peacock. As part of our practice, we had deliberately set out to confuse the relationship of the studio, the gallery and the status of the image by making very large photographs of the space in which we appeared to be working, but all the images were staged as a kind of mad studio space. They were shown under the title of Apocotropes at Sheffields Mappin Gallery.
This made us think more about confusing the status of the studio space, and a large number of artists both from within S1 and without had shown an interest in using the space for their own projects. In other words, the creation of a project space wasnt originally an S1 decision borne out of an S1 agenda, it was originally simply an independent decision by a couple of the artists at S1, in this case Percy and me. I suppose what this might signify is that a studio practice might come to mean something very broad in some cases, not simply a space for making but a space for doing whatever you feel might be necessary at any given time.
Later, when the two of us decided that we didnt want to curate the space as such, it became a much more open proposition which was enthusiastically taken up by S1 studio members and other artists groups in the city. A large amount of passion and good will was spent by everyone who helped to set the thing up before we ever got on anything like a level footing financially. We knew, even if no one else did, that Sheffield was home to an astonishing number of good artists whose needs were just not being met: there were not enough places to show art, which meant that not enough of the good art being made in the city could be seen.
In 2002, S1 was awarded Regional Arts Lottery Programme (RALP) funding from Arts Council England Yorkshire to develop a pilot scheme to help establish S1 as a curating and commissioning agency. In May 2003, S1 appointed Michelle Cotton as part-time curator; four months later, it launched S1 / projects, a series of exhibitions and events.
S1 / projects mission is to generate a publicly-accessible programme of exhibitions and events. Its ambition is to raise the profile of Sheffield as a city with an active artist community and a pioneering approach to supporting artist projects. It aims to cultivate a wider audience for contemporary art in the city and to focus critical debate within its community of artists.
S1 / salon, a programme of events showcasing short film and video works by emerging artists, has helped to put S1 on the national visual arts map. A selection of works from the first season of salon events, tonight we are golden, has toured to nine UK cities.
S1 aims to interact with its locality, and to the changes affecting it, in a way which helps to focus critical dialogue amongst contemporary artists in Sheffield. Frequently operating off-site, it aims to facilitate a response to the shifting character of the city and its immediate environment. S1 is located in the Devonshire Quarter of Sheffield, a former light-industrial area of the city centre which has recently been the focus of intense redevelopment and gentrification. In SHOW FLAT a work commissioned by Sheffield Contemporary Art Forum for Art Sheffield 03 former S1 members Hewitt & Jordan, predicted and anticipated the outcome of culture-led regeneration by redeveloping their studio into a contemporary residential SHOW FLAT. In the words of art critic Ian Soutar, Hewitt & Jordan aimed to subvert, confuse and question the intimacies of urban design within a critical art practice.
A wider context
S1 has recently established S1 / amp (associate member programme), a professional development initiative aimed at recent graduates, some of whom have worked as volunteers on S1 / projects. Through a series of well researched and targeted visits, S1 / amp proposes to open up networks with artists and curators in other regional cities; to make connections and stimulate a dialogue which could lead on to future projects. It aims to help emerging artists to see their practice, and the activities of S1, within the wider context of artists, and artist-led activity nationally.
S1s vision for a vibrant artist-led scene in Sheffield has attracted a series of grants from ACE Yorkshire. In recognition of its increasingly pivotal role as a hub of artist-led practice in the city it will, in 2005-06 become a regularly funded client of ACE, which will guarantee S1 a minimum of £15,000 a year to continue its project-based activity.
S1s artists recognise that a vibrant visual arts culture depends on more than the availability of the bricks and mortar of a studio space. Access to a community of active practitioners and to space and resources on a temporary basis, as and when projects demand them, are the essential needs of most artists. The vitality of creative practice should not, in this view, be tied too exclusively to the notion of the permanent studio building; other ingredients are needed too.
Paul Glinkowski is a freelance arts writer.
Paul Glinkowski is a freelance journalist, writer and arts consultant. From 1997 to 2003 he was a visual arts officer at Arts Council England (ACE), where he led on the development of a national programme of support for visual artists studios. He played a key role in the development of a series of three studios conferences in July 2003: Creating Places at Tate Modern, and Making Space and Opening Doors at Yorkshire Artspace, Sheffield (see http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/information/publication_detail.php?sid=12&id=393&page=2 for conference report Supporting artists workspace). He also wrote the 2003 ACE publication Open Studios (see http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/documents/publications/282.pdf)
First published: a-n.co.uk March 2005
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