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Yesterday’s trip to Leeds with the Fruit Factory Network had, for me, an overarching theme:

Artists making spaces

East Street Arts, make spaces happen for artists to work, live and engage with communities in. Their inclusive, can-do attitude pervaded the informative tour and the openness with which they responded to our questions. It seemed to me that they knew their communities – both the creatives who engaged with their spaces/networks and the social concerns of the wider communities of different areas of the city. Their work actively seeks to break down barriers between arts and non-arts communities.

Some of East Street Arts socially engaged projects reminded me of the community engagement that is happening at Artlink, Hull. For example Sharon Darley’s  ‘True Colours of Spring Bank’ (Hull) and other projects where artists engage with communities to co-create artworks that directly impact people’s lives. The key addition at East Street Arts was the focus on spaces – living and working spaces for artists within in a variety of sectors and locations. Their socially engaged artists Sophie Chapman and Kerri Jefferis for example, work within the community of Beeston whilst living on site in ‘Artists House no.45’.

Tetley’s Gallery, Leeds, grew out of two artists vision and hard work to make spaces for exhibitions. Currently showing work by  Nikka Neelova in the main gallery space, The Tetley also  work with school and community groups and offer residencies for emerging artists through their TAAP scheme. Their set-up and buildings are impressive. Their imposing spaces host weddings and parties as well as having ample room for contemporary art exhibitions. It felt like they had strong links with the other artist-led organisations within the city.

Our final stop was SERF arts –  a space for artists to work together as a collective. Made up of over 25 artists who grouped together to source studio space, they also exhibit together and support each other to find venues elsewhere to exhibit. We attended SERF’s exhibition opening in Yorkshire Hub for the INDEX festival, where an impressive variety of work from 16 of their artists was displayed in a fantastic space. All of the artists we spoke to valued being part of the collective. By applying for exhibition space and other resources as a group rather than as individuals, SERF was able to access venues and generate cultural influence that would have been impractical for artists working alone.

A highlight of the SERF exhibition was Sunny Vowle‘s mesmerising kinetic sculpture “which was perhaps the reward of having cared” (2019). But the highlight of yesterday’s overall trip for me was meeting the folk at East Street Arts, which has provoked deeper thought about how I and other artists might make spaces work for us…

Their work has also set me pondering on how socially engaged practice can work sustainably for an artist and a community (where I am?); and how I might dream bigger dreams for my creative practice, seeking out the people and resources to hone, adapt and enable space for these dreams to become reality…

How can we be artists who make spaces – to work in… to exhibit in.. to dialogue and enable community in?