Sheffield: a source of inspiration to its lively arts scene

Sheffield has a lively arts scene thanks to affordable living and studio space, and the 'mental and physical space to think and act', according to a new report commissioned by the University of Sheffield.

A snapshot of the visual arts scene in Sheffield (PDF, 2.4MB) is based on reflections from 390 Sheffield-based artists, art studies professionals and arts organisations in the city and surrounding region.

The picture they paint is one of a tight community of artists, which is both very supportive of each other and which enjoys the support and interest of the wider community and city. Sheffield’s proximity to the Peak District, hills which allow ‘freedom of vision’, and trees which are ‘never out of sight’, all available from the heart of a major city, were highlighted as sources of inspiration. It was also noted that Sheffield is an affordable place to be an artist and its central geographic location makes travel to other cities easy.

But many respondents said despite being a great city in which to live as an artist, there was a perceived lack of selling spaces, the cost of selling through galleries was considered high and there was a general lack of art-buyers in the region.

The research for the report was conducted by Ellen McLeod, an Arts Administrator working for The Poetry Business in Sheffield. It was written by John Clark, an author and educational consultant who set up and ran Bank Street Arts, an independent arts centre in Sheffield in 2008.

Their report looked at the artistic vibrancy of the city, focusing on the organisations and individuals who make up the sector, paying particular attention to artists’ studios and their role in the arts economy.

They also found that:

  • Sheffield has a large and in general tightly-knit artist community which, due to pressure on cultural funding, tends to be self-reliant
  • There is a DIY culture, with respect to events and organisations; they are quite small in scale, scattered, sometimes transient but generally resilient
  • Sheffield has 19 studio groups providing 362 artists with studios
  • There is outstanding demand for space, and demand for artist’s studios actually increases with supply
  • Sheffield’s art sector is currently expanding but in recent years has been outpaced by its near neighbours.

“Investment in new studios is not simply the meeting of individuals’ needs but rather it helps to grow the whole visual arts economy, something that we believe is misunderstood at policy level, particularly nationally,” said the report.

This report highlights the huge eclectic mix of artistic talent we have in the city and the potential we have to make Sheffield a destination venue for art.

Professor Vanessa Toulmin

Director of City and Cultural Engagement

The report also showed that art contributes significantly to Sheffield’s vibrancy and economy, through major investments in space by organisations such as ROCO, The Art House and Site Gallery and a collective studio turnover of more than £1m each year. In the Millennium Galleries, Sheffield can also boast 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.

The report’s recommendations included:

  • A large street art festival to rival those in Birmingham and Bristol
  • Better promotion of the city’s visual arts scene
  • Making better use of assets in the city for arts events

The report concluded: “We would like to see more communication between local government and the visual arts; wider, better and more experimental use of buildings before they are sold off and perhaps instead of being sold off; more help across the arts sector rather than just 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.”

Launching the report, Professor Vanessa Toulmin, Director of City and Cultural Engagement at the University of Sheffield, said: “This report highlights the huge eclectic mix of artistic talent we have in the city and the potential we have to make Sheffield a destination venue for art.”

“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.”

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