Days of art and of biscuits: after 21 years, the city’s Open Up ‘come and see our art festival’ is now reckoned to be one of the top events of its kind in the country.
More than 200 artists open up their studios or homes so the public can see where they paint, make or sculpt, ask questions and (hopefully) buy something. Free biscuits are almost always provided.
“Between us we often say that Sheffield is a great place to produce art,” confided painter Tim Rose, “but it is a crap place to sell it.”
These days, he added, that matters a lot less than it used to do when he tried to take up his professional paintbrush after leaving Psalter Lane art college in the 1970s.
“It’s easier now to make a living I think,” he said.
He added: “When I started out people would tell me I wouldn’t sell a picture for 20 years.”
Tim was one of the first artists to take part in the Open Up art festival, which was started with an arts council grant in 1998 by Keith Hayman and Kate Jacob in an effort to allow local artists to show off their work to native Sheffielders in the city and also to show it to visitors from across the country.
Tim Rose’s own art work now sells all over the world thanks to social media and also to the Internet.
After a recent commission from a millionaire Argentinian vineyard owner, he took a frantic call from the buyer holding a saw saying the nine foot long tube containing the painting was too long to fit into his homeward plane’s baggage hold.
“Luckily I had included ten inches of spare canvas on the work so I told him which end to cut off, and he got it on the plane just in time,” said Tim.
The fact that many artists can these days generate a global market from their computer means they can choose where they want to live – and many choose to live in Sheffield, Tim said.
He added: “Now London is only two hours away, but it’s so much cheaper and nicer up here.”
Current Open Up chairman, Anne Petch, makes jewellery in the purpose built Manor Oaks studios at Manor Park currently run by Yorkshire Arts Space and Green Estate.
Anne said: “It’s an inspiring place with all the trees and plants around and it has underfloor heating from a ground source heat pump. For someone like me, it’s paradise.”
She drew the contrast with her first studio, an old little mesters workshop off West Street.
She said: “It cost £3 a week, and we shared the place with other artists and musicians, and there was one man who put the handles on knives who used to dry his washing by his pot bellied stove.”
She added: “He fell asleep one day and the crackling sound drew my attention. I looked across and saw a wall of flame. We all got out okay, and we were back in in a couple of weeks.”
The availability of cheap old cutlery workshops has helped hundreds of local artists get going in a post industrial city, and although such spaces are still available, now there are a growing number of purpose built (or refurbished) buildings for Sheffield’s increasing number of artists and craftspeople.
Outdoor Citizens often like pictures of the Peak District on their office or apartment walls, Tim noted: “Art is now part of interior design. People do come in with samples of curtain material to compare before buying – that idea is no longer just a joke,” he laughed.
Tim added: “But I always say it’s better to sell out than not sell at all. You can then buy the time to do what you want to do.”
The Open Up art festival still aims to help artists bring their work to the attention of local and visiting art tourists and it also offers special rates to promote new artists.
Now that Open Up has grown up, the annual event (which is usually run over two weekends) is now totally a self funding event, said Anne, which is overseen by a team of volunteers – there are artists or art groups who pay a fee to take part or to advertise on the brochure or website.
“When we started this event, we always knew Open Up would have to eventually stand on its own two feet,” said Tim, and he added: “We are the fifth largest city in the country and we are in the sixth largest economy in the world, so Open Up art festival should be doing quite well.” For more visit openupsheffield.co.uk.