For a while in my life, I’ve been trying to work out how to get more space and time to make art. By that I mean, just to make – for the act of making stuff, for the sake of it, for my own interest, unproductively. And outside of any project or working agenda, and not for any purpose other than for my own well-being, and to get close to that process of letting materials, threads and attention unfold.
And I’m a social creature, so often when I think of wanting to do something like that, I think about whether I could do that with others. I’m also easily distracted, too dependent on the digital world, so I knew I had to make s structure for something to happen in, but didn’t know how.
I was in Portland Oregon in October 2016 doing some research about public urban green space and participation, and I met an artist called Erica Meryl Thomas. Erica was part of a small group of artists who had started doing ‘Self-declared residencies’ in Portland. Fed up with lack of funding, too many applications and too few opportunities, Erica started creating time and space for making art in her home, in the city. She made a beautiful red neon sign that she hangs in her window that says ‘Artist in Residence’ when she’s making and working. It’s perhaps a way of saying ‘This is my time and space, and I can do what I like in it!’
Earlier this year, Erica wrote to me:
‘Partly as a reaction to the election, I have started a program for teen girls at the Newspace. It will be a monthly workshop in all expressive media, including images/art, writing, music, movement, and other non-genre specific creative interests. The idea is to form a space for mutual empowerment through creativity so that we may all weather these next dark years together, with support.’
I wanted to start an equivalent in my home town of Frome in Somerset. And somehow start an exchange of work between here and Erica’s group. But Frome is a lot smaller than Portland, and I don’t know, I got distracted by all the other stuff that fills time. I recently did a project with Somerset Art Works called Prospectus that was about designing and trying out an experimental learning exchange for the dispersed art community of Somerset, again about making time and space.
And these different inspirations came together, and became practically enabled by the offer of free space (for the first few sessions) at the fantastic Edventure work space in Frome at Welsh Mill Studios. So I got some basic materials together, asked my friend Joff to help and I started an Art Club in Frome, open to anyone aged 16+, artist and non-artist, all abilities. At last, time and space.
Art Club Frome happens every Second Tuesday of the month.
Every month a new inspiration, with guest artists!
We have a couple of hours to experiment, make, and mess around to see what happens. There’s a simple starting point that’s provided and each person can respond as they want to or not. Borrowing and paraphrasing artist Sister Corita Kent’s Immaculate College Art Department rules, at Art Club ‘the only rule is make!’. And there’s Charles and Ray Eames’ ‘Get lost in the content’. And what anyone makes doesn’t have to mean a lot, and they don’t have to like it – it can go in the recycling, or someone else can reappropriate it.
The first few months of Art Club are free (it started in May) – after that it’s donations for the space and materials. I want it to live outside any funding, and I don’t want to paid for running it.
So I think I’ve made something, that creates time and space for art making and my own well-being, that feels outside most other things I do. It’s a pocket, a clearance, a physical, mental and emotional space. I’ve only done one Art Club, but it’s the best thing I’ve done in ages.
Sea swimming is another.
Next Art Club session is Tuesday June 13th.
(Featured image is Joff’s poster).