In 2013 Engine Director Jai Redman took over a 55,000 sq ft warehouse on the borders of Manchester and Salford, with the view to making a lasting improvement to artist / maker provision in the region. Joined by Ian Brownbill, as Engine they have worked tirelessly to develop “ArtWork Atelier” at the 95 Greengate site. The project, completely artist led and independent, now houses approximately 100 of the two cities best emerging creative talents, in a well resourced and nurturing environment that they feel is a unique asset to the north west.
Below is a provocation, a proposal, for creating a ‘maker’s corridor’ into Manchester from Salford, with ArtWork in Greengate as it’s natural gateway and entrance point. It was written by Jai Redman and Ian Brownbill in the summer of 2015. Copyright the artists.
All great cities have vibrant cultural sectors. Manchester is no different boasting a plethora of fine cultural destinations from the newly refurbished Whitworth Gallery, The Royal Exchange Theatre, Bridgewater Hall and now HOME, which accommodates Cornerhouse and The Library Theatre. With plans afoot for a huge investment in The Factory, Manchester is being viewed internationally as a place once again where creative things happen. The BBC’s move to Salford, right next to The Lowry provided the catalyst for the remarkable commercial and residential transformation of Salford Quays. To many, the northern cultural renaissance does not see a distinction between the two cities.
There’s a big difference of course between experiencing and producing art. Manchester / Salford has a great cultural offer in terms of places to see great art, but precious few great places to make it. This is a challenge well understood by each city’s artists, makers and universities as well as the Arts Council.
The shortage of good, long term, affordable space for the artists, musicians, theatre makers and other creatives to develop their crafts, to test out ideas and to develop their businesses, extends across the whole North West. This gap has been recognised by all the main players in the region’s leading cultural organisations. Engine believes that Greengate could play a crucial role in bridging this gap and providing space for artists in a way that is exciting and builds upon an existing creative presence in Greengate currently generated by ArtWork, Blueprint Studios (home of ‘Elbow’) and The Eagle Pub which is a small but popular live music venue.
Rather than experiencing another round of artist led gentrification, in which the first casualties are the displaced artists themselves, we have a unique opportunity to build on an existing community, to actually grow from already well established roots.
Providing better space for artists and makers is not just about satisfying the needs of the artist community. Quite apart from just answering the need for space, a well defined (and designed) cultural production quarter, right in the centre of two cities, creates an important, unique, social hub centred around culture. There is an opportunity here, which Engine believes should not be underestimated: To redefine our relationship with art through connecting audiences for contemporary art and new markets for makers at the source of production.
Greengate would open up, effectively becoming a shop window, enabling people to live amongst and engage with the creative process.
By mixing together disciplines, artists and makers, commercial and contemporary non-commercial arts, visual art and performance, early career and established practitioners, traditional and modern, buyers and sellers, we create a tapestry of production based cultural space (public and private).
Through working together to purpose build new affordable and sustainable art production facilities, repurposing existing derelict public spaces into experimental stages, and taking a new approach to retail spaces nestled amongst new residential building, we could build a ribbon of artists and makers that connects Manchester to Salford. And one which (unlike many current artists’ spaces) breaks down the ghettoisation of arts production and provides security of tenure for creative communities to grow real relationships with their neighbours, supporters, audiences, partners and patrons.
Greengate is a natural corridor, linking Salford with Manchester but with specific regard to the arts and culture Engine sees a physical trail linking the University, Greengate and Manchester’s City centre.
Greengate is a fascinating piece of Salford, bounded by Chapel Street, Gravel Lane and Sacred Trinity Church and across the River Irwell from Manchester Cathedral. At one time it was buzzing with industry and commerce with its famous Flat Iron Market and a mass of terraced housing with a pub on most street corners. Former residents speak proudly of a community that worked hard and made the most of its proximity to the centres of two thriving cities.
As the physical re-construction of Greengate emerges over the next 5-6 years, ‘Engine’ would seek support to explore a series of high quality projects with local and international artists to capture and interpret the unique history of Greengate.
To make this ambition for an artist / makers’ corridor a reality, we need:
- To work towards the development of a sizeable, economically priced production infrastructure that provides long term security of tenure with the capacity for collaborative working that builds on the success of ArtWork. This could be provided through a number of new spaces, with one larger central space.
- A space/venue where artists can meet and engage directly with the larger public.
- Potential for temporary visiting accommodation for visiting international artists. (international residency studios).
- The buy–in of larger stakeholders including Arts Council, Salford City Council, University of Salford and of course the development of the exciting working partnership with Greengate’s leading developers.