Basement project aims to reverse drain of Leeds' art talent

An inner city project is using a domestic space - a basement - as a way of supporting artistic practice and development. Could this small project be part of the answer to help reverse the drain of Leeds' artistic talent?

To some, Beeston in inner city south Leeds would be an unlikely place for the city's newest 'underground' studio and gallery.

Artist and teacher Bruce and Debs Davies have transformed the basement of their terraced house - which they admit themselves is a little 'ramshackle' - into a cultural facility which they hope ultimately will be available for residencies and exhibitions on a regular basis.

Bruce acknowledges that the project is an ambitious one for the more deprived south of the city - but has lofty goals to help the city retain some of the graduates who leave Leeds following graduation because of a lack of opportunites and be financially and artistically free from constraints. He said:

"It's no secret that Leeds has real problems retaining its talent. I know from experience that it's incredibly difficult for artists to get residencies or to showcase their work and they have to go elsewhere to do it. I tried for six years to exhibit but it was a real struggle. I hope ultimately that people who want to get to the next level can come here and be part of a residency programme.

"But we're reliant on getting the money in place to redo the basement up, create working spaces, get its own door so people don't have to come through the house. That's going to be the next challenge."

The art space is currently a cleared-out basement - but that hasn't stopped the couple holding four events there. More than 25 people squeezed into the space for a recent talk by current HMI research fellow Allan Antliff called 'Attacking Gentrification: the anarchitecture of Adrian Blackwell'. The basement also acted as a starting point for a 10km art run/studio crawl around Leeds's underground art studios.

The first event - This is our house - was a performance art event that looked at the boundaries and distinctions between public and private space.

Debs said in a recent guest post on the Culture Vulture blog:

"The vision is to provide this space with its own door, smooth walls, a sink and practical things like a toilet and cloakroom. Alongside these physical attributes will be two curators, a residency and exhibition programme and various events and community happenings.

"These curators would select artists from an open submission process whereby the only stipulated criteria are that those applying are resident of Leeds. Bruce would like to see art graduates being able to develop their practice by providing them with free work-space and exhibition opportunities.

"I also want; if it is at all possible, to give something back to the community that I feel has given something to me .... Beeston is now the place I have lived in the longest out of all the little places I have been, and say what you want about it, I have a pretty good life here. I have met some good people. I would like to somehow include this community in our venture."

The aims of the Basement Arts Project are:

# To create a project space that will provide four residency opportunities and four exhibition opportunities for Leeds based artists every year
# The space will be free for artists to use and free for the public to visit
# To create a permanent venue for contemporary artists living and working inLeeds
# To create an artist-led and ideologically neutral space that gives the artist control over ways in which their work can be viewed
# To promote the endeavours of the aforementioned artists locally and nationally
# To establish a network that will benefit those in art education in the city as well as provide links and opportunities with the established population of the city
# To create an integrated programme of events staged by art practitioners from outside of Leeds
# To create links with educational establishments and other art institutions and projects within Leeds
# To create links with educational establishments and other art institutions and projects nationally

Their next event will be an exhibition Speakeasy: art in an age of prohibition in September and October.

For more details on the initiative, go to the Basement Arts Project blog, follow the project on twitter @BasementArtsPro or on facebook.


John Baron

The GuardianTramp

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