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A New Paradise For Artists (2017-2022)

Paradise Works has been a home to over 100 artists over the past 5 years, whether that be the many tenants, artists in residence or part of various exhibitions.

Current tenants include: James Ackerley, Fleur Yearsley, Sarah Blaszczok, Gwen Evans, Robin Broadley, Louise Adkins, Jack Brown, Mikesian Studio, Bridget Coderc, Chris Paul Daniels, Naomi Harwin, Kieran Leach, Precious Innes, Jez Dolan, Lauren Steeper, David Mackintosh, Lotti V Closs, Laura Weaver, Alyson Olson, Maisie Pritchard, Winter & Kurth, Jeffrey Knopf, Tasha Whittle, Elizabeth Wewiora, Gabriel Kidd, Bren O' Callaghan, John Cake, Richard Shields, Claire Tindale and Eleanor Capstick.

Each artist works in a different way with a variety of fine art painters, sculpture artists, visual, sound, socially engaged, journalistic, curatorial, digital, street, performance and graphic artists. Having a space filled with so many different styles, abilities and knowledge has made this space a real melting pot of information and the peer support is a major part in the ethos of Paradise Works.

With the fall of so many art studios in the years before the formation of Paradise Works the artists who came together had had amazing experiences and knowledge and their in house programme got off the ground almost immediately and within the first 15 months of Paradise there were a total of 12 exhibitions.

In this time there were a selection of exhibitions including The Manchester Contemporary, Furnished Archipelago, Island Life, Tipping The Scales, There's No Such Thing As Boredom and Buffer Zones curated by Nat Pitt. These shows brought together the whole art ecology of the city utilising artists who were part of Scaffold Gallery, Cornford & Cross, The University of Salford and a whole host of in house artists and artists further afield like Sam Porrit.

Alongside their tenants, exhibitions and of course, open studios, they have the 'Artist In Residence' scheme where they invite artists to become a tenant at the studios to tutor them but also to offer an opportunity for both parties to learn. Over the years they have had Deshna Shah, Gregory Herbert, Danielle Swindells and Michelle Shields who all brought something new to the studio and with Danielle staying ever since. The Open Studios are an opportunity to visit the studios and peek into the world and space where art is created, something of a real treat for us all. Those events are a huge opportunity to showcase the best a studio can offer and the 2021 open studio saw Katie Tomlinson's 'Fight The Moon' exhibition before she left Paradise Works for London.

The studio also offers a variety of other things including workshops, learning opportunities, studio bursaries that have brought graduate artists from Manchester School of Art like Maisie Pritchard and Gabrielle Kidd to the studio. The University of Salford Collection Scholarship brought artists Bridget Coderc, Katie Mcguire and Elliott Flanaghan in house and the Multiples Collection which is a shop highlighting and platforming the work of Paradise Work tenants.

So as you can see, Paradise Works is truly a paradise for students and artists of all levels and a place that has made it self central to the arts community within Manchester. The ethos and running of Paradise Works is generally kept behind doors and so I wanted to unearth the truth and so we chatted with founders Hilary and Lucy about it.

So, tell us about Paradise Works in the early days.

HIlary: I think we had a very utopian idea of how this place would work and to some degree it is coming to fruition now. We have been able to create jobs for artists, not all of them but at least some of them. We also want to platform artists, we are acutely aware that in Manchester in 2017 there were not that many artist led spaces because there just aren't many spaces available, all the empty shops - when I was graduating up - that were great spaces for exhibitions and pop ups were no longer available, especially in the Northern Quarter for example.

That was something we were aware of and so we wanted a decent gallery space so we made sure we had a gallery programme that was central to Paradise Works. I guess some studios would have made that into studio space - as it is a generous space - so they could have made more revenue but that was a risk we took as a lot of artists we have show in there have now developed careers beyond the artist led. Thinking again of people like Chester Tenneson and John Powell Jones, who had his first solo show here and now he is showing at IMT in London. We also had international artists showing here, we got our programme running in a matter of months.

It was really exciting for the first couple of years but it was a prime sort of recipe for burnout.

Lucy: We were typically doing that very reactive sort of "our only agency is if we are held in high regard", so beyond the membership we would take any opportunity to raise the profile over those years.

Hilary: Whilst we were continuously writing Arts Council bids to keep it going, obviously you can't do all of this without any funding, generally our programme is all funded by Arts Council and the studios are the bread and butter for the rent.

We also have an Artist In Residence programme as well which has been a really interesting thing. This has acted like a platform for residents over the years, Danielle Swindells was our second AIR. I first met her at HOME at a panel discussion and I really liked her work and how she presented it and so I offered her an AIR here and in 2020 she was commissioned by MIF to make her film 'Capturing a Summer' and subsequently she has be recommissioned again to make her last piece 'Dream FM'.

So what we try and do here is to allow opportunities to platform artists that perhaps wouldn't have had that opportunity to show otherwise.

Lucy: We were always interested in the outward facing element of what we do here. The brief always was that by being here we were incomers to Salford and we wanted to be outward facing whilst sustainably building this space. That gave opportunities for artists to come in and understand Salford, the surroundings, the wider community and the briefs were always about that.

We have always been interested in societal relevance and our programming has mirrored that. We have had shows like the NHS show which was curated by Nat (Division of Labour).

Hilary: That was really interesting actually because it had been programmed for 2019 and then of course the pandemic in 2020 with the NHS in the spotlight changed the whole exhibition. It came at the right time last year after it had become even more relevant. There was one piece with a kinetic sculpture of Boris Johnson's hands clapping, which was just great. So it is interesting how it all happens.

We have touched on the foundational ideas of the studio but what is the ethos? And 5 years on from its establishment is that ethos still the same?

HIlary: I think it is interesting as we have talked about that a lot recently! 2020 meant we could look back and really work out our next phase and make a strategic plan that will mean Paradise Works isn't here for just the next few years but really here for the future, a proper solid future. I think it sprung out of a spirit of generosity which was definitely felt in Apartment, there was a massive ideology of generosity. Paul gave up his flat to be an art space and the artists were coming there and exhibiting without being paid fee, which isn't right. I do think we do have that spirit here, I like to think, do you agree Lucy?

Lucy: Yeah!

Hilary: People help each other out, there is an open door policy here for studio visits and for people in the group to share skills and help each other out in any way they can. We also have socials regularly with food and to share information about what we are doing.

Lucy: This year we do want to do a bit more of a reflection so we are bringing the artists a little more into the conversation I guess. It's all been very strategic on our end to initiate it from our first conversations, just like you say, I think we are stepping out of founding phase and looking at ways we can interrogate what those things mean.

At the core of it we do still believe in our ethos. Artists should be valued, they should be able to have a sustainable and exciting career, not being tucked away in the corner of your bedroom but actually being supported.

Hilary: I think we also want to handover what we have learnt and experienced, the benefits we have gained from being in this directorial position, although it has been hard work and we have learnt so much. I didn't intend on setting up and running and artist space but it has just happened, somewhat spontaneously and felt right at the time. We want to give over, to other members of the group, the contacts we have made and the information so if they happen to be in the same situation then they can learn from us. I do think there is a massive benefit to being part of the wider arts ecology of a city, whether that being part of a panel, a group that selects for an exhibitions group. If you are part of a community you have a seat at the table and it it those conversations that sadly don't always include artists.

Lucy: Even though the conversation is about artists!

Hilary: Half of artists are also musicians and you can get to know a whole group of people that way. Many of those panels and discussions I am part of because feel odd because I am the only one not on a salary, you are often. as an artist, not really involved in these conversations of and about the city.

We are now at year 5 at Paradise Works, any highlights from the past few years?

Lucy: My most memorable instance here was dancing to 'The Road To Nowhere' with the mayor of Salford, Paul Dennet. You really can't make this stuff up!

Hilary: It's this building, it just keeps on giving! We keep finding extra spaces we are paying rent for that we didn't know existed, there's a little cave downstairs! We even took a panel off a wall, I'm not sure you could call it a studio, maybe a London studio but it's only 4ft high! There are just so many strange occurrences in this place.

Lucy: Lots of strange but let's think of nice ones. I think open studios particularly does feel great, with the scarcity of seeing where art is made I think being able to have a look is a great privilege. Having conversations can be had in spaces rather than in a gallery because there is certain protocol and rules you have of a white cube that keep people in check.

Hilary: We have also been able to do things here that you couldn't do in a gallery like micro dose LSD drinks or knocking down a wall with a sledgehammer for an exhibition (Buffer Zones). We really can be quite free here with what we do here, what we show and be quite ambitious.

I think one of the highlights for me was the Sam Porritt show with the 'Smack a Rat'. He came here with literally nothing besides a load of cardboard and the clothes he had on his back and out of virtually nothing he made a fantastic kinetic sculptural piece which you can see on our website. It had rotating cardboard disco balls on a rotator and then he clad the gallery in cardboard and made a tunnel for a rat to run out of (he was sat in The Eagle having a pint and a rat ran across his foot one day). It was all quite fun, a very interesting artist.

Paradise Works is not just ran by Hilary and Lucy, they do have a small team. Nataly Chambers is the studio manager along side being a cultural mover and shaker, Gwen Evans has taken on the role of marketing assistant along with Nuria López de la Olivia managing and coordinating temporary in house projects. Then we have David Winters is premises manager who uses his art and design background to care for the building in any way necessary. Artist and technician Kieran Leach acts as a gallery tech for exhibitions in the gallery space.

Hilary: What is really great is that it isn't just me and Lucy doing all of this on our own. We have the artists directional group which is something we really want to maintain, it gives tenants the opportunity to be part of what is going on rather than just us making decisions. We really aren't part of that because that way people can set up their space and set up projects, tutorials, exhibitions etc separately to us.

One thing we would like to do is be a bit greener, it is something that is really close to our hearts but sadly quite hard in a building like this. We have a flat roof and need more insulation but we truly need a space that is warm and doesn't leak!

As you can see, Paradise Works has been a real cultural hub within the arts ecology of Manchester over the last 5 years. Both by creating the opportunity to platform artists across the city and further afield whilst also creating events and opportunities to being this community focused place.

The work they have done over these 5 years is astonishing and so we need to find out what will be happening in the future, what else is to come in their vision of paradise?

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