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Longsight Art Space - A New Art Hub Programming From The Community

There are differing theories as to the origin of the name Longsight. The more romantic is the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie standing outside of the Wagon and Horses and looking towards the city and declaring it to be "a long sight". The problem with this story is that there are records of the name Longsight being used prior to the Scottish rebels coming over the border. Gay Sussex, author of "Longsight Past and Present", thinks that a more plausible explanation is that over time the field name "Long-shut" (meaning a shallow depression) became corrupted into the name Longsight.

Edwardian Longsight (Courtesy of Graham Todd)

The area is culturally diverse and has been plagued by gang related violence throughout the early part of the 21st century. However , the history of the area goes back to the 16th century with the building of Slade Hall and subsequent farms adjoining onto the property into small hamlets. In more recent years the area has become a thriving area full of creatives, thanks to the lower housing prices and therefore has built a wonderful community atmosphere.

Slade Hall 1936

Longsight Art Space is a new addition to the area. Functioning as a art space that hosts community engaged art, exhibitions, international residencies whilst also putting Longsight on the map. It is ran by co-directors Chi Emecheta and Chris Bailkoski. Chris has also founded well know art organisation PROFORMA and the infamous city centre bar, eatery and multi purpose venue SOUP. Together their knowledge and experiences are creating a space for the community of Longsight to learn more about art, engage with the community through producing art and invest into the local area and local people.

Recent exhibitions have seen curatorial power handed down by the directors to Nikita Gill who brought a flavour of Carnival to the Jubilee weekend in the form of a street procession and party, congregating at a flower mandala sculpture in Crowcroft Park. PROFORMA's long standing collaboration with German festival Begehungen brings international residencies and shows to Longsight and vice versa creating opportunities for real artistic experiences.

Photos by James Taylor

We caught up with Chris to find out the whole story, how this all started for him, how his other projects influenced Longsight Art Space and what the future holds for them and the community.

Listen to our chat below if you would prefer!

We are here to talk about Longsight Art Space but I'd love to get a sense of you and your background with your other businesses SOUP and PROFORMA, can you tell us about the beginnings of them?

For me, I've always had a double existence in the way of dual working with anything creative including bar and event management. 20 years ago, whilst in uni, I supported myself doing a visual arts course at Salford by working in local pubs in Northernden and Wythenshawe. As I left uni I managed to secure a shop on Chapel Street with another graduate artist and we created a souvenir shop in around 2002. The souvenirs were made by the people that lived there and it was relatively successful but I was also working at Fab Cafe and Satan's Hollow so a working day for me was starting at 8pm finishing at 4am and I would use my daytimes to be creative.

Around 2005 the creative side had bigger expectations of where I should be but this was exploited by others, people wanted you to volunteer your time more and more which at the time I couldn't afford. There were no real support networks, as there are today and so I set myself a target of managing other peoples places instead. I knew I needed to make it a real career and make my own bar or venue.

Around '08/'09 I was working at the Bay Horse Tavern on Tib Street, the owners of that place also owned Soup Kitchen originally when it was just a ground floor cafe. After a long service with them, I wanted a new challenge, so I gave them 6 months notice that I wanted to leave the job. Within that time though, I overheard a conversation that they were selling Soup Kitchen and from that I asked if they would be willing to sell it to me. I know it was good timing but it was also because of the hard graft I had put in for so long that I knew I had to do something more serious.

We said from the beginning that we would love to take over the basement space, which at that time was a mixed martial arts club. There was an MMA ring in the middle and the big girder in the centre of the basement was in the centre of the ring and they just put foam around it. I guess people would just use that as a weapon! By the summer the basement became available and so we had a year to test out some things down there, from an art gallery, live music, a record shop and loads of other things. It was great we secured that first year but going into the second we wanted to focus more on clubbing because that was our background as directors.

Photos by Chris Bailkoski

Over the years it has become more of a clubbing and live music space, less so an art space but we do have a good selection of people who make our flyers and posters for our events, that design element has taken over from any exhibitions. We do have occasional art events such as the Short Supply art and music event we just had called Eat Shit which highlighted the queer art scene in the city. I guess visual arts is becoming so big in the city that you can have a musician that is also a painter, especially in the environment that SOUP is. Artists seem to be doing everything from music, painting, photography and it's all really encompassing.

After 5 or 6 years of being here literally every day and night it was getting so much busier than we ever planned for and so us as 3 directors really needed to define our roles. I have a very small background in finance and running premises apart from SOUP but with my knowledge I became the finance manager here. We would all be behind the bar running the venue but since then we have really given the space to managers and events team to run the venue under our guidance and support.

Around 2015 I began to just focus on art again, I had the head space and availability to start looking again and that became PROFORMA. Going back into visual arts I wanted to know where I stood in the contemporary sense of 'What's happening now?', I would meet the artists I was into 10 years ago ask what are they doing now, what's the current curatorial process and so I went onto the MA Curating at MSOA. That was incredible as it gave me time to look at creative arts but specifically at Manchester and identifying what was a really vibrant performing art scene has become next to nothing. With venues like The Green Room closing down after the financial crash and the Arts Council had their overhaul there were just fewer venues for people to express their practise.

Photos by Chris Bailkoski

There were a lot of the same people around from years ago and I really wanted to include the younger generations in the art scene and so PROFORMA became a night of performance that was at The Dancehouse Theatre that commissioned 17 artists to perform throughout the night. The artists were put into almost acts, where I would curate one act of 3 and artists Lizz Brady and Rory Mullen would curate the other groups. That went great, it was something that had a lot of energy towards it and the people who came had great things to say. So, I thought this one night only exhibition might be a way to work with artists long term, to work with them on a temporary exhibition format but also give them time to create new work. Since then, we have have had residencies across the world, we have exchanged artists, worked with artists remotely, we have exhibited in many different countries but I see PROFORMA mainly as an artists development programme.

What was the journey from those projects to Longsight Art Space?

PROFORMA has existed for about 5 years now and after 3 years of doing it and finding new spaces for productions, specifically moving out of gallery spaces that existed we knew we wanted our exhibitions to be much more inclusive. The last exhibition we did as PROFORMA was a fully digital experience that was called Desire Lines and I felt we inhabited the areas I wanted to look at such as theatres, on the street, digital spaces and even in artists studios but I felt the concept was getting boring or that the energy to do something new was massive and so I questioned whether as an artist development programme am I really serving the artists?

Grade II listed former Beswick Co-op building on Northmoor Road. Photos used with the permission of Graham Todd

So I began to look for a dedicated space that could become a hub and then we could use that space to work with artists. I always wanted that to be outside Manchester city centre, not to clash with SOUP but because the cultural offering in the city centre is huge. In a mile and a half square there is so much activity and so that makes it really hard to get funding and that takes away from what you're trying to do. And so the search began, looking through all the boroughs. Through the search I found Great Places Housing Association based in Longsight and they had a space in this beautiful building on Northmoor Road. We proposed we would create an art hub there and that we would move PROFORMA in there and we would offer international development and socially engage with our art practises. For me there is a live element that suits the practises that I'm into and the event based nature of socially engaged works suits that aspect perfectly.

Photos used with the permission of Graham Todd

In order to bring this place to life I knew I needed to create a team and so I brought in co-director Chi Emecheta, she is someone who is relatively new to producing art but someone who is really on it and had worked within Longsight and knows the community. We met up and devised a presentation for the residents that live in the 19 social houses above us which was also shown to other Longsight residents and the managers of Great Places. Out of all of the proposed ideas we scored the highest and it felt like a real validation, we could see that people wanted art in Longsight and so that felt like our responsibility and our expectation. I did question how would my sort of peculiar art form interests translate in this community and how would an arts programme look in a space? We have been very careful to not call it a gallery because it is much more than just that, the gallery is an element but we want it to be more accessible.

How would you describe Longsight Art Space in a sentence?

Longsight Art Space is a creative art space that is really open to programming from the community whilst also situating local and international residencies within Longsight.

Photos by James Taylor

How does the art space intend on engaging with people in the city centre art scene and the local community of Longsight?

I think those spheres of influence that we want to be part of will take time. The first sphere we have to get right is in Longsight and we take that as the smallest and most concentrated area. We have residents come in on a daily basis and have conversations with the locals all the time about art and life but there is also a huge artists community already living in Longsight. I think its due to there being a lot of housing cooperatives, cheap housing and a number of studios close by including Rogue Studios, Bankley Studios and other groups like Pool Arts.

First of all we wanted to work with artists in this very local sphere but we didn't know who they were and so had to go find them, that's been our remit from the start. In terms of the wider Manchester artists community, we still have links with them but we also want to work with people from Greater Manchester, the North and internationally and then when we bring those people in we will match them up with a production team based here in Longsight.

In terms of attracting people to the space, we have already put out our programme which has so far consisted of a solo show with an artist Venessa Scott which was our opening at Longsight and then our second show Fertile Grounds, curated by Nikita Gill. This show has people from all 5 spheres, firstly Nadia Sultana who is an artist that lives opposite Crowcroft Park. We were able to work with her to create a flower mandala sculpture that was about 5m in diameter in Crowcroft Park as part of the launch for Fertile Grounds which was called Rain which was a street party supported by A Modest Show via Manchester Council. It was a big street party with a procession that went down from the art space to Crowcroft Park, around Nadia's sculpture and back to the space.

Photos by Chris Bailkoski

Others in the exhibition include Garth Gratrix, Tulani Hlalo, Tina Ramos Ekongo and a poet called Isaiah Hull, those 5 artists showed the sphere of what we would like to do perfectly but it's also about supporting young curators. As a curator I really want to pass on my knowledge to others and that is what has happened so far with the exhibition by Nikita.

Photos by James Taylor

How has it been so far and how has the art space been received by the community?

Our first opening event was on April 13th and was for Venessa's exhibition, it was great! We opened up in the afternoon and we had a variety of councillors, residents and managers from Great Places turn up and pop there head in and see what's going on. Then on June 4th we had the Rain street party and that was the official announcement of our arrival and we had over 250 people turn up, which was incredible. We opened up stalls outside to support micro businesses that sold clothes and food and really built trust with those local people. We also worked with Friends of Crowcroft Park who are a community group that help the upkeep of the space and were so helpful in supporting our plans going through the council.

In this space I am working solely as a producer and handing over the outwardly curatorial role to others to see best to use this space and that has really brought in some many new people and so much trust with the public.

What does your programme look like for the next year?

We have purposefully taken on a programme that we review every six months so we can stay relevant with the conversations going on around us. Fertile Grounds coincided with 50 years of Carnival in Manchester and it was also the Jubilee weekend and celebrating - very specifically - people from the windrush generation and making that statement was something we really wanted to do. Looking forward we have to look at what special events and markers can we coincide things with.

In terms of the programme now we have an annual residency and a 4 day exhibition with our partners in Chemnitz at Begehungen Festival. We have chosen local artist Chris Alton to start his residency soon with us at the art space, we have asked the local community to come bring him some prompts to build up a body of work which we will use as an exhibition. This exhibition will also be live streamed in Begehungen and Chris' work will also be described over there. The idea we have with Begehungen is that we have a remote residency between Manchester and Chemnitz where both can exhibit at the same time through the residency.

We will also be unveiling a permanent sculpture that Venessa Scott has made for us that will be part of the ceiling of the art space but will also act as sound insulation, therefore we can have louder events on in the space. Later on Chi will be having her own solo exhibition whereby she is the lead artist, the curator and literally everything else and it's called A Grand Pair. It starts off with a supper that follows the migration of the pear from China all the way to our plate. That story of migration will be told by other artists and the meal itself will be made of dishes that are points of interest from that journey. Each dish will have a pear in it but in many different ways and will be an ever revolving exhibition. We are looking to plant pear trees in Crowcroft Park and open the discussion of how can the local community care for these things. It's really a piece that will span over many years.

We are also connecting with The Whittaker Gallery in Rawtenstall and we are looking to plant an orchard in their garden space which they are turning into a kind of sculpture park. We will have a similar meal style exhibition but as a start to a longer partnership with growing the pear trees. After that we will then look at making that an annual festival to celebrate the humble pear and the work both sites have done.

PROFORMA is currently the lease holder of Longsight Art Space but we want a different organisation to run the space, one that is reflective of the community around it. So we plan on testing out lots of ways that this new organisation can be ran, whether that be charities, CIC's or cooperative and at the end of each quarter we will have an AGM which is an opportunity for us to talk to the local residents and get them involved in our projects. We want to do that in ways that incorporate performance, so something like a karaoke night or a meal, we are still yet to decide those points because the meetings before the AGM's will be to find trustees who will define how those AGM's go ahead.

What are the grand plans for this space and this venture?

Well, we are definitely going to be here for 5 years! Within those 5 years we will create. a new organisation, the programme will be then worked with the community through the trustees. Regarding blue sky thinking we are looking for actual staff as it's just myself and Chi and we want the space to be open for longer times, that will make us more available to look for funding and grow the space. We really want to then look at investing in the local area, looking at sites for production, opportunities to employ people in the local area to work on the bigger productions we want to do and eventually open up a public art programme that works outside of the art space.

The next thing after that is to look at investing in property so we can have specific artist resident spaces. That will then be a way that we can not only house artists but also people who urgently need it in a way that we can really support. After those things I believe we will be integrated into the community and it really shows our level of investment in the area. Ultimately I want to show that the creative and cultural services can provide employment which does get lost a lot of times.

So why Longsight? Since moving into that area what have you learnt about it?

One of the things that is reoccurring, which is my own personal prejudice also, is the negative perception of the local area to the point that we have three screens in the space, full DJ equipment and people have warned us against that, it's an area that it would just be stolen. But it hasn't been like that at all, people have instead shown how much they would like to DJ and to use our stuff with us.

What I also find is that there is that negative attitude from some of the other institutions and they have been warned about being careful in Longsight, I'm under no illusion that this district hasn't had it's problems but what district hasn't. Historic conflicts between areas like Moss Side and Hulme really define an area but they just shouldn't in the modern day. I currently live in Moss Side and I work in Longsight and it's just not like that, I am a 6ft white male so it is easy for me to say that but others in the community give so much of themselves away generously.

For me it's about changing the perceptions of the area and doing it in a way that's different, de-colonial, embracing queerness and being honest about what we mean by those terms and not apologising about where we are.

We always end our interviews in the same way and that is to recommend us 3 things we should check out in Manchester!

Red Chilli is a takeaway in Longsight, I've got to be careful that I don't just eat there every single day. I can already feel the side effects!

Coming up we have SOUP's birthday party, we will be working with artists Raheel Khan. We are opening up some new rooms within SOUP and Raheel will be the lead artist creating installations in the ground floor club space and the new room. So I would highly recommend Raheel Khan!

Try and support people who are really invested in Manchester such as Short Supply, check out everything they do and support what they do through their Patreon, it's really important that they continue doing what they do.

Go visit Longsight Art Space on a weekend and find out exactly what they do yourselves. Chris Alton’s exhibition PROFORMA X Begehungen 2022: Long-heim & Thal-sight opens 11th - 14th of August at the space and will also be exhibited in Germany at Begehugen Festival, go check it out!

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