Manchester aka Cottonopolis has been an ever-changing living and working city with the majority of the central city being a selection of factories and mills accompanied by the social housing of the workers. In the late 19th Century Manchester Ship Canal was created by adjoining the waters of the river Mersey and the southernly travelling Irwell, creating this travelling water way made Manchester one of the most major inland seaports and led to the creation of Trafford Park, europe's biggest retail park.
Consistent trade from the industrialisation of southern Lancashire and the new connection to international waters via Liverpool made the Irwell the place to build your business and so Manchester and Salford developed and the banks of the river were built up. You can still see the early 20th century buildings dotted around near The White Hotel as a shadow of the former industrial prowess that area had.
Paradise Works is an artist led studios that functions as a - excuse the pun - paradise for artists, a home for people to create, work and realise their ideas. They occupy one of the aforementioned industrial buildings on the banks of the Irwell on the very border of Manchester and Salford in an area maybe not generally visited by the wanderer of the city.
The space was founded in 2017 by two artists in a time of crisis for the city wide arts ecology. Hilary Jack and Lucy Harvey, formerly tenants of Rogue Studios were forced to depart from their city centre artistic dwellings along with another 8 studios within a short amount of time and after many discussions, soul searching and estate agents they came to find their current residence on East Philip Street with only the Bridgewater Community Garden splitting them from the Irwell.
And so with many artists displaced and joining forces we have the story of Paradise Works. We caught up with founders Hilary and Lucy and asked them to tell us the real story about founding the art space from their perspective.
Tell us about your art practise and what led to the founding of Paradise Works?
HIlary: I have a conceptual art practise that goes back nearly 20 years and I have been based in Manchester for most of that time. I work across all media, I have a research based practise and I am interested sociopolitical aspects of our lives, most of my work is site specific but I do also have a studio practise.
In the past I have had a curatorial practise and I used run a space with a very good friend called Paul Harfleet in his sixth floor one bedroom flat on Lamport Court which is on the side of the Mancunian way, we did that for 5 years or so, maybe it was more, it felt like more. It was just after we finished our MA and it meant we could maintain a relationship with the people who were on the MA with us and so we could expand our network.
I had just been on a residency with Goldsmiths in Budapest and it meant we could show artists from other countries also, for very cheaply. We ran the space by running a bar, no arts council funding but the proceeds of the bar would fun our projects. A lot of artists that are still here today did show there such as Chester Tenneson, who actually was an artist in residence there. We showed Richard Shields who now has a studio here at Paradise Works and we showed many others which was so nice to have as a project.
It had a massive impact on me and Paul as many artists and curators who came to Manchester visit the space and because it was so close to the MSOA a lot of visiting lecturers or artists came to our previews and shows.
Evan: So just to confirm, this is in a flat?
Hilary: Yeah, that's right, it was in Paul's flat. He didn't clear out his flat, we just left it exactly how it was, artists would show work amongst his everyday stuff a bit like the Glasgow method in the 90's. It was a lot of fun and I think that is important because you need a good relationship with the people you are doing this with, I mean, it all has to be fun to some degree even if it is really hard work. I would like to think that Lucy and I have had some fun whilst setting up Paradise Works!
And so Apartment stopped around 2008 I think, I think it had become a little less fun and we had so much work to do on our own practises. I had a solo show at Castlefield Gallery and Paul had a show in Iceland so we just wanted to focus on our own work and so killed Apartment really. We ended it with a show where we exhibited a YBA artist called Giorgio Sadotti. For many years after that I worked on my own practise, showed in various places until the present across the UK and internationally and in 2017 we set up Paradise Works, Lucy and I, which started a new chapter.
A piece left by Hilary in Rogue Studios for the arrival of the developers.
Lucy and I were both in Rogue Studios at Crusader Mill before we set up Paradise Works. That building had sadly been sold to a developer and we decided that we wanted to stick as close to the city centre as possible and there was a core group of artists who all felt the same way and at the same time this building came up in my mind and so I came and had a look. To cut a very long and boring and tiring story short we managed to wrestle the lease from the previous tenants, the building is owned by Urban Splash.
There was nothing here when we arrived besides Mr Scruff's tea cups and vinyls except we had a gentleman who lived on the first floor and two garages on the ground floor. Firstly we took on the top floor and then the first floor. How many studios do we have here?
Lucy: 40 studios so far but we are about to add 6 more... And I guess that initial thing is that we wanted a smallish community. Our first conversations were asking 'What does a studio space provide that isn't just studio space?" and the answer is peer support. Giving an opportunity to curate a membership which we have handed over to our internal studio members committee and to be able to develop things in house which develops not just our public facing stuff but the internal stuff that also supports artists.
Evan: Well that's the amazing part. Just to go back a little Lucy, what is your backstory and how did your story get you to Rogue Studios and working on Paradise with Hilary?
Lucy: I'm from Manchester and graduated from a design course, I went on to do jewellery. I've always had an interest in objects and a lot of that is in my visual arts process even though it took me a while to figure out what that was. So I started with jewellery, left with sculpture and loved doing installations but I am very concerned with material culture and the way we use objects to tell stories.
In the in between times - because I felt I didn't fit in in Manchester - I did a lot of residencies, a lot of socially engaged commissions and moved all round the country without a base. Continuing to do that made me feel somewhat untethered and so I joined Bankley in Levenshulme and it was the first time I had been part of an artists community and I did wonder if this was work and I brought a new angle to the artist community. Bankley is ran like a co-op, there were things I saw value in, perhaps they had been taken for granted if you had gone through fine arts training but they were potentially alien to me.
I think whilst I was there I got very concerned with the way that artists are valued and that is what has brought me here, it was certainly the impetus of our conversations behind this place (Paradise). Like Hilary said, we met at Rogue and I started looking at more curatorial projects whilst working on commissions outside the city and I found it all to be a little untenable and so I decided to have a little break.
I used that time to reground myself and to develop some new skills really. One of the things for me is that having a creative practise is great but you do have different skills to explore and what I love about the artist led is that you can develop other strings to your bow and so it started at Rogue and Paradise came from the conversation of having value for artists. We understood that having a creative practise is valuable but what about centralising it and enable artists to be part of the city centre cultural ecology.
Evan: So a single conversation got us to here at Paradise Works?
Hilary: Many, many conversations.
Lucy: It was really quite disruptive to that community as a lot of us had all been there for a long time.
Hilary: Rogue had been celebrating its 21st anniversary when we received our eviction notices from the developer. There had always been a steering committee at Rogue, which I was part of, and we were discussing where to move to and most of them (the opportunities) all fell through as time passed on. Then it was decided that it would move out to the (Varner Street) school in Openshaw, which was a great opportunity but many artists - like me - wanted to stay in the city centre and we were aware people have jobs in the city or work within galleries and such. So that was our main impetus really.
Lucy: There were also 8 other studios that closed between those two years.
Hilary: Penthouse and Hotspur Press had a lot of artists kicked out so there were a lot of displaced people. It was all mainly due to the regeneration of the city centre at such a quick pace, and so Paradise Works came out of conversations about all of these things.
Once we had identified the building, people came to us after being evicted and that is how the studio came together. There were a core group of artists who set it up initially and physically build the space, there was nothing here just a warehouse space. Typical of an artist space, it has a leaky roof. And from there we cracked on with a quick deadline, we had no funding and people paid rent even though there were no built spaces. Eventually everyone got set up with individual studios and the idea was that we could pay artists to do the work that we needed. We now have Gwen Evans who is our marketing assistant, Nataly Chambers our studio manager who does all the admin, which previously had fallen on myself and Lucy.
Lucy: A cautionary tale is that it is not as simple as it looks!
Hilary: We were both aware that even though there was this core group of artists that set this space up but me and Lucy were leaseholders and had the bank accounts, so we were very much aware from previous endeavours that people's generosity and volunteering does have a limited time span and you have to put stuff in place.
One of my main concerns was that my art practise would be lost by doing all this stuff and that became a. big focus for me. Lucy was also teaching at the university of Salford and we both had things going on.
Lucy: I have enjoyed having a little bit of a break, I joined here doing a day or two whilst teaching and I have had a few commissions alongside that also. I have been saying that I have been on my artistic hiatus recently but people reply with "your art practise has been the activities here" and I do see that now and I guess it was just a different output. We are revisiting stuff that we mapped out back then as we approach our 5 year anniversary. We've been having conversations asking whether our initial story is still relevant and some of it is, artists are still not valued in society and there is a brushing over of the fact that we need somewhere to produce work in the city.
With both Lucy and Hilary being central to the developments of Manchester's artistic ecology it is clear why and how Paradise Works is so well revered and most certainly a part of Manchester's central art hub.
So far we haven't even told you what they have done with the space, only the story of how we got to this point. The next part of the story consists of tales of the 5 years in which the studio has functioned and existed. Stories of dancing with the Mayor of Salford, open studios with big scale parties, socially engaged projects and exhibitions off the scale.