This is my second blog post and thinking about it there really is rather a lot to say.  I sat and had a chat with a lovely lady about it today and she was very keen for me to try to structure my posts a little more in order to possibly think about turning my story into a book at some point.  I have to say that this would be great, but I don’t want that thought to make me ‘precious’ about what I write on this blog.  I am not a ‘writer’, I just want to share my story as I get asked about it a lot.  So, no more stalling.  Here we go …

At the end of my first post, I said I opened a gallery.  Well, I did, but that sounds like I waved a magic wand and there it was, all shiny and ready to go.  This, of course, was far from the truth.  Clearly, I had to make the space ready and get some artwork into it!

I had agreed a lease on the shop next door to the picture framer’s I had just bought. At the time I took both premises on they were not connected, therefore, they needed to be joined in some way. Also, although the adjacent shop unit was empty it had previously been a haberdashery and prior to that a clock shop (I think) and lets just say the walls weren’t great. Come to think of it, nor was the floor.  So, I enlisted the help of my flat mate, Graham, and my new husband – yes, as newly weds we were still living in the shared student flat in which I had held my first contemporary art exhibition. Sorry, I digress.  Between us we put up lining paper on the walls and painted it white. I paid two local builders to create a new ‘door way’ into the second space.  They didn’t do a great job but then by the looks of them I wouldn’t have been surprised if they had simply pushed the wall down separating the two shops!  However, it was done and so I then had something that looked and felt more like a gallery space.

I now had two more very important jobs to do:

  1. Naming the gallery
  2. Putting a first show together.

What was I going to call my gallery?  I thought hard about this but was struggling to come up with anything I liked.  I did not want to name it after me as I found that rather egotistical – there is a slight irony here of course, but we won’t go into that now 🙂 . I did not want to name it after where I was located (Hillsborough) as I felt Hillsborough was so strongly related to the Sheffield Wednesday Football ground that people may assume that I might sell football related items. I didn’t want to call it the Middlewood Gallery -Middlewood was the name of the street but there was a well known mental health hospital, Middlewood Hospital, not far away.  I wanted something that sounded contemporary, didn’t encourage people to make assumptions about the kind of work I was going to exhibit, and had some connection to Sheffield.  Tall order?  Maybe, but when you have creative friends, anything is possible.

I, therefore, arranged to meet up with some friends, Helen and Mike, and between the four of us – my husband Chris was also there, we pawed over a dictionary and a thesaurus.  Eventually we landed on Cupola. At first glance, maybe, that word doesn’t seem to fit the brief, but on closer inspection, it definitely does.  Cupola, you see, is not just a dome but it is also the name of a dome shaped steel smelting furnace.  Aha!  So, we had found a word that had the connection to Sheffield, didn’t give an indication of the type of work the gallery might show, and made me think of ‘a melting pot of creativity’ – which is exactly what I wanted my gallery to be.  And a little added bonus, for me anyway, is that there never really has been a consensus on how you say it.  I emphasise the ‘O’ in the second syllable ie: CupOla, but I have been reliably informed by a number of ex steelworkers that it should be pronounced CUpola, with the emphasis on the first syllable.  I’m happy with either.

Cupola Gallery it was.

cupola definition

Then I needed a sign. I decided I wanted the letters cut out of steel as it seemed completely appropriate. I contacted someone I knew down at my studio, the old YASS – Yorkshire Art Space Society, in my search. An artist called Darren kindly agreed to undertake this task.  With that under way I needed to gather work for a show. I advertised for submissions via artists newsletter and via visiting the three artists’ studios spaces that were operating at that time. The response I got from my call for submissions was my first big shock!

I’m not sure exactly what I expected but I had presumed that Sheffield based artists would have been keen to have a brand new space to show and, potentially, sell their art work.  How wrong could I have been?  I was almost smacked in the face by a brick wall of negativity.

So many artists I talked to told me, quite matter of factly, that if I was opening a gallery in Sheffield it couldn’t be any good and if it was in Hillsborough, it definitely wouldn’t be any good.  I shall say right now that Hillsborough is North Sheffield and not what anyone might describe as the ‘posh’ side of town. Hillsborough has a strong working class district, affluent at times due to the steel works, but like most of Sheffield by 1991, it had seen better times.  I’m sure some of this negativity, which was at times downright hostility, may have been in part due to my young age, but I was still rather shocked and disappointed.  I had even been down to YASS, where as I previously mentioned, had my studio, in search of neighbouring artists support by asking other studio holders if they wanted to submit work for consideration.  Out of more than thirty studio holders, only one artist put work forward. Even Psalter Lane Art College of Sheffield Hallam, where I did my degree, was no help or support either.

However, I was not going to be deterred and through other contacts (I was a recent fine art graduate after all), responses from Artists Newsletter and a small handful of positive and enthusiastic artists, I got a show together.

Now, I know on first glance that a gallery set up in the recession of 1991 between a betting shop and launderette, around the corner from the Sheffield Wednesday Football ground, might not be most peoples ideal spot for a contemporary art gallery but it did create a flurry of interest from local people and from the local press, who were clearly both cynical and intrigued.

Both the press and the locals (I think) gave my venture about 6 months …

However, all the arguments people gave me as reasoning for not surviving did not make any sense to me!  Here are some of the most common reasons people gave and my answers – sometimes verbalised, sometimes not!

1. “It’s not really the right place for an art gallery is it?”

(ME) Why Not?

2. “Well, there’s no money in Hillsborough.”

(ME) What do you mean there’s no money?  People in Hillsborough buy food, clothes, cars, houses, books, music, kitchens, bedrooms, bathrooms, go on holiday …  and of course surely my customers don’t have to just be from Hillsborough?

A NOTE FOR NON SHEFFIELD READERS:  It is well known that people in Sheffield do not ‘travel’ – across their own city that is.  If you live in an area, that’s where you live – why go anywhere else unless you need to?  In fact I still get phone calls from people saying that they know of the gallery but have never been because it’s too far  and when I ask them where they are calling from thinking Hampshire, Glasgow …  I am no longer shocked when they name another area of Sheffield.  Crazy – but that’s how it was and is!

3. “Ok, but they wouldn’t choose to spend their money on art.”

(ME) Oh!  Why is that? Surely, unless you give people a choice, how can people decide what they do and don’t like?  None of us are born eating Kellogg’s cornflakes and liking Walt Disney!

4. “You’ll see.  It’ll never last.”

(ME) I don’t believe you!

1991 press coverage

Well, as you know 22 years later and I’m still here … So NER!

And what is even more fantastic is that customers who first visited after reading the coverage in the local press all those years ago are still my customers today 🙂

Right I’m going to leave it there for now, but there’s plenty more including my ‘dream mentor’ who just walked in off the street and the ‘Supertram’ nightmare that turned the busy road on which I was located into a cul-de-sac for 3 years, forcing nearly 1/4 of the 94 shops in Hillsborough to close …

K x