DAY 4: The DIYs
Drop the Dumbells (Dumbells Gallery), Slater Street, L1
Wolstenholme Creative Space, Wolstenholme Square, L1
I’m not going to make anything up for this one, or write it in a narrative sort of way. Because I really don’t have to. The following gallery spaces, venues and studios hold enough real creative force and self-initiated power. So, I will simply tell you a little bit about three of the places I have seen build themselves up from nothing, or very little, to what I feel is what makes Liverpool special. Not to go all American after school special, but the people who are behind the creation and perpetuation of these spaces are hard-working to well over the point of obsession and are committed to making it work, even in the worst economic climate. In fact, because of that. All of the directors, artists, curators, installers, technicians, volunteers and mates with a brush/projector/PA who constantly pitch in to make these places work mean they are the most dynamic, inspirational and representative of the cultural heart of Liverpool.
The Royal Standard is an artist-led studio space and gallery a little bit out of the city centre. Home to various internationally-exhibiting, well-regarded and well-loved artists, this space is the example of how to do DIY. The exhibitions events that Royal Standard host and hold across the city are renowned for their creativity, community, and their interesting choice of booze (and receptacles). The Drawing Paper is produced from these studios (where both of the Liverpool Art Prize nominated creators Jon Barraclough and Mike Carney, are based) and next week the second Drawing Session will be held in the studios. These sessions see studio-holders, artists from across Liverpool, musicians and people just interested in what’s going on, walking around the space watching people create art all over the walls, the floor, the doors: anywhere they can rest a piece of paper or card. Meanwhile, local musicians and DJs soundtrack the day’s activities. In next week’s session, the two will combine through creative technologies so that the drawing can be soundtracked by drawing itself. For me, the Drawing Paper (now on its 6th issue) and the accompanying events illustrate (pun fully intended) the commitment of TRS to community, artist-led exhibitions and anybody artistically-minded getting involved in everything.
Drop the Dumbells started as a gig venue in an abandoned basement gym on the grounds of the old Flying Picket on Hardman Street, when it was called Don’t Drop the Dumbells (named for a sign mounted on the wall in the gym). These two small, damp rooms played host to some of the best local gigs I have ever been to, and saw the first show by promoters Behind the Wall of Sleep, a show which brought ATP favourite Alexander Tucker, the mighty Carlton Melton (USA) and local psych-heroes Mugstar together for an incredible, packed-out, projection filled show. During the year this space was controlled by local musicians, promoters and artists, we had lock-ins, art on the walls and ceiling, gigs starting at midnight and going on until people started to fall asleep on the beat up couch, birthday parties where everyone not too drunk to do so had a turn of DJ-ing, a fancy dress Halloween extravaganza, and basically an amazing time. So we were sad to see it go when the license went up. But now, for the time being, Dumbells has returned, in a slightly more sophisticated guise (i.e. there’s a door, a sign, and some paint on the walls) showing monthly solo exhibitions by local artists alongside one-off gigs and music-based events taking place in the exhibition itself.
Wolstenholme Creative Space (WCS) is probably my favourite space in Liverpool. I used to only come here for gigs or to meet friends painting or screen-printing upstairs on self-built beds in small studios. They were some of the most intimate, surprising and varying gigs I have ever been to, but that’s not the reason I am in love with WCS. It is for the gallery space, and for the amazing programme which is a result of the incredibly hard-working, keen-eyed Priya Shama, who runs the space and runs herself into the ground doing so. Priya along with a group of mates, artists and gallery technicians from across the city pull together each show to make the next one better than the last. They are an inspiration to anyone starting out as a practitioner, curator or creator, or anyone in the arts who can’t find a job. They couldn’t find the jobs they wanted, so they committed to Wolsty whilst doing the jobs they could get, if they could, and now they occasionally get paid enough to pay rent, and asked to exhibit in other galleries, such as with the ACE supported show Spectrum which ran this summer.
As a caveat, during the course of this project, and as recently as last week, the City Council have basically tried to oust two of the best self-initiated, artist led communities in Liverpool. One being the not-for-profit bar MelloMello on Slater Street, which plays host to gigs, exhibitions, parties, DJ nights and some incredible veggie & vegan food, the other being the artist-led studio space and gallery The Royal Standard, whose directors are dedicated volunteers and houses some of Liverpool’s best, most prolific and encouraging, internationally-exhibited artists such as Emily Speed, Kevin Hunt and Jon Barraclough. This sort of careless, unfounded bureaucratic behaviour may destroy the very places which were organically formed and have thrived as a result of, and in spite of, massive government cuts in funding to the arts, and the lack of paid opportunities available to artists, curators, and creators. Liverpool’s creative community have filled the gap which was left after 2008, when large, performative displays and grand exhibitions drew the tourists, but invested nothing real and tangible into the future of the city’s cultural landscape. Places like MelloMello and The Royal Standard have brought themselves up from nothing, found their own funding, found their own willing and loyal volunteers and made something out of nothing. Now they are going to be penalised for making it work. I have ultimate faith that both organisations will fight, adapt and come back even stronger given the tremendous support shown by the Liverpool people. But I just wish it didn’t have to be a constant, unending battle.
Primary image: Royal Standard based artists Mike Carney & Jon Barraclough: Drawing Paper creators.