Volunteering in the Arts

I was once pulled kicking and screaming from my sleep into a telesales interview in which they verbally accosted me with the words “previous paid position?” It is true that the financial benefits are minimal, but this goes further than that. Since I started voluntary work, it has become a rewarding path I would recommend to anyone. I’ve had some fairly damning experiences that I’ll share, but in the semi-educational way where I hope you won’t encounter similar difficulties.


Cupola Contemporary Art in Hillsborough was my first experience of volunteering in a commercial gallery. Their encouragement helped me cope with the anxiety I felt, and I slowly grew more confident. I was once given the daunting responsibility of making phone calls to a list of forty artists, which I hid in the attic to make. One phone call started with me gushing “Hi! Is this [name]? I really love your work!” met by her bewildered “thank you!”. After a few months of personal development, liaising with artists and visitors became a highlight of my work at Cupola, as they shared creative tips and expanded my knowledge of the local art scene.

Offering whatever spare time you have will always be appreciated. A variety of roles exist within a gallery, and making it your job to tackle them all at least once is great for mining experience points. I’m personally wary of hosting opening nights – the last tram home with a head full of red wine and art speak makes navigating the underpass near the O2 Academy Sheffield anything but jaunty.

Laura Jayne Illustrations

Laura Jayne Illustrations

The biggest problem for me was my commuting costs, particularly as Cupola’s volunteers were usually local. After a simple discussion, half my costs were covered. Checking for offers to cover travel and lunch costs is super useful when unwaged – just remember to keep your receipts.

During my time at Cupola, the owner Karen Sherwood became a huge inspiration for me, cementing my aspirations of gallery ownership. She’s now got a blog documenting her journey karencupola.wordpress.com, which is an important insight into the practical necessity of dedicated volunteers.

Laura Jayne Illustrations

Laura Jayne Illustrations


At Bank Street Arts in Sheffield I learnt a pretty big lesson; you need to research how long the commitment is for, otherwise you could not get a lot out of it. BSA offers “stages” within their volunteering scheme, stage one for me was front of house duties, and it’s a shame that’s all I ever really saw of BSA before leaving. BSA is essentially a volunteer run organisation, so it gives the place an interesting dynamic. The only downside being that the fresh “stage one” front of house volunteers often have a slightly disorientated approach to visitor’s questions (and I still can’t remember where the toilets are).

In spite of this, I still made the most of it. Networking is one of the best reasons for volunteering, as you should have hopefully built a sound relationship with someone by the end of your time there. I kept in contact via LinkedIn/email with one of the exhibition organisers where all the paintings were reproductions. Six months later, I was writing a coincidentally inspired essay about reproduction art, and I contacted them for useful resources.


Invigilating events across London allowed me to scope out really unique and interesting venues – especially when doing short term volunteering. Artsjobs is a fantastic place to find voluntary roles, and it can give you a route into many organisations. Being available to help friends who already work in the arts is a bonus and makes you feel (a.) a good friend and (b.) an integral part of the event. But always remember that your input is valid and useful so don’t be nervous to offer your opinion.


A West London gallery that will remain unnamed was the first long-term voluntary role I took on in London. One of their opening gambits was Stella McCartney is just round the corner, and I absolutely loathe Stella McCartney. So that set the tone nicely. I appreciate the fact that many Sheffield galleries and London events can’t afford staff costs. However this was a sponsored West London gallery that just wanted some free desk monkeys to serve champagne and canapés on opening nights. They used volunteers to open the gallery on Saturdays, yet all we ever did was sit there and get maybe one or two visitors through the door. Boring and exploitative unpaid work. Definitely not what volunteering should be.

Laura Jayne Illustrations

Laura Jayne Illustrations

One of the final emails I received before quitting showed their desperation for volunteers, “we’ll cover your travel costs!” They said. Ah, the penny finally dropped. They finally realised that a gallery sponsored by a paint company giant could at least cover travel costs. Cue round of applause. I didn’t care by that point anyway. Breeding apathy in your volunteers through fruitless work doesn’t make a reliable staffing.

Your time is valuable. You should value it, and where you are working should value it. They shouldn’t just be valuing free labour. And you shouldn’t just value the fact that it’ll look good on a cv. What I found most disheartening about that place was how many graduates were there as something to do. There was nothing to do there, little to be gained unless you’re one of the artists… leave, call the gallery bitter names, move on and hope they get called out eventually for unpaid labour.


Ad hoc volunteering with Museums Sheffield means I can stay connected to a city I love whilst studying in London. Delivering art workshops to families is one of my favourite roles because I get to share skills and learn things from the children. It’s a good feeling letting children take home what you’ve made – and living in the knowledge that I’m helping fill their parent’s houses with that they would normally deem as “rubbish”. But where would their child be without their cardboard box rendering of Park Hill Flats?

But you can’t always please children whilst invigilating events and you can’t clear parents of blame either. I have witnessed nervous prods at sculptures followed by encouragement to their offspring to follow suit. Or father-daughter iPhone photo shoots of them wearing an exhibit. Don’t touch is a rule young-and-old have a flagrant disregard for and you have become the sharp-eyed and peremptory figure in this game of cat and mouse.


Ignite Imaginations in Sheffield is the most recent voluntary role I’ve taken on, again on an ad hoc basis like Museums Sheffield. I got this role from emailing Karen at Cupola Gallery, asking if she knew of any summer jobs. She suggested that Art in the Park were looking for volunteers to help with their rebranding as Ignite Imaginations. My oldest connection helped make my newest connection and many more in-between. Utilise your contacts – utilise everything you learn from volunteering, you never know when you’ll need it.

As It Transpired – An interview with Victoria Lucas

There is something undeniably fascinating about an artist who is able to work in different disciplines. It’s a fascination comparable to how you might feel on discovering your friend’s secret talent. UK based artist, Victoria Lucas, is one of these artists. Working between sculpture, film, and photography – with a little interactive work thrown in here and there for good measure – Lucas is most certainly not a one trick pony.


With a background in sculpture, Victoria Lucas has moved into the digital arts later on in her artistic career, and has now fully established herself as an exceptional digital artist. Although Lucas admits that she is still her own biggest critic, stating that she is still working towards the “feeling of calm and satisfaction” that all artists seem to chase after. Perhaps this revelation wouldn’t come as such a surprise if Lucas didn’t have so many successful artworks to her name already. So, how does the artist who has created pieces such as, ’12 Months of Neon Love’‘Interruptions’, and ‘After’ repeatedly create such intriguing and diverse work? When asked to describe her own work Lucas said that she always “starts with a place”, she “finds a hook” and creating work she hopes might “make people think about things in a different way.” “I kind of experience things and I’ll find poetic meanings in certain objects and places” Lucas says, explaining a little further how the “Non-places” she randomly encounters often become perfect starting points for her work to launch off from.


Victoria Lucas art

‘Market East, Philadelphia’ Victoria Lucas


Much of Lucas’s work over the past several years has been focused around these “Non-places” – places that many of us encounter and travel through or have past by on a daily basis without even batting an eyelid. This nondescript invisibility of these places to the everyday passer-by plays perfectly into Lucas’s work, as she turns the tables, photographing and videoing these usually crowded and unnoticed spaces in their unusually empty states. It is easy to understand when looking at pieces such as ‘After’ and ‘Interruptions’ how Lucas could use the word “Apocalyptic” in relation to much of her own work. Lucas takes spaces that otherwise would seem run-of-the-mill and mundane and displays them in a rather ominous and uneasy manner. The spaces themselves suddenly become void in their emptiness, and Lucas’s photographs and videos alike show much more than an idle set of stairs or an empty shopping centre – they display a lack of humanity and life, that otherwise would have gone unseen and unnoticed. “Everything will crumble and everyone will disappear.” Lucas stated, after addressing the way in which her own work helped her to “grapple with all the big questions”. Perhaps this is what makes so much of Lucas’s work, which is mostly void of any human presence, seem so human and emotive nonetheless.


Victoria Lucas had a lot of great advice for any wannabe practicing artists who might be struggling to find their footing. “Setting up your own things stops you getting really low from rejection.” Lucas advised, admitting herself that the most difficult obstacle she’d faced in her career had been the simple, yet all-important matter of, “Earning money.” Before honestly adding, “It’s a real struggle and it really affects your mental health I think. Being that close to the edge it can get quite desperate.” However, most importantly Lucas wanted aspiring artists to know that, “You have to make mistakes, you have to fail, you have to have those moments. You learn things from it and it doesn’t matter. It’s all part of striving to be an artist.” “Don’t give up and don’t be afraid to fail. Just keep pushing, even when you think it’s impossible.” If any more inspiration was needed on this point it’s very clear that Lucas herself has proved this advice to be true; using her art to work through hard times, and continuously pushing through uncertainty and financial struggle, Lucas is steadily making her way to exactly where she wants to be in life.


Victoria Lucas Art

‘Remedy’ Victoria Lucas


Finally, does Victoria Lucas believe artists can use art to change the World? “We can, in a very small way, change the world.” Lucas replied, adding, “I think artists have a lot of freedom, freedom that the media or other institutions don’t have, so we can tell things as they are. We have a really valuable responsibility to keep questioning our environment and the things that are happening.”


So, perhaps we should all start viewing art in the way Lucas does – as a platform to express our own thoughts while also forcing others to look at things from a different angle. Who knows what we could change?


Fresh From Sheffield – S1 Artspace



Sheffield is a growing power in the UK’s art scene.

Hosting not only a contemporary art biennial festival but also the Sheffield Doc Fest.

Being home to S1 Artspace, Bloc projects, CAD, Yorkshire Artspace, Site Gallery and Sheffield Museums. Sheffield boasts a thriving street art scene, the most amount of studios in the UK outside of London and having one of the oldest established Art & Design institutions Sheffield’s Institute of Art.

We talk to Pippa Shaw, Geo Law & Joseph Cutts from S1 Artspace about the state of Sheffield’s art scene and their place in it. You can view there videos by clicking on the videos below.

Fresh From Sheffield – Pippa Shaw S1 Artspace

S1 Artspace

Pippa Shaw on the Sheffield art scene. 

S1 has a very unique position in Sheffield, within the cultural horizon. In that it supports a level of artist that are very key to the cultural economy, not necessarily recent graduates but very much in the emerging field.

We work very closely with SHU, we do an educational programme with them and we co-host there degree show.

S1 is a very nurturing environment there is a real community, the studios are pretty much all open plan, which is very much unique within Sheffield. All the studios on the mezzanine level are committed to fine art practice, so there’s a real dialogue that goes on and that’s there everyday. I feel in terms of the studios there’s a real particular ethos that exists at S1.

The gallery programme itself again supports emerging artists largely and is commissioned focused so we really try to provide a pot of money for them to do whatever they want. That’s a really unique thing and it’s really important to S1.

To see Pippa’s full interview watch the video below

Fresh From Sheffield – Geo Law

Geo Law sheffield

Geo Law on the Sheffield art scene. 

Currently the art scene has many facets to it. I concentrate mostly on graphic design, illustration scene and the street art scene.

We have a lot of art festivals here, mostly contemporary art and they are always interesting to go to because you see a lot of people crossing over into each others events, so you end up supporting a lot of the artists.

At S1 Artspace we all go to each others shows to support each other, but also because its intriguing as you have first hand knowledge of the artist and we know them as people as well as creatives.

Sheffields art scene is diverse and I do feel that certain practices cross over. I’ve not really worked alongside any of the artists that are here (S1 Artspace), but I do get interesting feedback from them because of differing opinions and likewise I give out my opinion on their work if is visually intrigues me, or makes me ask questions of it.

To see Geo’s full interview watch the video below

Fresh From Sheffield – Joseph Cutts

Joseph Cutts interview

Joseph Cutts on the Sheffield art scene. 

I think the Sheffield art scene is very cutting edge both S1 and Site Gallery have very different approaches to the way they put on shows.

Site Gallery is predominately media based, so it has a different method to the way it programs its year projects, especially with platform projects.

Where as S1, in the last year we have seen is relationship with Sheffield museums and the Henry Moore institute form.

There is a great relationship between how past artworks from archives can now inform future artists and commission so as a whole to explore different mediums of the way of putting on works. Its becoming more of an all round city.

To see Joseph’s full interview watch the video below.

Learn To Be Happy

Its that time of year.  Degree shows are, for a BA Fine Art student, supposed to be the accumulation of everything you have worked for throughout your education; the beautiful and resolved results of your hard work which confidently asserts: I am An Artist.  I am ready for you, world!

Everyone in art school knows the legend of the Young British Artists (YBAs), who hosted the notorious Freeze exhibition which attracted the attention of Charles Saatchiall while many of them were still students studying at Goldsmiths. 

Oh, youll nominate me for the next Turner Prize? You flatterer!

I think many of us secretly believe that we will be snapped up at our degree show Private View and will be whisked off our feet by some Scandinavian gallery manager who wants to photograph our work for big coffee table books; or perhaps the editor of Frieze magazine; they might want to feature you in an article about the next generation of art graduates

Whats that? You want me to represent England in the next Venice Biennale? You charmer!

You may think Im exaggerating, but the little mounds of bespoke business cards bearing websites and contact details illustrate my point.  And of course, weve worked so hard and overcome so many obstacles,(and painted so many bloody boards white!) it feels only fair that we should be rewarded for it. 

According to David McLeavy, an ex-Hallam Fine Art student, the truth of the matter is that the sudden rise to artistic infamy doesnt really happen, at least not very often in regional cities like Sheffield.  The YBAs are an exception.  But that doesnt mean that there cant still be success for us, the recently graduated.  I first met David McLeavy when we both worked at Lush Cosmetics: I had just started my first year in Sheffield and he had just finished his degree and was working in order to fund his studio at S1 Artspace which he had won through a bursary scheme.  That year, Dave learned how to juggle working at Lush with his artistic practice, alongside setting up a new exhibition space in Sheffield, Snig Hill Gallery.  Since then, Dave has curated shows, facilitated new collaborations between artists, and founded Young Artists in Conversation (YAC), a project where interviews with up-and-coming artists are recorded and archived online.  Dave, with several exciting projects already under his belt, typifies successful graduate

When we leave the relatively comfortable safety net of university life (cheap bus fares, 10% student discount at Topshop), it can be hard to adjust to life outside the bubble.  We have to get jobs, pay council tax, be grownups.  Nationwide, there are schemes through university or galleries which can help graduates to bridge the transition from art school into the real world, and for those who have secured schemes like this, you may already have contacts and even an upcoming show.  But sometimes art practices can be forgotten while we get our lives sorted out; sometimes we fall in love or start a career in a totally different sector; perhaps we cant afford to rent a studio and dads garage just isn’t hitting the spot.  But there are different kinds of success, there are different races to be won. 

I felt more satisfaction hosting the Degree Show Private View, handing out cocktails and icing fairy cakes, than I did actually making and installing the artwork in the show.  Success should come hand in hand with happiness, so for me, success will not be as an artistit doesn’t make me happy.  Out of all my peer group, I think only a small handful intend to make art in the future: many are going on to teach, some have got jobs lined up already and one is starting a family.  But in different ways, we have all succeeded; we have all found out what art means to us and we are all closer to finding out what brings us happiness.  Its the time for existential thinking, but also the time for end-of-degree partiesmaybe you cant have the former without a healthy dose of the latter.

Huw Noble – Featured Artist July 2014

To tie in with our degree show special our featured artist section will be be split between three talented graduates of this year,  the first of the three is Fine Art SHU graduate Huw Noble.

Huw Noble Art

Artist Statement

Process and the relationship between the maker and the materials used is something that I find intriguing. Through the juxtaposition and joining of contrasting materials I am granted an insight into their properties. My fascination lies within the reaction that the materials have to this joining. The usual focus of my practice lies within the realms of moving image, sound and the three-dimensional form. Much of my influence is drawn from nature and its ability to adapt to change.


‘Material Dichotomies’ is an ongoing series which explores the energy that forms on the assembly of contrasting materials. The work considers points of tension that form from an amalgamation of angles, weight and balancing points. These points allude to the properties of the materials but also open up a dialogue between the forms and the space. The addition of sound allows for a deeper insight into the core reaction of the raw material


What’s mine is yours

What’s mine is yours

Discussing the perks of working within a shared studio community

As much as I refuse to acknowledge it, everything is about to change. The life that I have spent the last three years cultivating will very soon be coming to a close and – as well as having to leave a beautiful house in Sheffield and move back in with (deep breath) my parents – I’ll also be geographically separated from the group of creative people I’ve come to know and value (cue the violins). The only consolation is knowing that I am by no means the only fine art graduate that will be walking this road.

Of course, I’m being rather melodramatic and it isn’t the dark ages – I’ve got trusty Facebook and Twitter to help me keep in virtual contact with the people I’ve met across my studies. But that’s not what I really want. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy friendly banter just as much as the next person. But what I know I’ll really be grieving for is the studio.

Art Studio

The space.

The knowing that there’s a specific place I can go to where I can make a mess. Or I can just sit and think. Or I can talk to someone about those very thoughts. And that right there is the crux of it – someone; having a someone to bounce ideas around with. The idea of not having anywhere to gather with like-minded people on an almost daily basis is a daunting thought, especially after being so privileged whilst at University. Speaking as an artist who often makes fairly large, sculptural work, the physical space of the studio has been integral to my making process. However, the emphasis of importance is far less on the architecture and much more on the people it houses.

A truth generally acknowledged on art courses is that students who work in close proximity often begin to produce art that bears some similarity to that of the people they work alongside. In a setting where difference and innovation is the goal, this should seem a strange phenomenon. But because artists are working amongst one another, talking to each other and sharing ideas (probably as well as material resources – it’s really handy when your peers love shiny textiles as much as you do) – there is sure to be some overlapping of interests which then surface in what they produce. Seeing how another artist works enables you to view your own process from the outside and establish why it is that you do things one way and not another. But sometimes what it shows you is that someone else is doing it better. It has often been this realisation that has helped to refine areas within my work that I felt unclear about. Recognising the similarities between art practices also makes it possible to determine the differences – this open balance builds a willingness to enter into collaboration with other artists, as you both explore your making together.

Art Studio

The opportunity to collaborate (particularly within the safety of a learning environment) can be an incredibly rewarding venture. S1 Artspace – a Sheffield based artist studio and gallery – has recently been the backdrop for projects pushing the boundaries of what shared studio spaces can mean. Launched by artist Keith Wilson, the gallery has been providing a place for artists to inhabit a completely unrestricted studio environment and question the format of what an art school should look like. Hester Reeve – a performance artist and lecturer at Sheffield Institute of Arts – utilised this freedom by taking over the space with her art and philosophy class. The 24 Hour Origin of the Work of Art Lecture was – as the title suggests – a 24 hour lock-in, in which Martin Heidegger’s text was given as the main topic of the ‘lecture’. When recounting the experience, Reeve said, ‘It allowed me to feel like I was part of a brethren – we were all committed to the same space and time. It felt like creative exploration.’

In comparison with her more regular teaching schedule, she commented that the intense time period was ‘much more conducive for linking theory to practice than a one hour lecture’ and that she much preferred the relationship she had with her students in that setting.

Art Studio

Live together, talk together, work together. In a lot of ways, this project truly emphasises the strengths of entering into a space dedicated to artists becoming a community. The atmosphere bred within shared spaces of creative work is one not only of friendship but also of development. It seems straightforward to say that where people with common goals congregate, there will be conversation and hopefully encouragement. In my experience of an art studio, it is not just encouragement that occurs but a sharing and expanding of ideas. When I asked Ashley Holmes – an artist who works across video, sound and sculpture and one of four final year students to receive a place on S1 Artspace’s studio bursary programme in 2013 – about his time in the space, he replied:

Working in a shared studio is such a rich experience; that sense of community and simply having people around has been invaluable to me. I’ve been able to be in constant dialogue, bounce ideas off of people and receive feedback, meaning that the things I was thinking about within my practice (as well as things I hadn’t really considered) could be addressed thoroughly.

In terms of the bursary opportunity itself, Ashley said:

It not only provided a studio space in the city but also tutorials with artists and curators from the area which again, gave me some invaluable feedback and things to think about to move my work forwards. First and foremost, everyone is friends and it was generally a real comforting and exciting environment to be in.

With all of this in mind – as I stare at my bedroom, now filled with all the materials that composed my corner of the studio – I’m determined to continue to engage with a space that begins with people and leads to an exploration of new creative territories. This next post-university chapter will see me moving back to East London in order to be involved with a group set on regenerating an abandoned night club for use as an artist studio space. I hope they like sharing shiny materials too.


Sarah Botha


Even though I’m heading back south, Sheffield has some fantastic spaces that cater especially to new graduates and fresh-faced artists. Here are some points of contact for three of the city’s creative hubs:

S1 Artspace

Bloc Projects

Yorkshire Artspace

Dust, Wu Chi-Tsung

Following Wu Chi-Tsung’s 2006 residency at Site Gallery, Sheffield, the artist has returned with Dust, a mesmerising video installation where a live feed captures and then projects, large scale, images of the dust in the gallery space. Chi-Tsung finds the small, uncontrolled moments of serendipity and coincidence; translating them through video or light and re-presenting them in the gallery space. In Dust, the camera and projector work together to show what the human eye can’t see, and the tiny particles of human skin floating in the air are elevated to sparkling sequins; from repulsive to seductive.

Dust Wu Chi-Tsung

Image Courtesy Of Site Gallery

 In an adjacent room in Site Gallery, Chi-Tsung presents Crystal City 003, an incarnation created from the shadows of plastic containers, cast by a moving LED light.  Presumably influenced by his time training as an architect, the Crystal City is reminiscent of a CAD drawing or a floating gods-eye view of a toweringly tall sci-fi cityscape.  Alluding to new building developments in inner city areas of contemporary Asia, and perhaps critiquing the materialism and commercialism that comes hand in hand with technological progress, this work quietly and meditatively divulges another world beyond the ordinariness of its individual components.

This is a recurring idea in Wu Chi-Tsung’s work; in Rain (2002), made when he was a student in Taipei, raindrops appear to flash across an image of a bridge.  Simply by setting the shutter speed extremely high, the downwards line of a raindrop that we usually see because of the slowness of our eyes is revealed as something very different—now each individual raindrop has been captured mid-fall, sparkling across the screen.

It is these very simple procedures that stand out in Chi-Tsung’s works; and here in Sheffield it seems that he has simplified his practice right down to the bare bones.  This work is comprised of the particles that before the nineteenth century were considered the smallest substance—marking the boundary between the world we see and the world of the unknown—Dust.  The mysticism of dust, apparent when you catch it twisting and spinning in the golden sunlight pouring in through a window, is condensed and epitomised in this work.  Galaxies of green and blue flit and flicker across the wall as they continually move in and out of focus.  We are charmed by the romance, the magic, and the very special quality of this created world that is simultaneously real and unreal.

Visiting Sheffield for the day? Site Gallery on Brown Street is only a couple of minutes walk from Sheffield train and bus stations.  The gallery is wheelchair accessible, and also houses a small shop and café, which serves lovely homemade cakes and frothy coffees.  It’s very close to SIA gallery, Bloc Projects, Millennium Galleries and Graves Gallery if you fancy a cultural day out.

Sheffield native? Why not try Site’s free reading groups on 17th April and 1st May, or try breathing meditation set against the backdrop of Wu Chi-Tsung’s beautiful installation? Full details are on Site Gallery’s website, http://www.sitegallery.org

Wu Chi-Tsung Dust

Site Gallery 4th April – 31st May 2014

Opening times: Tuesday-Saturday 11am-5.30pm


Written By Posy Jowett