Haarlem Artspace is looking for more artists

Clutching mugs of coffee and tea, the directors of Haarlem Artspace are chatting enthusiastically around the communal table in the Wirksworth complex.

It might be a dank January afternoon but little will dampen the spirits of this intrepid team.

It is less than a year since they opened their doors for business last May, but already they are looking to broaden their horizons by inviting more artists to join them and they can’t contain their pleasure.

Artists Olivia Punnett and Geoff Diego Litherland, freelance finance director Bev Shephard and fundraiser and charity worker Anna Clyne discovered that the historic Haarlem Mill on the edge of Wirksworth was available for rent about three years ago.

Between them they set up a Community Interest Company with the aim of creating a space which would champion contemporary, rurally-based artists and creative professionals. They want their space and the work in it to be viewed on a level with similar city-based ventures.

At their official launch more than 300 people turned up to find out what they were doing in the Grade II listed building, originally built by Richard Arkwright in 1777 and then used to produce the red tape used for legal documents.

“To be honest we turned up that morning expecting a quiet day and couldn’t believe how many people were interested in what we were doing. It took us by complete surprise,” explained Bev.

As the woman with an eye on the finances she says that the important thing is for the studios to remain sustainable, but as they have had such a good start they are already in a position to be able to take on the lease of a second floor of the mill and invite more artists to join them and add an official exhibition space to their remit.

“The landlords have been great this year and we used the extra space for the Internal Nebular exhibition in September for the Wirksworth Festival and the series of talks which have followed,”  she said.

It all worked so well that the team were determined to make the extra floor their own permanently, and they are bubbling over with ideas of what they can do with it in the future.

They pride themselves on already providing unique, flexible spaces for cultivating creative practice and an ambitious programme of exhibitions and events, but they want to be able to do more involving artists’ residencies that bring in more visitors.

They also plan to come up with some sort of affiliated members scheme that will allow them to include artists who want to be part of their network but don’t need a studio.

“We want to be recognised as a relevant hub that connects artists more broadly,” said Anna.

“Time and time again people who came here said they didn’t need a studio but they would like to be able to share knowledge and ideas. It is definitely something we want to be able to provide.

“We also want to be able to connect into the other creative networks in the region.”

Olivia said that many of her peers assume she is working on her own just because she has moved to the countryside.

“I tell them no, it’s just not like that,” she said emphatically.

“Just because we are rurally-based it doesn’t mean we want to work alone and being part of somewhere like Haarlem is important.”

If you would like to be part of the unique art space then find out more at http://www.haarlemartspace.co.uk/studios