The art collective Piccadilly Pop Up Art is on a mission – to showcase art as a cultural force in York and to bring accessible art to as many people as possible.
Formerly a tax office, the building at 23 Piccadilly is now home to a thriving art gallery and studio space. It first opened to the public on 1 August 2020, and recently reopened in June after a period of closure due to Covid restrictions.
Piccadilly Pop Up Art is open every Saturday from 12pm to 6pm, and is free to visit.
YorkMix spoke with artist Richard Kitchen, one of the team members behind Piccadilly Pop Up Art, to find out more.
Q&A with Richard Kitchen
What is Piccadilly Pop Up Art?
I’d say our mission is to enhance cultural life in the city, to promote art as a living, relevant force and to make it accessible to as wide a range of people as possible. By doing that we are not only providing entertainment and stimulus but also contributing to people’s wellbeing and positive outlook in terms of mental health and social values. We are showing what can be achieved when a creative, community-minded enterprise takes over a space that is otherwise going to waste.
How did Piccadilly Pop Up Art come about?
The charity Uthink PDP (People Developing People) moved into the building two years ago, putting on a photographic exhibition and some workshops and renting studio space in the building to local artists until its redevelopment.
Uthink started as a charity in 2012, giving opportunities to disadvantaged young people and the homeless to encourage and enable them to find their feet. Among other good works it takes over buildings like ours and rents studio space to local artists at affordable rates. It started operating in York in July 2019. We’re privileged to be part of such a generous, forward-thinking, grass roots organisation and proud to contribute to its work. We give Uthink a percentage of any sales we make.
Since 2019 quite a few artists have had studios but quite a few have also gone, mainly due to Covid and lockdowns. Now there are four core artists working there who have been running the Saturday open gallery days off and on since August 2020.
Who’s the team behind it?
A couple of us kickstarted the event but we’ve developed as a team and roles have evolved organically. We all muck in but generally Steve Beadle and I look after promotion, publicity and networking, Terry Aaron takes on the upkeep of the building and Patrick Dalton designs our flyers and posters. We’re lucky now to have Leeds street artist Replete joining us and we have a couple of students from York St John University helping out on Saturdays who also have some pieces on show.
When did Piccadilly Pop Up Art start – is it on all year?
The first public opening was on 1st August 2020 so we’re about to celebrate our first year. The name was chosen because Uthink often does pop ups in various cities and we weren’t sure how long we’d be here. It sounds a bit lightweight but people know us by that name now so it seems better not to change it until we have to move out. We’ve had to close at times because of lockdowns of course but now the entire first floor opens as a public gallery every Saturday.
It’s as permanent as possible in Piccadilly although sadly it can’t be permanently permanent. All we know is that at some point we will be given one month’s notice to clear out. Uthink PDP took over the premises from the council on a temporary basis but it has now been sold to developers.
How do artists get involved?
Most of the display space is spoken for right now, certainly the walls. We make a lot of work and some of it is quite big! We do show work by guest artists sometimes and we like to encourage people and make new connections, so the best thing would be to get in touch and ask us. We’re on Facebook and Instagram so it’s easy to send us a message or email us at [email protected]
What kind of artwork is currently on display?
Between us we produce a wide range of work: painting, drawing, sculpture, collage, murals, graffiti, street art, photography, prints and even poetry and local history books! It’s a wider range than in many galleries. Much of the work isn’t what you might call mainstream and it should appeal to a wide range of people, whether they think they like art or not! I’d say we’re a very interesting place to visit.
How have you adapted to Covid restrictions?
Apart from periods when we’ve had to close we’ve been very Covid aware and Covid safe, and we continue to be. There is a one way system, masks are worn, hand gel is available, visitors are asked to sign in and out and numbers are monitored.
How important is it to support our local artists?
It’s enormously important, and I’ll say a bit about our own situation to help explain why we think so.
Uthink rents out studio space at deliberately affordable rates, which means we can make the work we want to make without necessarily bowing to commercialism. The irony is that we tend to sell a lot less than other galleries, partly because our work differs from what one normally sees in York galleries and pop ups, and partly because Piccadilly (at least beyond Spark) is slightly off the beaten track – unless you’re a Wetherspoons client! So it’s all a bit ‘Catch 22’. We’re quite unique in that unlike many artists in York and elsewhere, most of us do not have private means or other jobs and cannot afford the rents that other places charge. We aren’t ‘weekend artists’. We could compromise and make stuff to sell – the commercial production line of making what you know is popular – but mainly we stay true to ourselves, value our integrity and creativity, and risk getting nothing in return.
Could York Council develop the mindset to see artists like us as assets to the city and its cultural appeal? We think we can contribute a lot to a positive experience of the city for both tourists and residents. With all the development going on and what many residents see as an emphasis on money making and tourism at the expense of much else, could a few buildings be earmarked by the Council for use by artists, at least temporarily?
At the moment organisations such as Uthink and Blank Canvas find such places when they can and charge what they feel is appropriate, but there are surely more opportunities out there. If it were an initiative on the part of the Council to offer premises to genuinely needy and enterprising artists at rock-bottom rates, there would be so many vibrant things going on. Why not promote art as a living, thriving, meaningful cultural force in the city that can enhance being in York for residents as well as visitors? We believe it is, and we’re setting an example for others to follow.