Artists Make Places: Will Hughes

Favouring the periphery to the centre, Will Hughes looks pragmatically at what’s missing in the region for the third instalment of our Artists Make Places series. Moving beyond the gallery to think about spaces of production and community, they reinvent the services which artists and organisations rely on to imagine how the North East could do more for itself, on its own terms.

Creativity can flourish anywhere, and being able to build and maintain an artistic practice should be an aspiration available to all.

My proposal focuses on skills and learning, breaking down the walls between communities a traditional gallery model would normally not reach. For this reason it is not about building a gallery space. Utilising prefabricated warehouses on the outskirts of town, with parking, direct bus routes from the town centre, and within a mile of the nearest train station, we will create a new fabrication facility and workshops for wet materials, woodwork and metalwork; a cafe; flexible social spaces; and multi-use studios for artists and designers, maker spaces and well-being groups. It will be a place of learning and shared ownership.

By using pre-existing warehouse space on the edge of the town, we can benefit from cheaper rent as well as an open floor plan which can be configured as we wish. The large roof will also allow us to install solar panels. The on-site coffee shop will be run by local people for the general public and studio-holders to benefit from equally. It will anchor the building and will become a destination to visit. It’s about creating an ecosystem where people can interact and socialise in the same spaces.

This centre will focus on skills development through free workshops for artists and the public which will have an effect of economic enrichment for all. We will collaborate via need and look to cultivate long-lasting relationships as well as those which are more transient for short-term projects. With the introduction of cheap, flexible studio spaces, the building’s users will be able to spend more time in the studio as opposed to working a second job. 

We will focus on making the building eco-friendly through the installation of solar panels and battery stores to bring down the overhead costs. We want art production for art’s sake, and to create a place to hang out in. The safer the building is, and the more amenities inside, the more people will want to be in the building.

Second to this initial setup stage will be a future-proofing business model. We would look at buying two vans and creating four jobs for local people as art handlers,crafting a reliable ecosystem for the transport of artwork within the North East and countrywide. Through social media and advertising we will be profiling the people who use the building on a national stage.

Following on from our out-of-town building, we want to open up a second space in the town centre to profile the activity of our main building. This will be an art shop with a range of materials for everyone from kids and people starting out to professional-level supplies. This will also come with a delivery service and function room for activities. The art shop will help fund our activities and keep our workshops free or as cheap for the public as possible, but we will also continue to look at future revenue funds, building sustainability into the heart of our organisation. 

We have noticed a lack of digital infrastructure for artists in this region. I have talked to many artists recently who don’t even have access to their own computer and rely on a smartphone on which to write applications. With this in mind, lastly, we will hold a digital surgery for people to learn skills like Photoshop, social media, and using smartphones.

These activities will bolster the local economy, help the public access materials and sessions: they will enable people to be creative on a scale from buying a gel pen – which was my first artistic venture – to attending workshops to learn skills to enrich their life on a very local level. By creating employment, with part-time jobs, artists can fund their practices and create a more sustainable future for themselves. 

All spaces will be open seven days a week with job roles structured around three to four days a week, allowing more flexibility for employees. There will be a strong focus on community, with flexible social spaces which can be turned into party venues, club event spaces, performance showcases or a cake sale. A strong marketing plan will focus on maximising the visibility of our projects locally and nationally.

Our model is flexible, and through consultation with the sector and our local ecosystem we will be nimble and able to pivot to the needs of our communities. If a gel pen can launch my own creative career, imagine what these facilities and spaces could do for others. ♣︎

About the Author

Will Hughes is a multi-disciplinary artist based in Stockton-on-Tees. Their work is conceptually driven by lived experiences as a queer, non-binary person in the UK, mixing pop culture references with material language to construct moments. Recent exhibitions include LA LA LA, LA LA LA LA LA, LA LA LA, LA LA LA LA LA at Abingdon Studios in Blackpool (2023). They were a Nominated Recipient of the Henry Moore Foundation Artist Award 2022. Will is also a part time freelance project manager, currently working with The Auxiliary and Middlesbrough Art Week.