Artcore - the visual arts charity opens new hub in Derby

A children's workshop

A children's workshop - Credit: Archant

Mike Smith visits the visual arts charity Artcore at its new base in Derby city centre

Artcore's new cultural hub in Osnabruck Square

Artcore's new cultural hub in Osnabruck Square - Credit: Archant

Over the last few months, the former Laura Ashley shop in Derby's Osnabruck Square has been undergoing an imaginative internal re-configuration aimed at converting the prestigious city-centre site into a new cultural hub for Artcore. Established 15 years ago in India by Ruchita and Zahir Shaikh, the visual arts charity came to Derby in 2012, operating very successfully from premises in Charnwood Street, which will continue to be used to host some of their workshops.

The spacious ground floor of the refurbished building in Osnabruck Square contains retail areas, where artists and makers can display and sell their wares, 'studio-tables' where they can work and talk to members of the public, and a café which can double as a meeting area, whilst the upper floor has been re-fashioned into two superb galleries for exhibitions of contemporary art. The new centre had a 'soft launch' last August but will have a grand VIP opening early this year when the refit is completed.

Explaining the aims of the charity, which is supported and funded by Arts Council England, programme manager Chris Boote said: 'Our mission is to provide opportunities for everyone to engage in the visual arts. We work with people of all ages, abilities and different ethnic backgrounds, hoping to bring positive change to their lives. We try to reach out to a diverse range of communities in Derby, the East Midlands and beyond, believing that arts and crafts can be used as a vehicle for strengthening community cohesion and for raising awareness.'

The person charged with reaching out to all these people is Linda Mangsatabam, Artcore's community liaison officer, who mentioned the charity's success in engaging with the diverse communities in the Arboretum Park area of the city, including the provision of help to some residents who had felt isolated or marginalised. Describing how Artcore goes about assisting these people, Linda said: 'We often engage with them in a number of one-to-one sessions before asking them if they would like to be part of a group. To justify this phased approach, I can point to the example of one person who had felt so isolated that he had barely spoken to anyone, but has now gained so much confidence that he has become a volunteer.'

Members of a group working on mosaics

Members of a group working on mosaics - Credit: Archant

Touching on some of the other ways in which engagement in artistic activities can help to change people's lives, Linda said: 'Unemployed people who are anxious about getting back to work are often given a boost of confidence when they discover their creative abilities, and people suffering from dementia can often find their voice through art. However, by putting on a wide variety of activities, we are trying to make sure that art and culture is available to everyone. Our workshops can help people of all backgrounds, cultures, ages and abilities to share skills and develop friendships.'

One of Artcore's group activities has involved the making of mosaics. Taking their inspiration from the work of artists like Niki de Saint Phalle and Antoni Gaudi, the members of the group have planned designs based on natural forms, such as leaves, flowers, constellations and landscapes. Some participants have made sets of coasters, while others have created larger mosaics to act as placemats or cafetière stands.

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Another group has been working with artist-felt-maker Victoria Brown on digital art and felted cards. The members of this group are now going on to explore acrylic art and oil painting. At the time of my visit to Artcore, printmaker Nicki Dennett was working with another group of people who were designing plates from which they will to able to produce a series of unique prints.

With lots of workshops like these on offer, Artcore is clearly the place for any adult who fancies learning a new artistic skill under the guidance of a practising artist. Courses for children are also provided. Knowing that engagement in the arts can help to change the lives of children for the better, Artcore puts on a BBC Children in Need funded programme called 'Innocence and Expression'. The sessions, designed for young people from 6 to 18 years old, are free and take place on selected Saturday afternoons. After spending some time working on Christmas themes, the youngsters are now working with clay and creating sculptures. On the day after my visit, Pudsey, the Children in Need mascot, would be coming to Artcore.

Participants in the Indian Residency

Participants in the Indian Residency - Credit: Archant

The needs of young people who have obtained Fine Art degrees but have yet to find a job are an equal concern for Artcore's course coordinators, who organise two-month residency programmes for budding artists finding themselves in this position. Each selected artist is provided with free studio space and given a mentor. At the end of the residency, exhibitions of their work are held at four different venues in Derby to advertise their art as widely as possible.

Another exciting residency programme is called 'Winter Narratives'. Offered to seven artists, two from the East Midlands and five from India, the residency takes place during December in a camp located in beautiful countryside near Baroda City in India. The placement is designed to introduce the British artists to Indian contemporary art, especially to the use of narrative by artists from the Baroda School of Art. As well as having the chance to create work based on their experiences, the lucky participants are able to join in various festive activities.

Another great opportunity offered to local artists in Derby and the East Midlands is the chance to show their work in the exhibition galleries on the upper floor of the new centre in Osnabruck Square. At the time of my visit, a local artist called Tony Fisher was making the most of that opportunity. He had just finished setting up his one-man show called 'Only the Lonely', featuring photographs that explore the theme of loneliness, a condition which he has endured himself.

Tony said: 'When my wife died from motor neurone disease and both my parents passed away in the same year, I began to suffer from anxiety and panic attacks, as well as other mental health issues which have plagued me for 40 years. For a long time I was very lonely and suffered in isolation. Over the next few months, I will be taking further photographs to explore the problem of loneliness. Also, I plan to talk to individuals who have found a positive way out of their condition and I will try to illustrate their renewed hope through appropriate photographs. Some of my pictures and audio recordings will be exhibited at the Royal Derby Hospital in the coming months.'

Participants in a calligraphy printmaking course: Mo; Ginni, Nikki Dennett (Workshop Leader) and Rachel

Participants in a calligraphy printmaking course: Mo; Ginni, Nikki Dennett (Workshop Leader) and Rachel - Credit: Archant

Describing how he had found his own way out of loneliness, Tony said that it was taking up photography that saved his life. He is living proof of the power of art. However, as Chris Boote and Linda Mangsatabam were keen to re-emphasise, Artcore's mission is not only to help people in need but to use the visual arts to enrich and transform the lives of people everywhere.