Last night saw the opening of the Woolgather Art Prize 2011 in Leeds. It was an extraordinary event because it didn’t feel or look like the opening of a contemporary art event in Leeds: in Bond Street, opposite Boots, in between Pret à Manger and Tesco Metro, the crowds spilled out into the balmy warmth of a late spring evening. Most of the time non-institutional and informal contemporary art is to be found (or rather unearthed/uncovered/dug out) in out-of-the-way locations far removed from the city centre. The chances of a passer-by, a lunchtime stroller, a Saturday shopper encountering art by accident are remote indeed. Bond Street last night proved the exception.
Artists and curators and art-lovers are used to this. It’s an inevitable consequence of the facts of economic life. Art retreats to cheap locations because usually there’s no alternative. But things are gradually changing in Leeds, primarily due to the magnificent efforts of East Street Arts. Through a project initiated in 2010, ESA works to allow use of empty properties throughout the city and farther afield for developing art programmes, workspaces and temporary venues of all sorts.
Woolgather has benefitted from this programme, and hit the jackpot with the empty premises on Bond Street. I found myself spending thirty minutes or so yesterday lunchtime removing some bits of sellotape from the large plate-glass windows. Nearly every person walking by turned to look in, and significant numbers stopped to read the details of the event posted in the window. And a lot of friendly waves were exchanged.
The Woolgather prize will be determined by public vote: so it’s pretty wonderful that the event has found itself bang in the middle of the city with so many people walking past every day. If you are in the vicinity (and who won’t be at some point over the next few weeks?) pop in, view the works and vote. It’s a great show, a great concept, and worth the public’s support!