Posts Tagged ‘artists’

24 Jul

PRINTMAKING – saturday workshop


Printmaking with Hannah Firmin

In this Saturday workshop printmaker Hannah Firmin will guide you through the importance of drawing to develop a print design.

You’ll create a relief print from drawings made in the studio from observation or reference images and transform these into a design to produce an original relief print in either Lino, vinyl or wood. You don’t have to have experience of drawing for this workshop, the printmaking process reduces tones and simplifies lines to achieve striking results.

Hannah will show examples of her own work and demonstrate the process from initial ideas and drawings to finished artwork.

The workshop is ideal for complete beginners as well as those with some experience.



10am-3pm £45


Scroll down to book ONLINE or t:01873 811579

Please see our Booking Information page before making a booking.

13 Sep

Air Lab Generator

air lab 2Air Lab Generator

Monday 13th November

10am – 4pm

Arts Alive Wales, Crickhowell, Powys, NP8 1DG. 


A one-day training event in which artists, technologists and environmental partners come together to develop project ideas and create a shared vision, using drones to explore the Black Mountains terrain.

We are delighted to welcome the following guest presenters:

Artist and technologist Charles Gershom

Aerial surveillance and filming expert, Alex Rees – Pilot / Founder and Director of  Mighty Sky 

Gemma Brace, Teaching Fellow and Curator in History of Art, Heritage and Museums, Department of History of Art (Historical Studies)
School of Humanities, Faculty of Art, University of Bristol Exhibitions Curator at RWA and co-curator  of Air: Visualising the Invisible in British Art 1768-2017 


Alongside our invited technologists and environmental partners, we are inviting up to 8 x Wales based artists to attend. See below for the Artist Bursary Opportunity.


Artist Bursary Opportunity

Bursaries of £130 each are available for up to 8 x Wales based artists to attend.

The Artist Bursary aims to enable artists to work collaboratively to realise the potential of digital technology as part of their contemporary practice, while expanding their skills, knowledge and confidence in the practical use of UAVs.

Artists will have the opportunity to work alongside Emma Posey, Air Lab Associate Producer, and members of the Arts Alive Wales staff team.

Bursaries of £130 each are available for up to 8 x professional Wales based artists, at any stage of their career to attend Air Lab Generator. We are not seeking ‘digital artists’ per se but are also interested in those artists who are keen to explore the potential of digital and drones within their practice.

Deadline for applications: 5pm Monday 9th October.

For full details and application information: Air Lab Generator bursary application


Air Lab – creating new perspectives

Air Lab is a new digital project focused on the potential of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), exploring the terrain of the Black Mountains from the sky, through a programme of training events and workshops. Artists, creative technologists and environmental organisations will work together to increase skills and knowledge, experiment and network in a spirit of peer-to-peer learning and collaboration.

Click here for the full programme



19 Oct

AIR LAB: Dr Emma Posey – Associate Producer

air lab 2

Arts Alive Wales has launched Air Lab / Lab Awyr, a professional development opportunity for arts practitioners who are interested in the creative potential of drone technology.



Air Lab consists of the sessions Generator (13 November), Stories from Above (6 & 11 November) and Above the Radar (27 November), exploring the artistic potential of drones in capturing film and photography, and in generating ideas for youth education projects, stories and other art forms.

The programme is devised by Associate Producer, Dr Emma Posey, founder and Creative Director of the network bloc. We chatted to Emma about the motivations behind Air Lab, and how it would influence the practitioners working in and around Wales.


How did you come up with the idea for the project?
I work with new technology, identifying ways in which creatives can use new tools to generate new ideas. I’m fascinated by futurology and how digital innovation, the latest gizmos, can reframe the way artists see and reflect the world around them. Long walks on local hills makes me want to take off and view the unviewable – above.


Why do you think drone training is important?
There are issues to do with drones. All new technology brings pros and cons. I want to harness the best from drones. Yes, they are noisy and there are privacy issues. However drones are here to stay. I believe the only way to address concerns is to find out more about the technology. New tools in the right hands is the way to ensure they are used for good.


How do you think drone technology will impact on the creative practice of arts professionals?
As I’ve mentioned, I have long been fascinated in how technology reframes creative practice. Tools change how we see the world – in a literal sense from microscopes and satellites. Tools also affect artistic creation from flints, to brushes and now to handsets.


What made you choose these particular guest speakers and facilitators for Air Lab?
We are so fortunate to be working with a range of professionals who are experts in their field. Artist Mariele Neudecker is one of most eminent contemporary artists working with the concept of above and air. Drone operator Ben Huss-Smickler is breaking boundaries – building his own drones to address need. James Hedley from Surround Vision, is also at the forefront of working with this technology, utilising the 360-degree potential and creating interactive and immersive films. And there’s more!


Why choose the Black Mountains as the focus for this project?
The Black Mountains takes people’s breath away. With soaring hills and miles and miles of remote moorland the region calls for contemplation, a sense of awe and dreaming and literally provides locals and visitors with the space to consider new perspectives. Drones can be used to survey and document the region and to share the sense of new perspective with others.



You can book one of the few remaining places on Above the Radar (Monday 27 November, 10am – 4pm) via the website The cost is £60 for the whole session and includes lunch.

For more information, contact Rebecca Spooner, Creative Director of Arts Alive Wales on  or call 01873 811579

24 Jul

DRAWING & PAINTING – autumn term

classes 2 Join artist Susan Milne for our Wednesday morning art classes. You’ll be introduced to a variety of art materials, practical techniques and processes alongside relevant art history examples. The course will introduce the fundamentals of drawing as a discipline that underpins painting, design, printmaking and other creative work, and will also explore the extent of drawing as an end in itself. There will be objective drawing from still life, including perspective, tone and form and a session of drawing in the landscape. Different drawing methods and materials will be encouraged and individual attention given during the sessions.  The focus of the first four sessions will be based on Drawing. After the break and four sessions drawing, the course will introduce painting with a variety of pastels and mixed media to explore gesture and form. The course is suitable for beginners and the more experienced. Please bring a sketchbook with you.

WEDNESDAY, 10am-1pm

4-25 Oct & 8-29 Nov

£70 for 4 weeks/ £130 for 8 weeks

Scroll down to book ONLINE or t: 01873 811579 e:

Please see Booking Information before making a booking.

24 Jul

BASKET MAKING – autumn term

Basket Making

Artisan Basket Maker and Willow Craftswoman, Mary Zammit, will introduce you to the skills and techniques of this ancient craft. Using locally grown willow you’ll learn how to design and construct your own basket from scratch. The classes allow opportunity to work on your own personal project under the expert guidance of Mary. You’ll need a sharp pocket knife, secateurs and a medium flat-headed screw driver. Suitable for beginners as well as those with some experience.


MONDAY, 10am-2:30pm

2-23 Oct

£120 for 4 weeks


Scroll down to book ONLINE or t: 01873 811579

Please see our Booking Information page before making a booking

24 Jul

POTTERY – autumn term


Concentrating on the making process this practical course introduces the fundamental techniques used in hand-built ceramics. Martin Craddock, our trained potter and tutor will guide you through coiling, slabbing and press-moulded dish making. There will also be plenty of opportunities to throw on the wheel. Participants will be able to work on their own personal projects under the guidance of Martin making items for your home, garden etc.

Suitable for beginners as well as those with some experience.

Includes firing and access to specialist equipment.



22 Sept-27 Oct & 10 Nov – 15 Dec

£170 x 6 weeks/ £305 x 12 weeks.

Our Pottery Autumn Term Course is now Sold Out. Sorry for any inconvenience caused.


Scroll down to book ONLINE or t:01873 811579

Please see ‘Booking Information’ before making a booking.


5 Apr

Y Gors Ddu / The Black Bog

Allen Fisher

Allen Fisher has created a new collection of paintings on y Waen Ddu, the Black Bog – a rare raised peat bog situated on the Craig Y Cilau nature reserve in the Brecon Beacons National Park. The artist is drawn to the cultural associations of peat bogs as sites of Iron Age sacrifice, preservation and divination as well as their ecological importance as rich environments of biodiversity and carbon capture. Peak/Copa, in collaboration with BBC Cymru R&D has produced 360 degree film footage and binaural sound recordings of Allen creating new work on site.

Join us for an informal event at the Arts Alive Wales studio to view Allen’s work in progress and to discover more about the Black Bog.

SATURDAY 10TH JUNE, 10am-1pm
(panel discussion will start promptly at 11am) 

Arts Alive Wales
The Old School, Brecon Road, Crickhowell, NP8 1DG

FREE. To book a place contact:


Rebecca Spooner, Creative Director, will host a panel discussion with Allen and two guest speakers:

  • Allen Fisher is based in Hereford and is a poet, painter and tutor associated with the British Poetry Revival and the Fluxus movement. His work is represented by Tate gallery. Allen will talk about his attraction to working on site with the ponds of y Waen Ddu and his working process. He will also discuss the enduring need amongst artists to work directly in the landscape, particularly referencing the land art movement of the twentieth century.
  • We are pleased to be joined by archaeologist and author, Professor Miranda Aldhouse-Green, who will discuss the historical and cultural context of peat bogs. Referring to her critically acclaimed book Bog Bodies Uncovered (Thames & Hudson. 2015) Miranda will tell us more about the remains of prehistoric people who have been revealed in the bogs of northern Europe. In many cases their skin, hair, nails, and marks of injury survive, betraying the violence and ritual that surrounded their deaths. Who were these unfortunate people, and why were they killed?

  • We are also delighted to welcome geologist Alan Bowring, Fforest Fawr Geopark Development Officer for the Brecon Beacons National Park Authrority. Alan will talk about the ecological and geological significance of the Criag Y Cilau site and its importance within the National Park.  In 2013 Alan discovered a rare example of Bronze Age rock art, more than 4,000 years old  in the Brecon Beacons.

Our Digital Manager, Gavin Johnson will discuss the documentation of Allen Fisher’s project in partnerhsip with BBC Cymru and the potential for digital technology in artist projects.

Directions and parking information can be found on our Visit Us page.

Peak/Copa creates opportunties for contemporary art in the Black Mountains

Photo credit: Toril Brancher

Arts Council of Wales




14 Apr


You can now download our bilingual Summer 2017 programme, with details of all our projects, classes and events….


AAW Summer Programme 2017 (click to download)





3 Jan


A day of focused, one-to-one professional review sessions with Arts Alive’s Creative Director, Rebecca Spooner to provide constructive feedback and support practitioners of all disciplines with arts funding, project development, promotion and event organising.

Tuesday 28th February
Arts Alive Wales studio, Crickhowell 

Only 6 places are available. 45 minute time slots.

10:00 – 10:45am
11:00 – 11:45am
12:00- 12:45pm
02:00 – 2:45pm
03:00 – 3:45pm
04:00 – 4:45pm

£15 / £10 for Creative Network members and students

Scroll down to book a place or tel: 01873 811579 / email:


Rebecca Spooner Rebecca Spooner has worked in the arts in Wales for over fifteen years and is experienced in arts fundraising, organising and promoting exhbitions, residencies, public talks and workshops, mentoring, arts participation and project management. Rebecca was an exhibiting artist for ten years, specialising in film and photography installation. 



6 Sep



Members of the Creative Network are invited to apply for a £300 ‘mini-fund’ to produce new work. We want to hear about your idea for a new project, publication, performance, collaboration, exhibition or body of work. There are no creative limitations.

Deadlines for applications are in March and September each year.

The next deadline for applications is 5pm, FRIDAY 31st MARCH 2017.

Download the application form and guidelines:creative-network-mini-fund-march-2017

March 2016’s mini fund was awarded to a collaborative group of three Creative Network members; Susan Milne, Katherine Sheers and Helen Watkins, to produce a new exhibition. You can read Susan’s overview of the project below…





27 May  -5 June 2016

AA31 (1 of 1)
AA32 (1 of 1)
AA35 (1 of 1)
AA42 (1 of 1)

The Tabernacle in Talgarth, a successful local music venue, was transformed into a gallery space for the duration of the Hay Festival. Artists Susan Milne, Katherine Sheers and Helen Watkins presented an exhibition that covered a range of ideas, techniques and mediums celebrating textiles and garments.

With the Tabernacle’s natural light enhanced by subtle pinpoint and track lights, the old chapel  became a quiet and meditative space in which to enjoy the work.

Helen’s beautiful linen hangings were coloured using a palette of plant dyes harvested from the surrounding landscape. The four suspended  pieces aimed to create a gentle space for quiet contemplation.

Katherine displayed individually dyed specimens of concealment, pinned as entomology samples and figurative works of finely stitched silk and cotton. Susan’s paper and fibre constructions, deriving from her drawings of garment fragments in museums, and ancient textile fragments from archaeological collections, were presented, museum style on  display tables with  lights for the individual pieces of work.

Approximately 500 people attended the exhibition, including visitors to the area,  local people and  visitors to the Hay Festival from the UK and abroad. The artists sold at least 25% of their work and there were expressions of interest for further exhibitions, sales and promotion.

The artists are grateful for the support from the Creative Network mini fund, the Tabernacle and the Hay Festival and also many local helpers.

Susan Milne, artist
Summer 2016

Photo credit: ‘Ann Dierikx Photography’


creative_network_logo-lrg (2)
Click here for more information about the Creative Network

30 Jun

Site Visit to Llwyn Celyn


Thursday 14th July, 10am-2pm

FREE for Creative Network members and students

Peak is working in partnership with The Landmark Trust to develop artist residencies in response to the renovation of Llwyn Celyn, a medieval manor farm in the Llanthony Valley. This half day visit will enable members to meet with the artists (who are all Creative Network members), see work in progress, discuss the challenges and opportunities of working in heritage settings and to access this unique site for sketching/photography/writing.

PLACES ARE LIMITED! To book a place contact Rebecca Spooner: / 01873 811579

Draft schedule:

Parking at the Queen’s Head, Cymyoy (£1 may be needed for parking). Short walk up a private track to the Llwyn Celyn site. Arrival and refreshments.

Resident artist presentations and Q&A with Toril Brancher, Jamie Lake, Catherine Baker and Stefhan Caddick.

Community Project Manager and artist Morag Colquhoun will talk about the creative participation that has taken place at Llwyn Celyn with young people.

Kasia Howard, Education Officer Landmark Trust and Rebecca Spooner, Creative Director Arts Alive will facilitate a group discussion about artist residencies and practice in heritage and environmental settings.

1:00pm – 2:00pm
Creative Network members have their own time for sketching, photography, writing, etc on site.


Please wear suitable warm and waterproof clothing as necessary and sturdy outdoor shoes.

Refreshments will be provided but you’re welcome to bring extra food/drink if staying until 2pm. All litter to be taken home.

To discuss any mobility and access issues please contact Rebecca Spooner:
01873 811579 /


Supported by the Heritage Lottery



12 Aug

Creative Network: MINI FUND

The Creative Network supports arts practitioners through opportunities for collaboration, discussion, promotion and training. The Creative Network is focused (although not exclusively) on the Black Mountains and surrounding areas and currently has 90 members including artists, makers, writers, theatre practitioners, producers, illustrators and photographers.

Members of the Creative Network are invited to apply for a £300 ‘mini-fund’ to produce new work. We want to hear about your idea for a new project, publication, performance, collaboration, exhibition or body of work. There are no creative limitations…

The next deadline for applications is Friday 25th September, 5pm.

Download a simple application form:

Word document: CREATIVE NETWORK MINI FUND sept 2015


Previous winners of the mini-fund have included Antonia Spowers, to produce a new sculpture for exhibition at the National Botanic Gardens of Wales and Penny Hallas, to purchase new digital equipment in order to experiment with site-specific projections.


creative_network_logo-smThe Creative Network costs £18 a year and offers a range of benefits. If you are not currently a member please visit the web page where you can complete an online registration form:


For more information contact Rebecca Spooner, Arts Development Manager: / 01873 811579

21 Jul

A Visit To The Lowlands

As part of our ongoing PEAK project, Rebecca Spooner, Arts Development Manager, reports on a visit to Fermynwoods Contemporary Art in Northamptonshire and Wysing Arts Centre in Cambridgeshire.


8-10th July 2014

Artist Morag Colquhoun, was at the wheel as we made a four-hour trip east, to the flat fields of Bedfordshire. Our mutual friend and artist, Jackie Chettur, kindly put us up for two nights in her beautiful home, Gardener’s Cottage, on the Woodbury Hall estate, near Sandy.

Jackie and I met on our Fine Art MA in Cardiff in 2003 and she now has a studio at Wysing Arts Centre. Jackie had done a great job lining up introductions for us over the next two days.

Painting by Jackie Chettur at Gardener's Cottage
Jackie, Morag and Yasmin at FCA
Spotting butterfly spotters
Sudborough Green Lodge. FCA's artist residency space
Morag relaxing with a glass of something after a hard day talking art
Meeting studio artists in the 'window room' at Wysing
Artist Lisa Wilkens in her studio
studio of Erica Bohr
Erica Bohr shows us her i-pad drawings
meeting artist Caroline Wright in her studio
Morag with artist Soheila Sokhanvari
colour pigments in Soheila's studio
the unofficial Wysing cat
view of Wysing studios and reception
View of Wysing studios and farmhouse residence spaec
wax flowers made by Jackie in her studio
paper flowers made by Jackie in her studio
Homeward - view of the Sugar Loaf


9th July

We met Yasmin Calvin, Director, Fermynwoods Contemporary Art (FCA), at their shop front office in the small town of Thrapston in Northamptonshire.

We chatted over a cuppa, sat round a large table in their resource space, which is available for artists to meet, read, talk and present. The space had an array of journals and catalogues to pore over. FCA’s promotional print was more than a well-designed booklet, it was a hand held platform for presenting their artists and projects; a mini exhibition space and archive.

This small organisation developed from ecologically concerned beginnings, encouraging artists to directly respond to the rural environment. As well as an ongoing programme of projects, FCA manages Sudborough Green Lodge, a site with two cottages, owned by the Forestry Commission, one of which is used for artist residencies. Since Yasmin’s appointment as Director in 2009, FCA has shifted its focus from responding directly to the rural situation, to one which supports artistic practice through opportunities for reflection, research and play. This fluidity of ideas and creativity was to run throughout the next two days.

Artists work with the organisation to develop local audiences for projects and events. Many of the artists that work with FCA have a socially engaged practice but this isn’t an explicit requirement. Projects are always driven by the artist’s practice, and a huge amount of trust is, quite rightly, bestowed up on the artist. Yasmin is interested in people and responding to the social environment is as relevant (if not more so) as a rural/urban environment.

Morag spoke about her experience with an artists’ residency project in the Elan Valley, instigated by a partnership between the Arts Council of Wales and Dwr Cymru Welsh Water. Morag has been encouraged by the approach that ACW has taken, offering artists a reflective period of working on site, in exchange for their feedback to develop the future residency programme. This demonstrates a confidence in the artists selected and the need to offer artists a sincere experience in order for creative practice to evolve.

FCA is a peripatetic organisation, with a small staff team based in the shop front office, delivering projects in alternative spaces and venues throughout the region. We spoke about the challenges of not having a gallery space. Negotiations to develop art for a partner venue take considerable time, effort and energy as well as a skillful balancing of competing priorities.

Working off-site, you may not only have to impress an indifferent audience but indifferent partners and their associated staff and volunteers. Jackie shared an unfortunate exhibition experience with a national institution (that shall remain nameless) in which much of an exhibition by contemporary artists was dismantled in favour of more lucrative craft fairs and a dinning club, much of the work wasn’t reinstalled and some of it broken.

Yasmin reiterated, the most important resource is time – time to develop relationships, to communicate and to invest in the artistic process. Articulating our opinions and feelings, and having our preconceptions challenged, are all part of the messy subject of contemporary art.

Yasmin whisked us away to the Lodge, FCA’s artist residency facility, set two miles down a track through Fermyn Woods.

[A surreal aside – Fermyn Woods is one of the few places in Britain where rare Purple Emperor butterflies grace us with their presence for a week every July. The ‘most attractive of nature’s children’ had chosen this as their week. We sat in the car for fifteen minutes patiently waiting for an eager crowd of spotters to snap their photos of a specimen sunning itself on the track ahead. These out of the ordinary encounters are one of the joys of working in the countryside.]

The lodge is comprised of two cottages, one leased to a family (which contributes to the Forestry Commission rent on the Lodge) and the other is used as a work space and accommodation for residency artists. As the forest opened up and we passed though a wild flower meadow we become aware of how remote the Lodge feels. There’s solitude and then there’s isolation – it doesn’t suit every artist. FCA are careful how they describe the Lodge and its situation before an artist arrives for a stint in the sticks.

It’s important to FCA to maintain a balance between local/regional artists and international artists. It is the local artists that have a strong understanding of the context the organisation is working in but diversity is hugely valuable – and this includes artistic diversity. The ideal of ‘artistic diversity’ was one of the essentials I gained from our visit to FCA and feel it’s important to encourage this in the Black Mountains.


10th July

Wysing Arts Centre is situated nine miles south of Cambridge and comprises of ‘ten buildings including studios, live-work space, specialist new media facilities, a large gallery, education facilities and a 17th century farmhouse used as accommodation for residencies and retreats.’

We spent the day meeting staff members, Louise Thirlwall, Operations Director, Gareth Bell-Jones, Artists and Programmes Curator, and studio artists Erica Böhr, Soheila Sokhanvari, Caroline Wright and Lisa Wilkens.

Wysing delivers a contemporary programme neutral to its rural situation. As exhibition audiences are slim in this neck of the woods, the large gallery space focuses primarily on research and experimentation. Large-scale events such as this year’s music festival, Space-Time: The Future, are promoted heavily via social media, e-bulletins and online networks, attracting a large London audience. In addition to visitors from the capital, Wysing broadens its reach with local audiences through a broad programme of public talks, embracing history, politics, science and ecology, as well as accessible family workshops, youth projects and creative apprenticeships.

Wysing’s website gave me the impression of an organisation that was rather cool and austere. However, meeting the studio artists in the informal ‘window room’ at Wysing with coffee and conversation flowing, the artists were welcoming, open and articulate about their work.

Jackie told us she appreciates the commeraderie, peer support, the level of ambition amongst the artists and the intellectual/artistic stimulus of the Wysing experience. Discussing the fraught business of art is also important – the financial and professional practicalities, mistakes and challenges.

The opportunity of leasing a subsidised studio at Wysing (around £160 a month) warrants a competitive application process and studios are offered on a maximum five-year lease. This time limit ensures that artists remain focused, however, it can be unsettling to know this is a temporary situation and Wysing supports artists to develop opportunities in order to move on when their time is up.

Some of the artists had experienced inactive and apathetic studio groups in the past and a dire lack of studio space in nearby Cambridge, where house prices are high and redundant spaces limited. Artist Caroline Wright, travels over an hour to be in her studio, because there really is nothing like Wysing elsewhere in the region.

We also spoke about the perception of Wysing by regional artists outside the organsiation and there was an acknowledgment that some felt Wysing was a ‘closed shop’. However, I was impressed by how the studio artists proactively worked together to develop exchanges with other artist groups via their Expanded Studios programme, which is due to partner up with Primary studios in Nottingham. Naturally we posed the suggestion of an exchange with artists in the Black Mountains and a meeting of the lowland tribe and the mountain tribe was enthusiastically welcomed. We then spent a wonderful hour trawling round the studios speaking to the artists individually. I only wish we had more time – but I think we can look on this as just the start of further meetings and conversations.

Our afternoon conversation with Gareth Bell-Jones, was hugely informative and motivating. Gareth sharpened our focus and asked the question – who is PEAK for? Who are the artists we are aspire to work with and who are our potential audiences? Gareth encouraged us to explore various models and ways of working by looking at other examples across the UK – from artist studios, to exchanges and residencies.

The most recent artist residency opportunities at Wysing attracted 300 applications for 4 places. Gareth feels that artists are increasingly attracted to residencies in order to have complete freedom to do what they want – it’s something they can’t get elsewhere. A residency with undefined outcomes offers the opportunity to break out of the pressure that an artist can feel to constantly deliver, to exhibit, to sell. It’s a limited period to make mistakes and fail if necessary. Wysing spends time with an artist to prepare a residency before they arrive and develop an ongoing relationship after the event, tracking an artist’s future practice (and audience figures), recognising that a project with Wysing can lead to many other opportunities.

We bought it back to PEAK and considered the existing resources available to us in the Black Mountains: a diversity of active and interesting artists, the unique landscape, accessible location (roughly within an hour of Cardiff and Bristol), large festival audiences, Hereford College of Arts on the doorstep – I could go on.

How can PEAK make the most of those resources and contribute something vital and relevant to the mix?

We also talked about piloting new projects in a reflective and sensitive way to gain valuable feedback from artists to shape the future of PEAK.


The two days were inspiring and invigorating. I felt we’d learned a lot from conversations with artists and curators – about new approaches to how we work with artists, how we respond to the particular environment of the Black Mountains (social/environmental/cultural) and how we could develop PEAK with consideration and confidence. Taking the time to visit established organisations across the UK has given me a certain self-assuredness that we can learn from other people’s successes and challenges when developing our own projects. Putting in the time and effort to get it right is worth it.


 – Rebecca Spooner

With thanks to:

Yasmin Calvin

Gareth Bell Jones

Louise Thirlwall

The Wysing studio artists

Jackie and Ben


PEAK is an initiative devised and delivered by Arts Alive Wales, seeking to research and develop platforms for the creation and presentation of contemporary art in the Black Mountains.

During summer 2014, PEAK will visit rurally based arts organisations across the UK to establish partnerships and opportunities for artists and audiences.

PEAKArts Council of Wales


15 May

Stroud Valleys Artspace (SVA)


Rebecca Spooner, Arts Development Manager, reflects on a visit to Stroud Valleys Artspace (SVA) and Site Festival - a festival of artist-led projects in Stroud and Open Studios across Stroud Valleys. 


Polyrythmic Snarl by Sam Marsh & Ed Lawrenson
Tide Marks by Alice Fox
Alice Fox at Lansdown Hall & Gallery
Open Studio sign at SVA
Studios at SVA
Penny Hallas  meets artist Emily Joy at Stroud Valleys Artspace
Studios at SVA
Penny and Lyn purchase a painting by artist Adam White
Rebecca with work by artist Jo Casling at Stroud Valleys Artspace
Lyndon Davies listening to a poetry collaboration at Stroud Valleys Artspace
Rebecca at SVA Goods Shed

Sunday 11th May 2014

Artist, Penny Hallas and Poet, Lyndon Davies were my travelling companions for the day. We set out cross-country via Ross-on-Wye and Gloucester through rolling Cotswold villages toward Stroud, only one and a half hours from the Black Mountains.

We stumbled upon our first gallery of the day in an empty retail space in a generic shopping arcade. Painter, Peter Stiles presented a large solo show, Ourselves We Find At Sea, containing uniquely shaped, hand-made canvases, depicting beautiful forms and compositions in a Bloomsbury palette, of familiar motifs of west country landscape – waterfalls, shady lanes and rolling hills.

Peter explained about the relative ease of acquiring an empty shop, assisted by a lease template produced by SVA, who act as a go between for artists, the council and retail landlords. Landlords benefit from rate relief while the empty shop is occupied and artists gain access to a large, neutral space with good footfall. We picked up our Site festival programmes and headed for the next stop.

Alice Fox’s exhibition, Tide Marks, in Lansdown Hall & Gallery presented works on paper and cloth responding to coastline. Thin, skin-like shrouds hung from the walls, stitched, dyed and printed with rust and tealeaves. The show was part of the Select Trail – a showcase of Stroud International Textiles. We were getting a feel for the quality of the artists involved in Site and started to get excited about potential for exchange with artists and makers in the Black Mountains.

We headed for SVA, which “provides studio space for professional artists and presents a year round artistic and educational programme with the Site Festival as an annual highlight.” The festival orbits round this central hub of creative energy. Writer Keith Mitchell, who has a long association with the venue, told us more about the history of Stroud and its prosperous textiles industry (the town produced red coats for the military) and the derelict warehouses it offered up to artists, ripe for renovation.

I spoke to Neil Walker, a founder member and Co-Artistic Director (alongside Jo Leahy), who explained how SVA gradually developed over the past 18 years from a maggot infested shell to a site of over 20 studios, offices, café bar and brand new gallery space. SVA is one of Arts Council England’s National Portfolio Organisations and receives around £70k annually towards core costs, as well as support from Stroud District Council. Local press reported that Site Festival contributes an estimated two million pounds to the local economy.

SVA Studios are offered at a subsidised rate from £108 per month. The standard of artists in the studio was high and I assumed there was a tough selection process. Neil put me straight – the only condition for artists applying for a studio is that they get involved. Artists proactively organise events, talks, open studios and gigs. Spending time working alongside good artists breeds more good artists.

A successful organisation like SVA doesn’t operate in a vacuum. Neil tells me there is a well-regarded Art Foundation course in Stroud College, which primes students for Goldsmiths, Central St Martins and the Slade. A proportion of these post grads gravitate back to Stroud for its close proximity to Bristol and London, and for employment opportunities. Damien Hirst’s Science Ltd studios once-upon-a-time employed up to 200 artists and Pangolin Editions, specializing in casting bronze sculpture, is a regular employer for artists.

I tried to relate the SVA model to the Black Mountains. I’ve met creative practitioners (writers, musicians, artists and makers) who’ve located here to deliberately work in solitude. That suits some practitioners but not all. Again, art is not created in a vacuum and whether we actively get involved or not we all benefit from being connected to other creative people.

Clearly there are differences between the arts scene in the Black Mountains and Stroud. For me it’s about recognising and making use of the distinct resources we have available; the incredible landscape, the excellence of our creative practitioners, the community spirit of our towns and villages, large festival audiences and a strong tourism infrastructure.

One of the most exciting aspects of SVA is the artist-led activity it encourages. This way of working, a more DIY approach, could be embraced in the Black Mountains. Artist-led projects have the potential to create a freshness, playfulness and a sense of artistic ownership in a way that activity generated by organisations – and particularly local authorities – find difficult to achieve.

Penny and I considered the need to develop studio space that is sustainable and based on demand. Is there a need for creative studio space in the Black Mountains? Do practitioners have adequate studios in their spare rooms and sheds at the bottom of the garden? You tell me – comments in the box below please. The empty shop model is certainly intriguing. In a town centre location (Talgarth, Abergavenny or Brecon for example) a retail space could provide an opportunity to experiment with a temporary studio and a related series of public workshops, events, exhibitions, screenings, etc.

We continued ticking off venues from our Site festival guides. After being led a merry dance by the programme’s dodgy map, we finally discovered SVA’s Goods Shed – a large, old warehouse near the railway station (similar in scale to g39, Cardiff). We enjoyed five billboard size film screenings of work by John Wood and Paul Harrison. We chuckled as we stood detachedly watching a model car plunge, slow motion, into a constructed woodland lake; and smirked as a perfect scale, pier building was consumed by flames. We were hopeless to intervene in these pathetic disasters. “Isn’t it fun being an artist!” said Penny.

- Rebecca Spooner

Stroud Valleys Artspace (SVA)

With thanks to Grace Davies, Regional Development Co-ordinator, Visual Arts South West

Information about setting up artist studios can be found at the National Federation of Artists’ Studio Providers


PEAK is an initiative devised and delivered by Arts Alive Wales, seeking to research and develop platforms for the creation and presentation of contemporary art in the Black Mountains.

During summer 2014, PEAK will visit rurally based arts organisations across the UK to establish partnerships and opportunities for artists and audiences.


Arts Council of Wales





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