Meet the collective acting as a catalyst for creative exchange around the city
Image: Adrift by Susan Mealing
Nestled on a narrow street just off Victoria Road in Cambridge, sits an L-shaped building with a bright blue camper van out the front. Home to artist studios and a cheery gallery space, Cambridge Artworks is a lesser-known gem in the city’s culture scene. Blink and you could miss it, but behind the wooden-clad, brick-strewn facade there is a thriving creative community at work.
Originally a builder’s yard belonging to the Kidman firm, the building was transformed in the 90s by a group of ambitious artists who received a grant to repurpose the space for mixed studio use. A total of 18 studios were built out of what were carpenters’ workshops and storage yards, and Artworks opened its doors to Cambridge makers seeking coveted studio space close to the city centre.
Today, it is a living, thriving community – coincidentally all women at present – who work side by side and manage the activities of the co-operative, from running public events to caring for the building. “It’s a wonderfully diverse group, and our artists have a wide range of practices,” says Clio Lloyd-Jacob, one of the 18 residents at Cambridge Artworks. “We have ceramicists, painters, printmakers, sculptors, performance artists, filmmakers, photographers… so it’s a really varied and exciting group!” For Clio, the abundance of creative forms under one roof can promote some inspiring interactions. “It’s nice that our artists have an opportunity to participate in an exchange of ideas, and be challenged by things outside their normal ways of thinking and working.”
As well as providing affordable studio space for visual artists – something under threat from the city’s fierce property market – Cambridge Artworks acts as a resource for the local community, delivering workshops such as painting, life drawing and wellbeing classes. And they offer an on-site gallery (nicknamed Artspace) to creatives seeking a venue in which to share work with the public. Each year, Artworks welcomes some of Anglia Ruskin University’s most promising students to come and use Artspace and the quaint blue caravan outside, which provides a novel environment for devising, planning and creating exhibitions. In the past, they have also lent the caravan to people from further afield in their summer residency programme. This helps shake things up at Artworks, introducing fresh perspectives that generate new ideas, techniques and processes in the main studios.
All Artworks activities promote the prospect of exchange – between creatives, and around the wider area – that nurtures intellectual and artistic growth. Illumination, its latest programme of events, aims to share this philosophy with the neighbourhood. On the last weekend of each month, Artworks will encourage people to join them for an exchange. In January, locals were invited to create an artwork at home, to swap with someone else’s creation at the gallery. In February, members of the community will have the opportunity to make an object and then walk in silence to St Peter’s Chapel, letting go of something from the past year. This month’s activity centres on the theme of light, and will be held on Friday 25 March, from 6 to 8pm.
“We hope people see it as a chance to expand their thinking,” comments Clio. “There are lots of curious people in Cambridge, with nuanced and interesting questions. Just as when Kettle’s Yard asked the question, ‘what can art do?’ when they reopened after a period of restoration, we are using this year to ask, ‘what can Cambridge Artworks do for you?’”
Stay tuned for further announcements throughout the year by visiting the Cambridge Artworks website – or following them on Instagram @cambridge.artworks