Smithdown Social Arts Hub moves into Gallery 455
“MUSICIANS are a highly skilled asset in the community that were being told by government policy to ‘get a job’ - which was an outrage,” says Brenda Monahan, director, social entrepreneur and one of the driving forces behind Smithdown Social Arts Hub.
2022 is going to allow us to showcase so many aspects of this wonderful arts hub’s incentives
Back in 2019, a crowdfunding campaign turned the Conservative Club on Crawford Avenue in Mossley Hill into a successful non-profit venue and community workspace. But when COVID-19 struck in March 2020, the team behind Smithdown Social had to drastically pivot their vision.
The music collective moved to an online platform to enable them to continue delivering music to the community in lockdown and expanded its reach to bring in writers, visual artists and filmmakers to create digital content.
The hub was able to access crucial financial support from the Culture Recovery Fund which enabled it to continue and invest in a programme of art, music, literature and film, as well as ‘MusicMinds’, a project dedicated to the mental health of musicians working in the music industry.
The new creative arts project is now known as Smithdown Social Arts Hub, but the evolution has not been without its bumps in the road.
The Conservative Club building that had been used for live gigs and community events fell into dereliction beyond repair and in October 2021 had to be given up. It was a major blow to the cash flow of the business.
“The building wasn’t fit for purpose from the beginning and was badly in need of a refurb, but we rallied for a couple of years trying to make it work,” says Brenda.
“We had huge support from the community and just prior to COVID we successfully attracted funding to fix the roof to help regenerate the venue, but this was lost and the funding we did receive was for repairs that were really not our responsibility.”
The arts hub now occupies three stories at 455 Smithdown Road - the former post office on the high street. Gallery 455 opened in June 2021 and exhibits highly acclaimed art from a diverse range of local artists.
The idea stemmed from successful art exhibitions held at the former Naked Lunch Café, the first co-operative café on Smithdown Road, started by social entrepreneur Paul Tsanos, who is also a director of the arts hub.
“From the outset, our plans have been for the arts hub to be a focal and practical support for creative arts in the area,” says Brenda.
“We knew that key to its success would partly be finding the right balance in terms of supporting everyone who needed it.”
Brenda, Paul, and fellow director Ian Francis are now busy assessing their programming for the new year in order to keep providing creative arts projects with social impact that supports the community.
Over the last 12 months, the hub has launched a poetry book, Bridge Over Smithdown: A Collection of Poems, and a short story book, Smithdown Stories Near and Far for local writers. They also held two Five to Film workshops with scriptwriter Paul Womack, where each participant developed a five-minute film script and produced a short film each.
Brenda says that the challenge ahead is now about creating a new profile in the community, raising the awareness of the hub’s wide-ranging support, and increasing sales at Gallery 455 to help the hub on the road to being self-funded.
“Generally you will find a mix of multiple skill levels and developing artists when you attend one of our regular launch nights, which are also supported by a variety of local musicians.
“2022 is going to allow us to showcase so many aspects of this wonderful arts hub’s incentives. Throughout the year we will also be developing opportunities for artists across the multiple genres we support to have an outlet and create and grow alongside the ethos of human values.”
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