The ambition to establish an Artist’s Book Centre in Sheffield has arisen out of interest in the Collection of Artist’s Books, formerly held at Bank Street Arts, and donated by artists entering the Sheffield International Artist’s Book Prize (SIABP) between 2008 and 2015. You can find out more about the background below or at the above links.
A bit of background
Bank Street Arts was established in 2008 by John Clark and specialised in hybrid or cross-disciplinary work. It was an unfunded, largely volunteer arts charity and as such was always financially vulnerable. John held the inaugural SIABP at Bank Street Arts in 2008, more as a way of finding a context in which to show artists’ books than as an attempt to create a Prize or Competition. Throughout its five editions, the book prize tried to hang on to some principle aims of being free to enter, open to anyone (on the proviso their book could be handled or openly and easily displayed) and that visitors to the exhibition would vote for the winner. Artists were also asked (though not obliged) to donate their entries to a Collection, which was then used to keep artist’s books at the core of Bank Street’s programming in between editions of the book prize and other book based events. From that original premise in 2008 when we received 45 entries, the Prize grew over subsequent editions in 2009, 2011, and 2013 into an event and exhibition featuring over 450 books from over 40 countries. The fifth, and most recent edition, was held in 2015 shortly before John left Bank Street Arts and BSA itself folded in 2017.
Before leaving in 2015, John had established a base in the BSA Centre to house the Collection and has ensured it is properly archived and documented (thanks here to the volunteers who have worked on this task, in particular Emily Coles). Although BSA is gone, the Collection most certainly isn’t: it now numbers over 800 books and has been used as the inspiration for workshops, as a research tool by academics and artists, as the backbone of conferences and symposiums, and as the most tangible and physical legacy of BSA. Without the Centre, the question is, what do we do with the Collection? It is unique, in that it is both contemporary and international; it is not a subjective selection of what is good but rather a genuine cross-section donated by practitioners.
At present, the buildings at Bank Street are being redeveloped, and there is scope for the Collection to remain in the buildings, if this is considered appropriate. It seems an opportune moment, having come together as a group of volunteers all with different interests in books and artists’ books, to open this discussion out to a wider public, both in Sheffield and beyond.
With that in mind we have set up the Artist’s Book Centre. At this stage it is an aspiration. It should perhaps be called: Artist’s Book Centre? And the question mark would be very prominent. What is an artist’s book centre? What format could or should it take? Does it need a permanent base? Is it a catalyst for the organisation of events connected with artist’s books but held at other venues? Is it a loose configuration of interested people occasionally coming together to share an interest or passion? Is there sufficient interest in the city from practitioners and/or public? What institutions might be involved? Would it be a co-operative, sharing the workload of organising events or opening a space to a wider public? Is it a maker’s centre? Or is it more research oriented? How wide is our remit: is it just artist’s books or is it Book Arts more generally? Is it simply a place to house and display the Collection? How would/could/should it be funded? Even possibly, what should it be called, does it need an acronym (Sheffield Centre for Artists Books is SCAB) and where does the apostrophe go!?
We would like to think ‘Artists Book Centre’ is, and can be, more than a branding exercise – we can’t think of a less satisfactory outcome than that. Whilst we might have established something of a base for artist’s books in the past, here in the city, that does not automatically warrant the nomenclature. But neither does a small group of people with an aspiration. As such, our aim is not just to pose the above questions and more, but with the help of as many interested parties as possible to seek some answers.
You can find out more about how we are approaching this challenge, the Events we are organising and how to get involved elsewhere on this website or via social media.
Our little group was started by four of us:
- John Clark – Writer and formally founder and Director of Bank Street Arts
- Sarah Grace Dye – Artist, Curator, Educator and has a book in the 2015 Sheffield International Artists Book Prize.
- Emily Coles – Bank Street Arts volunteer who has spend hours maticulously cataloguing the collection.
- Amber McNamara – PHd student who has used the collection for research.
The Artist’s Book Centre is supported by Lottery Funding from Arts Council England