Founded in 1994, Arts Catalyst is a visual arts organisation based in Sheffield. Since relocating from London in 2020, they’ve firmly rooted themselves in South Yorkshire soil. Through creative exchange, dialogue and collaborations that cultivate a sense of place, Arts Catalyst connects local communities and environments to the global issues that delineate our collective futures.
Laura Clarke, artistic director and joint CEO, tells us about how they’re seeding and nurturing connections with creatives and collectives within and beyond South Yorkshire. And she shares what the future holds for Arts Catalyst.
How would you describe your work?
Arts Catalyst has a long history of working with artists in unusual contexts to ask big questions about the world around us. From sending artists, musicians and philosophers on a space flight simulation in Moscow in the early 2000s to co-developing a mobile DIY environmental monitoring station with artists, scientists and indigenous community members in the Arctic, we are known for our experimental projects and collaborative ways of working.
Over the past decade, our work has focused on the ways in which creative projects can offer new ways of relating to environmental issues. We’ve worked with artists to do things like run public workshops on how to build a DIY anaerobic digester that turned our London gallery into a temporary, low-tech, off-grid gas works. We’ve also developed long-term, place-based projects such as Test Sites Calder (2017–21) in West Yorkshire. There, we worked with artists, local communities and people involved in water governance to explore alternative and more equitable models of caring for the River Calder.
What role does Arts Catalyst play in the city? What makes you unique?
We brought our place-based, collaborative and environmentally-focused approach to Sheffield through Emergent Ecologies. This programme was a series of experiments in growing new relationships and embedding ourselves in different parts of the city through artist projects.
It included workshops exploring sounds and stories of the wetlands in Shirebrook Valley and Woodhouse Washlands with artists a place of their own (Sam Vardy and Paula McCloskey) in 2021. In 2022, we worked with artist Harun Morrison, local landscape architect Fran Halsall and Sheffield Mind to transform parts of their outdoor space in Sharrow into a community garden. And in 2023 we commissioned an exhibition by artist Rachel Pimm that explored minor histories and imagined other stories about Sheffield’s industrial past.
Through these projects, we’ve developed long-term relationships with community organisations, local groups and artists across the city and beyond that focus on how art can open up different ways of relating to the places that we live.
We’ve also initiated Soft Ground. This shared arts and community space on The Moor provides affordable project and events space to local organisations and groups who advocate for social change through arts and community practices.