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The Sheffield culture guide written by in-the-know locals

Society of Explorers

For those of us too old to join it, the Society of Explorers is one of the most enviable clubs in town. The collective of 14-to-19-year-olds meet up every Wednesday evening over snacks at Site Gallery to chat, make and curate art. Now who wouldn’t want to get involved with that?

Collective is definitely the word for it, too. There are around 15 to 20 Explorers at any given time, but no hierarchy, no one person in charge. The society comes to decisions about its events and commissions democratically, pooling ideas and putting them to vote. Some of its members even played a role in their supervisor Peter Martin’s recruitment as Site’s Young People's Programme Producer (they tell me they planned to act super serious in Peter’s interview, ceremoniously shuffling papers on the desk in front of him – luckily they didn’t scare him off!).

The Society of Explorers are an integral part of Site; even during the gallery's refurbishment, they didn’t let its closure stop them from producing their exciting arts programme. Instead, they took art to the streets in their own customised van, and hosted their own lineup of acts and mini exhibitions in places like The Folk Forest.

We spoke to Explorers regulars Beth, Silas, George, Saffron and Jack to find out more about this curious, creative collective.

Update: Society of Explorers may not be able to meet in person but they are still meeting digitally and are currently working on a new edition of their zine Wet Paint. It contains a collection of their thoughts and reflections made collaboratively online. They're also helping to develop workshops and activities for young people for when Site Gallery reopens.

Applications are open now to join the Society of Explorers in autumn 2020 – developing skills, sharing ideas, demystifying what an gallery is/who it’s for. Young people who live outside the city centre or who haven't accessed the gallery before are particularly encouraged to apply. Joint applications for friends welcome. Travel costs covered. See full details and get your applications in by 14 September.

How would you describe Society of Explorers?
Silas: We’re a collective of young people, which I think is an important distinction because it’s very much led by us. It’s just a group of people who meet up every week and do creative things. It’s not really limited – it depends what’s on in the gallery and what’s on in the city, and we’ll do something responding to it.

Beth: We work a lot with other artists as well. It introduces you to lots of different ways of doing art rather than traditional pen and paper.

What made you want to get involved?
Beth: I heard about it from one of my art teachers. I like arty stuff, and also they said there’d be free food! I came for the art and stayed for the hummus.

Silas: I was interested in filmmaking. It was less limited to that than I thought it was going to be, but it was really exciting and really interesting, so I stuck around for four years.

George: My mate told me about it. She also said there was free food. It’s turned out really good, it’s given me something to do.

Jack: Peter came to our college and gave us a bit of a talk and it was intriguing. I guess I came along to try something new and get to know other people.

What has being part of the Explorers done for you?
Silas: It’s helped me choose what I want to do with my life. That sounds a bit cheesy, but when I came I thought I wanted to do sciences and by the end I have a really defined idea of what I want to do and where I want to go. And this is another cliche, “youth groups made me more confident”, but it genuinely has because it’s a place where you can express your opinion and there’s interesting things to talk about.

Beth: And everybody’s really nice. Also it gave me lots of opportunities to try out stuff that I wouldn’t usually have been able to – like this session we’re doing video, and I’d never usually do that because I don’t have the stuff to do it with.

Saffron: It’s very relaxing as well. You just come here and do some arty, idea-y stuff.

Can you tell us a little about what you’re working on for The Folk Forest?
Beth: Yes, we have a stage in Endcliffe Park and we’re going to have bands and music acts. We’ve got other things like a shipping container with a load of visual art.

Silas: It’s building on what we did there last year, which was launching our art van. That was the biggest project we’ve ever done, converting an old city council minivan into an art van with a massive portable trailer. We were all really involved in the design – I can see bits of it that I suggested, which is really cool.

Beth: We’re also working with Tough Matter, a visual arts and music pair who work with local artists. We’ve commissioned artists to do posters on a theme, which we’ve decided is space and/or anarchy. They’re also giving all of us disposable cameras which we’ll fill up and then the photos will be displayed.

George: Everyone’s so different as well, so from this disposable camera exercise it’s going to bring out a lot of different results. It’s going to be quite scary, but good.

Other than being part of the Explorers, what do you love about Sheffield?
Jack: I always see new forms of graffiti writing and street art here that intrigue me. That’s what I like about Sheffield, plus it’s my home city.

Beth: I really like the trees. Especially when I’ve been to other cities, I’ve always noticed how lacking in green spaces they are.

George: I like the trees as well. It’s very multicultural and it’s close to more green stuff like the Peak District. It’s just chill.

Saffron: I’m going to go with George on all the green stuff. Everyone’s really friendly. There’s a lot of opportunity for young people to have something proactive to be involved in as well, like this.

Silas: It feels like it’s changing quite a lot at the moment. It feels very creative and exciting and open, and I like that a lot.

What would you do to improve the city?
Jack: Maybe designated graffiti zones, where people come and congregate and just spread the love.

Beth: More trees, because they’re getting cut down.

George: I’d open up more space. There’s a lot of space in Sheffield already open, but take the flats at Park Hill for example – when you come in on the train you see these big grey flats and you’re like “ugh”. They should do more stuff with spaces like this, take down all the fence and turn it into a colourful place.

Silas: I’d like more open spaces that you can relax in that are indoors. If you want to hang out indoors you have to go to a coffee shop or a pub and that costs so much money.

Beth: Can I add one thing I like about Sheffield: the mayor. His Instagram is great.

George: He’s so like everyone else. He’s so normal.

Saffron: I would get rid of Amey [the contractor carrying out tree felling in Sheffield]. More of the spaces stuff, and more art, all the time, everywhere.

Society of Explorers' Wet Paint zine

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