Musings for April 2018

                        Street Art in Sheffield

There is an enormous amount of street art in Sheffield.  I attended SVAG’s Street Arts study session in March last year as a relative newcomer to the city, and it was a wonderful eye opener for me.  However, I never imagined that a chance remark over a lunch that followed would lead me exactly one year later, to giving a presentation with Vicky to the Sheffield Culture Consortium.


The chance remark in essence, was that it could be very valuable to create an ongoing  archive of all the city’s street art.  But for what purpose and for whose benefit?  These where the questions that we hoped would be successfully addressed in that recent presentation.  Over the past year SVAG has developed the ideas contained within the initial proposal with several interested groups and individuals.  The working name for it is now the Sheffield Street Art Platform, but that could change again.


Importantly, following the presentation a small working group has been convened from interested parties in the city to explore ways in which this proposal could be turned into a reality.  It is exciting and encouraging that the value of Sheffield’s street art is already recognised and woven into the work of a number of the city’s cultural organisations.  A significant portion of the necessary foundations on which to build the platform could already be in place.  However these are very early days, and everything is very fluid and more foundation work is needed.  It is hoped that the working group will lead to the partnership of key players that SVAG has always felt will be critical to making the platform a working viability.


Coincidently the working group has its first meeting on May Day.  Perhaps this is auspicious, in that street art is by its nature a grass roots art form with the most public of platforms. 


Below is that part of the presentation that I gave, which is interspersed with accompanying images.  Hopefully it gives a flavour of what a street art platform could achieve for city and beyond.


"Thank you Vicky.


So what is this proposal for a street art platform all about?  Essentially it is to create a collection of all Sheffield’s street art, past and current.  It would contain photographs, film and all the relevant background information about each work.  This would all be stored online using proper archiving standards.  It would be interactive, fully accessible and inclusive.  And because this website would link into other appropriate websites across the city, and also nationally and internationally, we believe it could help to achieve some of the goals of your Culture Plan, and the aims of many other organisations in the city.  It could help Sheffield to deservedly punch above its weight.


Just a word about the title - Sheffield Street Art Platform.  It’s a working title only, it may change.  We’ve tried ‘archive’ and we quite like ‘Off the Wall’.  In this presentation I will also call it ‘The Platform’.  What’s important at the moment is the potential of the proposal.


I’ll now show you six examples of Sheffield’s excellent street art, using photographs from the extensive collection of Dave Surridge, a sociology lecturer at Hallam University.  As you look at them I want you to try and imagine what could happen if the Platform with all its links, was up and running.  And also try to imagine some of the exciting rewards that the Platform could deliver.

This work [above] in Arundel Street was created by a collaboration of artists (coLor/ Rocket01/ Mila K/ Foundry and Faunagraphic) in 2016.  Now, imagine you’re a member of a group of art lovers in Manchester and you’re exploring possible trips to neighbouring cities.  You’re very interested in an afternoon event at the Showroom, and a link from its website takes you to art trails on the Sheffield Street Art Platform.  On the site you see that your group could go on a 60 minute guided trail that takes in this work and several others nearby, followed by lunch and the event at the Showroom.  Sheffield seems to have much more to offer than you had first imagined, and the group agrees to book up for a full day out.

Here's another collaboration, in Trafalgar Street.  This time imagine you run a business round here and pass this artwork every day.  You want to find out more about it and Googling Sheffield street art takes you onto the platform where you see a link to business development.  You're intrigued to read that traders in Sheffield's Antiques Quarter positively endorse street art because it helps to promote their businesses and give them a unique identity.  Through links on the platform you arrange meetings with relevant business and arts development professionals to explore the possibilities of commissioning a street art work for your own business.

I imagine most of you have seen this artwork on the SHU Union building, designed and painted by Hallam graphic design graduate, Sachin Limbachia.  Now imagine you're a prospective university student in the South of England in the process of putting together university applications.

You're trying to find a course that combines your interests in art, sociology, contemporary history and archiving.  You've often visited the Sheffield Street Art Platform ever since a teacher used it in one of your 6th form lessons.  Now you see that the partnership that manages the site includes both of the city's universities.

More links take you to an undergraduate course which involves students directly in running the site.  You decide that Sheffield is the place you want to study.

This is unmistakably a work by Sheffield based artist Phlegm whom you've commissioned as part of the upcoming Street Art Festival.  Phlegm is one of a growing number of Sheffield based street artists who are now regularly working abroad.  So, try and imagine you're a Belgian art curator.  Some time ago you commissioned Phlegm to create a large work in Ostend.


Right now, with colleagues in four other countries, you are planning an international Street Art Festival.  The festival will be hosted in Sheffield partly because it has so many examples of high quality street art.  It also has an internationally acknowledged expertise in successfully promoting the genre.  And its Street Art Platform has not only contributed to the development of this expertise, it is now being used by you and your colleagues in the four other countries to facilitate the planning of the festival.

This is a work by artist Pete Fowler at The Leadmill.


Now, imagine that you're a young adult from one of Sheffield's outlying areas.  You don't visit the galleries or theatres even though you always enjoyed art at school.  But you do pass this artwork everytime you go to the match.  And you like it, and you like a lot of the other street art you see around the city.  You Google Street Art Sheffield and find the Platform, you find Pete Fowler's work and find a link to a weekend of open workshops where you could meet the artists.  You decide to take the plunge.

This work by Pete McKee is in Burton Road near Yellow Arch Studios. Imagine you're in one of Sheffield's bands, part of the alternative music and art scene that has added so much to the city's culture and profile.


Artists like Pete Mckee are the ones you go to to design the band's promotional artwork.  And the place you go to find the artists and inspiration is ? - yes, the Street Art Platform.



So those are the six examples.  One I haven't shown but want to mention is the work in schools.  Street art is being done here too.  Artwork created in schools is not often seen outside its immediate environment, which is a great pity.


Imagine if school street art and the whole creative process was linked from school websites onto a Street Art Platform, it could perhaps inspire other pupils and teachers.  It could help to achieve some of the aims discussed at the recent launch of Sheffield Education Partnership.


Later this year, on Sunday September 16th as part of the Nether Edge Festival, there will be a guided walk along a local street art trail, organised by one of the local schools.  It will also include a litter pick, making two ways in which the local neighbourhood has been enhanced.



Street art is, by its nature, ephemeral.  Many works disappear, for many reasons.  The work we looked at created by Phlegm in 2012 has now been demolished, so there is perhaps some urgency to create a record of all this amazing art.


What have we got now ?  What  do we need to progress this idea and where might the Platform sit ?  Many of the resources and skills to make the Platform a reality already exist in the city.


There are films, hundreds of high quality photos and a lot of background information.  We feel our role has been to float the initial idea and we have been encouraged by some very positive responses from several quarters.


We are enthusiastic but we don't have the resources to develop it further on our own.  So we hope that you will now feel enthused too and will want to work in partnership with us to take the proposal to the next stage in turning it into a reality.


Thank you for listening, and I hope, imagining what might be possible.


Over to you."



Graham Marsden, April 2018  

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