Celebrating 3 years since moving in to the former ARM factory on Stanhope Street, artist-run Oxheys Mill Studios was started by three local artists as a collective, with the belief that empty industrial spaces could be made accessible for art and the aim of providing a space in Preston where local artists could experiment and exhibit work alongside the studios. To date 25 very different exhibitions have been organised and hosted along with other events and activities including music, live theatre, performance and poetry readings, creative writing, life drawing and photography workshops.
The three founding artists started the blog at oxheysmillstudios.com in May 2011, in order to document the process of turning an old factory into an art space and keep track of their progress, whilst hopefully providing some inspiration to other artists thinking of undertaking a similar project. Joe Kennedy, Lisa Gorton and Denise Swanson had all previously been associated with the PAD Gallery in Preston and all were members of Lancashire Artists Network. It was the closure of PAD that inspired them to set up Oxheys but to see if they could do so independently, without applying for funding and to make it sustainable. It is still being run on a purely voluntary basis with no funding.
There are currently eight artists in residence with a total of 14 who have occupied studios during the three years and a further three undertaking short residencies. Through the various exhibitions and events, over two hundred local and regional artists have had opportunities to exhibit or perform, whilst hundreds of people from local communities both in and around Preston have visited and enjoyed engaging with art in an accessible, welcoming and unthreatening environment.
Many of those who visit comment on the wide variety and quality of artworks, the high professional standard with which events are organised and the warm welcome guaranteed. Accessibility is a recurring comment and Oxheys has been applauded for offering new opportunities for local audiences to engage with art and artists.
Rather than making attempts to disguise the mill’s industrial past, Oxheys has embraced its history by retaining the original features such as the conveyor belt, which has been used as a display feature in several exhibitions and the integral loading bay, which makes an ideal small space for a variety of uses. Likewise the distinctive red-oxide coloured iron girders and the old wooden rafters, are used for displaying art in novel and unusual ways. A meeting room on the first floor also offers a space for small exhibitions and workshops.
Oxheys plans for the future include more exhibitions and workshops, along with an artists market being planned for the August Bank Holiday weekend, in which LAN members will be invited to participate. Join the Oxheys mailing list on their website to receive details of this and all future events, invitations to private views and exhibition opportunities.