Originally set up in 2002, Bloc Projects provides a platform for artists to develop their work and open up dialogues with other artists and the wider community, both in Sheffield and beyond. On 23 October the gallery is reopening after an extensive refurbishment.

Bloc Projects has now been around for 13 years. How did it start and how has it changed?

Richard Bartle set up Bloc Studios 17 years ago on Sidney Street. Bloc Projects gallery started as an informal project space within the studios and was run voluntarily before formalising in 2007. The decision to expand was made at a time when things were really difficult financially. We’ve relied on goodwill to keep going this long, and sometimes when things are hard it’s a good time to do something drastic. We secured a grant to support the renovation and expansion of the gallery to create better facilities, with help from Sheffield-based architecture social enterprise Studio Polpo. It felt like the right time to do it and a good time for the city and the part of the city we’re based in.

Tell us about the exhibition that’s being unveiled as part of the re-launch.

I can’t say too much, but we’re working with some really interesting artists who make sculpture, video, print and performance art. One of the artists is particularly excited by Bloc’s history as a site where tuning forks were produced, and is working with tuning fork manufacturers in the city to create new sculpture.

There are a lot of artists living and working here. How do you choose which artists to give a leg-up to?

We work with early career contemporary artists whose work we find interesting visually and critically, but they all work in very different ways. It’s always hard to select for exhibitions and our Bloc Billboards, it takes a lot of time, discussion, research and travel. We don’t have the resources to be a space for everything, but we’re lucky to have lots of spaces in Sheffield that support lots of different kinds of artists.

How closely do you work with artists?

Bloc Projects has always been run by artists and we have really close working relationships with artists that we show. There’s always an element of sharing ideas, giving feedback, working as equals, and getting to know each other. We don’t have much of an accommodation budget so they tend to stay in our houses and it’s very social. Especially in times when arts funding is at risk of disappearing completely, it feels really important to foster an inclusive network and stand up for the arts as something really important.

What sort of reception have you had from the local community?

We have a long-standing reputation and get good feedback from visitors, particularly around the range of things they see and the welcoming atmosphere of the events. It would be great to reach a wider audience though. Certain events enable us to do this, such as screenings around a certain theme, fundraisers and partnerships with community groups, but we need to build on it.

What are your plans for the future?

After the October exhibition we have a few independent projects taking place in the gallery, a radio broadcast project exploring alternative approaches to geography and ideas of place, a short exhibition by two Norwegian artists in January and then the Art Sheffield Festival in 2016.

In the long run, it would be good to stay in the area we’re in, hopefully helping to keep the arts, industry and making in a part of the city that is currently full of these things, but may be very different in a few years time with all the demolition and building happening.

blocprojects.co.uk

Photo by Gavin Joynt

Phil Bayles