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A Magazine for Sheffield
When you hear the word 'culture', do you reach for your gun or your chequebook? Or the 'off' button? What is culture? What is art? We leave the classroom and our teachers' attempts to develop our childish creativity, and emerge blinking into the dazzling delights of adult life. So much is on offer, but at a price. For most people this doesn't include making art, just maybe occasionally seeing some. No, don't turn over yet, this isn’t going to be some clever rhetoric about high cuisine or fancy-arsed concepts. This is nuts and bolts. I'm asking what art is. Back when Jarvis Cocker was still living like common people, the city gave birth to new cultural projects based on the DIY approach of various enthusiastic groups fighting the gloom of Thatcher's Britain. The Leadmill was one fine example. In the 80s it was a community centre, not just a nightclub. It opened in the daytime with a wholefood café. It was a social project run by a crazy mix of volunteers, artists, students and legions of unemployed people. It had attitude. It invited people to get involved in things like screen-printing workshops. There were benefit gigs, performances, Sunday afternoon jazz and a gay disco in the bleak years before even San Francisco came out. It had discounts for the unwaged because yet again the system failed to provide jobs. So much has gone – FON Studio, the Independent Bookshop, Commonground Resource Centre. But no time for nostalgia. Culture always goes on. Access Space, located on Sidney Street behind Yorkshire Artspace, is a survivor and a revelation, if you're ready for it. It's not run-of-the-mill. It's an open door to new worlds – a meeting place to play, experiment and try out ideas. It's hard to explain. It's an art gallery with a free digital media lab in the same room, and a fabrication workshop on the side. It invites you in to talk, to meet geniuses and pensioners, engineers and artists, transvestites and asylum seekers. You're likely to get a welcoming smile, a free introduction to the benefits of open source software, or an intelligent analysis of capitalism in crisis. Or a cuppa with free biscuits, donated in the spirit of open commons goodness that lifts such projects out of the profit-driven rat race. Like its cousin the Bitfixit Café, which offers free computer help drop-ins every Saturday in Burngreave, here are good geeks happy to help for free. You don't get that at PC World. The annual 20x20 art exhibition at Access Space is typically different. Every picture entered is displayed if it fits one rule – a 20 inch-square format. You might imagine this total openness brings a mish-mash of 50cm squares of childish amateurishness, but the results are beautiful, inventive, thoughtful self-expressions by professional artists and ordinary people alike. This year for the first time, a commission on sales supports Access Space's work. Maybe this is a sad sign of critical times, but it's also food for thought. Sheffield is stuffed full of would-be artists, but few people buy art. It needn't be elitist. You or I could buy art for the kitchen wall. James Wallbank, charismatic founder of Access Space, is adamant that big city authorities usually have the wrong idea, under pressure from business to flog culture as consumerism. But in the end, culture is created by people doing things. Come and experience what people are doing here and now, in austerity Britain. The 20x20 exhibition at Access Space runs until 15th November. Sheffield's alternative guide Alt-Sheff lists loads of activities and groups to look into. )

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