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Persistence Works

Location: Sheffield, UK

Artists: Brett Payne (Artistic Director), Jeff Bell, Ashley Cartwright, Jo Fairfax, Jennie Gill, Mark Green and Tom Hodgins, and Jasia Szerszynska


Persistence Works is a new, purpose-built artists’ studio building completed in October 2001 in the centre of Sheffield. It provides 51 studios occupied by 69 artists and craftspeople, members of Yorkshire ArtSpace Society (YAS), and accommodates public activity spaces and a public art projects space. The building was designed by architects Feilden Clegg Bradley as a low maintenance, low energy facility which could become independent from public funding. To ensure that the studios were geared to artists’ needs Brett Payne, a jeweller and designer and member of YAS since 1983, was appointed as Artistic Director to work with the architects on the design. The design team also included Buro Happold, engineers; Citex, project management and quantity surveyors; and All Clear Designs, access consultants.

The building also incorporated seven integrated artists’ commissions by: Jeff Bell, Ashley Cartwright, Jo Fairfax, Jennie Gill, Mark Green and Tom Hodgins, and Jasia Szerszynska. Other YAS members were also commissioned to design door handles.

Background - funding and budget

YAS was established in 1977 to provide affordable studio space for artists in Sheffield. In 1996 the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) awarded YAS funding to undertake a two-year business development project, followed by a further grant preparing YAS for expansion.

With a National Lottery grant through the Arts Council of England, YAS conducted a feasibility study and assembled the design team to complete designs to RIBA Stage D. In January 2000, the Lottery agreed a final funding award of £3.7m matched with £1.5 from ERDF to complete the building and carry out a programme of events for artists and craftspeople and the local community. The project’s total budget was around £5.5 million.

The site in Brown Street was acquired from Sheffield City Council in 1999 and is situated in the city’s Cultural Industries Quarter.


YAS wanted to keep its base in Sheffield’s Cultural Industries Quarter but with rents rising beyond its means, the only option was to purchase a building or commission the design and construction of a new one. Pursuing the second option, with Persistence Works, YAS set out to provide studio accommodation for artists and craftspeople with varying needs, incorporating both private and social spaces, and to create an exemplary landmark building in the city that would benefit future generations of artists and the wider community. In the long term, the building had to be self financing - generating income from its core business of letting studios. The design objectives included a public access area with an illustrated directory of artists and makers, display cases showing members’ work and a public art space to allow visitors to view and become actively involved in the art-making in progress.

Artist-architect collaboration

Brett Payne, the Artistic Director, was appointed at the beginning of the project to help write the brief for the architects, as well as producing briefs with the architects for the artists’ commissions. He was involved in the design phase for over three years, part-time, about a day a week for a fee of £5,000 – a nominal amount which by no means cover his time input for the whole project. Brett identified two main paths of consideration: one was ensuring that the architects understood the needs of artists; the second, achieving good design.

Practical considerations included the provision of internal block-work walls which could be moved if necessary later on. The workspaces had to be designed to accommodate any kind of artists’ practice and most studios have good natural light. Huge doors have been provided for the entrance and large doors to the ground floor sculpture studios allowing a truck to be driven right into artists’ workspaces. Three-phase electricity supply for heavy duty usage has been installed.

The high point of the whole project for Brett, as an artist used to working more often on his own, was the opportunity to work in a design team. ‘When this resulted in good solutions it was very satisfying, but often frustrating as well, when you could see an obvious design solution to a problem but could not convince others.” He would have liked to have spent more time on the project, but as a practising artist he had to balance his commitment to the project with his own work.

Artists’ Commissions

The following commissions were initiated as part of the development, and most were realised on completion of the building in October 2001.

Floating Wall’ of glass by Jeff Bell

Jeff Bell has produced a series of illuminated, cast glass panels to create a ‘street presence’ for the building. £40,000.

Front Desk by Ashley Cartwright

For a reception desk and administration, Ashley Cartwright’s design in layered plywood is constructed in a series of angled planes. £8,050.

Lighting Sculpture by Jo Fairfax

Jo Fairfax’s lighting work is made up of flexible steel ‘hairs’ protruding horizontally from circular, blue lights in the external walls. £20,000.

Gates by Jennie Gill

Jennie Gill worked with the architects to produce double steel gates to the service yard and back terrace, constructed of pierced and twisted steel. £3,000 (design fee only).

Pocket park wall mural by Mark Green and Tom Hodgins

20 ceramic mosaic panels produced in workshops are proposed for the length of the external boundary wall. £4,725.

Reception floor area by Jasia Szerszynska

Jasia Szerszynska has designed a gravel path set in a slate floor, curving uninterrupted through the main entrance to the reception area. £3,000 (design fee only).

Key issues

  • Achievement of aims

    YAS has achieved its aim of owning its own building and remaining in Sheffield’s Cultural Industries Quarter. The building design and construction was completed within budget (apart from some minor outstanding requirements, such as external planting). An artist, Brett Payne, was closely involved in the design process from the start, and other artists’ commissions were realised. The building is fully occupied with 69 artists in 51 studio spaces, and paying its way. So far the public art studio has not been used for any major public art commissions although income from the hiring the public space has been generated. Integrated artists’ commissions have been completed in the building and the Artistic Director’s input into the design process has helped to create a utilitarian and robust building tailored to artists’ needs.

  • Effect on the organisation

    Yorkshire ArtSpace had never taken on a project of this scale before, it was therefore a steep learning curve. Kate Dore, Director of the Trust says: ‘We are no longer a small artist-led organisation. Now the artists are treated as business people, with respect, but we don’t deal with artists’ emotional needs in the way that we used to”. Kate explained that one of the difficulties at first was simply understanding the terms engineers and architects used. There was no real period of preparation before the project started.

  • Project Management

    Managing a large construction project is a difficult and skilled operation, its own. A professional project manager was therefore appointed and the Arts Council’s monitor made a very positive contribution. EDRF were mostly concerned about outputs relating to their funding.

  • Budget

    Funding was confirmed for the £5.5 million total budget at a time when full costs were not known. Cost-cutting dominated the whole process, although the commissions budget remained sacrosanct.

  • Professional working practice policies

    At the beginning the Arts Council insisted on adopting a proper health and safety policy and an artistic policy, which some at YAS were sceptical of before the project began. Now the value of these policies are recognised.


Yorkshire ArtSpace:

Tel: 0114 276 1769

Feilden Clegg Bradley Architects:

Stuart Blackwood, photographer:

© Copyright Ben Eastop 2003