As York Open Studios prepares to celebrate its 20th anniversary next year, we look back at two decades of creativity and how artists are preparing to welcome art-lovers into their homes and studios in 2021

TWO decades ago, a group of like-minded and talented people in York decided more could be done to promote the diversity and availability of good art in the city, maximising the opportunity for artists to interact with potential buyers.

Under the direction of artists Anne Hutchison and Gail Fox, with 19 other artist friends, York Open Studios was born and now 20 years later with a seven-fold growth in artists, makers and craftspeople across a wide spectrum of media, doors in York will be opened – literally and metaphorically – next April.

Many of the 2021 artists include those who were included in last year’s event but with Covid at its peak in spring 2020, the decision was reluctantly made to cancel.

With these artists, plus regulars and an exceptional level of emerging artists to bolster this celebratory year, the open studios looks set to continue to go from strength to strength.

York Press: Lucy McElroy at workLucy McElroy at work

Today York Open Studios is run by seven volunteers, including Beccy Ridsdel, a ceramist from York, Jane Duke, a printmaker working in York, and Jo Bagshaw, a jewellery designer based in Heslington.

A not-for-profit organisation, York Open Studios showcases more than 150 artists to visitors within a 10 miles radius of the city. Now far more than just an artists’ trail, it also supports emerging artists by taking on each year an artist who has just started their journey on making art their career.

This year Francesca King, who produces beautiful objects from clay from her home in South Bank, has benefited from York Open Studios’ bursary scheme. Beccy who chairs the committee says: “Every year we introduce new artists so there is always someone new to visit. Since we started in 2001, we have introduced over 350 York artists to our visitors, including over 50 higher education students who are selected in collaboration with York College and York St John (who pay no fees), and over 20 multi-media bursary artists who produce unsaleable art such as installation and film. These artists receive £500 each to produce a body of work. Our fees and commission are very low and we offer recent graduates a 50 per cent reduction in fees.”

York Press: Ceramics by Pietro SannaCeramics by Pietro Sanna

Beccy and the team are also mindful that it’s been a tough time for the self-employed and artists who usually thrive on interaction with visitors and buyers. “We need to stay safe but with everything being so uncertain, it’s especially difficult for artists. We’re lucky that our artists can work on commissions or have successful online shops, but there is something special about being able to show your work in person. York Open Studios gives you that opportunity and in 2021, we’re working with all the artists to ensure that all the necessary guidelines are in place so visitors and artists stay safe.”

Jane Duke, a fellow committee member adds: “Programmes such as The Great Pottery Throw Down have spurred many to think of showing their art to the outside world. We are able to provide valuable encouragement for new artists, first by the validation of being selected by our independent panel, and then by the enthusiastic responses of our visitors.”

York Press: York jewellery designer Jo BagshawYork jewellery designer Jo Bagshaw

Jo Bagshaw, committee member and jewellery designer, adds: “Our regular artists benefit from seeing their visitors and them investing in their collections of work. Some return year after year to see new my collections of jewellery and buy new pieces. I find that visitors love to hear about my inspiration behind a piece and see the tools I use. Some buy and some are just interested in the processes. I feel I’m taking them on the journey and through my involvement with York Open Studios I have built up a really good customer base. ”

Beccy summarises plans for 2021: “We are grabbing the 2021 York Open Studios with both hands and channelling the optimism and enthusiasm from all our artists to ensure this year’s 20th show is one of the best. Artists and makers bring a diverse range of skills to the weekends producing bespoke ceramics, furniture, glass, jewellery, painting, photography, printmaking, sculpture, textiles, wood carving and multi-media. There is something for everyone and every pocket. It’s a fabulous way too to enjoy York and view extraordinary work.”

Artists include well-known names such as ceramicists Ben Arnup and Chui-i Wu who love to show their work in their studios, with regulars such as Emily Sutton, Mark Hearld and Adele Karmazyn showing the diversity in materials and style. Expert designer Neil Fallows who produces bespoke wooden furniture and sculptor Andrian Melka produce work that you may need to return to collect. Some new additions this celebratory year include Lucy Mcelroy’s gorgeous detailed paintings and Pietro Sanna’s hand-built narrative ceramics.

This year, the artists will be included on a map of the city so visitors can easily make their way to as many studios, workshops and homes as they wish.

York Open Studios 2021 dates: Saturday and Sundays 16 and 17 April, and 24 and 25 April 10am to 5pm. Free entry.

For more information, visit:

EDIT: Since publication, York Open Studios have announced new dates for this year:  Weekends 10th – Sunday 11th July, and 17th - 18th July 2021