IT is almost a year since Explore York was recognised as an Arts Council ‘National Portfolio Organisation’. BARBARA SWINN explains what that has meant

BY funding Explore’s culture and creativity programme, Arts Council England recognised how important York’s libraries are as creative spaces at the heart of local communities.

A strong feature of the programme is storytelling using the collections in the City Archive, which document nearly 900 years of the city’s history and provide extraordinary details of the lives of its citizens.

These collections are a rich treasure-trove for artists and creatives to delve into as a source of inspiration for them and the communities they will work with.

Over the three-year investment period, Explore will work with different communities in York with the focus for the first year being Tang Hall.

Let’s have a closer look at what has been achieved this first year by focusing on some key highlights.

Explore have partnered with 12 organisations spanning disabilities, arts, well-being, social prescribers, festival organisers and others, and have achieved some great outcomes.

These have included providing employment and career development for 14 artists, hosting 20 engaging workshops to date covering various artforms with more to come, running four artist and archives workshops and showcasing six exhibitions across two spaces, totalling 155 exhibition days.

Examples include:

Creative Café at Tang Hall Explore: this was a weekly session run for eight weeks in the autumn last year. The aim was to improve wellbeing by enhancing confidence, providing opportunities for social interaction and fostering a sense of belonging.

Participants created artwork and developed their creative skills, using maps, photographs and documents from archive collections as inspiration.

The workshops were supported by professional freelance artists Gemma Wood and Rachael Ensoll. Gemma said: "Working with the archive gave a real sense of integrity to the project. It gave a focus but also led us on a journey through time and creative practice.”

One participant who took part added: "We could have done watercolours for eight weeks, but it's the history of the town that sticks with you!"

The created artwork will be exhibited at Tang Hall Explore from March 4.

History Misbehaves: Tang Hall residents have been collaborating with professional director Kate Valentine and playwright Paul Birch to craft a community radio play inspired by the area's rich history. The project boasted an intergenerational production team, spanning ages 14 to 90. Following creative workshops, the team have created monologues based on Tang Hall characters throughout the ages. The monologues will be recorded at Jorvik Radio in the next few weeks. The podcasts will be online in April and available on podcast platforms.

Workshop leader and director Kat Valentine said: "History Misbehaves brings Tang Hall to life over the centuries through the eyes of the people who lived and worked between the becks. Audiences will be able to listen to the monologues online and enjoy recognising Tang Hall's rich heritage in the stories."

Sheelagh Loftus, who took part in the workshops, added: "Being on my own now for the past three years, I welcome the time spent at my local library … getting involved in the History Misbehaves project. It’s been fun writing my script as Lady Starkey and meeting new people.

Step by Step Brick by Brick: York Dance Space have been commissioned to take Tang Hall residents on a journey of discovery through music and dance, inspired by the history and stories of Tang Hall. Local schools and local residents make up the intergenerational cast and will come together to celebrate the local community over the past 100 years on Saturday April 20.

York Dance Space’s Hannah said: ''We're looking forward to bringing more of our local community together through music and dance and celebrating the stories and lives of local people. We're excited to be using Tang Hall Explore as our performance venue!”

Disability Arts and Archives: Explore are committed to supporting disabled artists and individuals with disabilities to explore archive collections through disability art, increasing access and reducing barriers. During York Disability Week in December 2023 artist Stephen Hodgkins and York People First presented their archive research unveiling untold stories of disabilities to a diverse audience.

In early July 2024, York Explore will host a Disability Arts showcase, drawing inspiration from Explore York Archives. The event will celebrate Disability Pride month through the works of local and internationally-known disabled artists.

Looking Ahead:

In the second year of the national Portfolio Organisation programme, the focus for activity will be at Acomb Explore. We are excited about the possibilities that lie ahead and look forward to building on the foundation established during this first year.

Barbara Swinn is head of engagement at Explore York