Cambridge arts event celebrates 50 years of open studios

Cambridge arts event celebrates 50 years of open studios

By Katy PrickettBBC News, Cambridgeshire

Elspeth Owen Julia Ball and Elspeth Owen in front of a colourful canvas in  2014Elspeth Owen

Open Studios was the brainchild of Julia Ball (left) and Elspeth Owen (right) was one of the earliest artists to join the annual event

A community of more than 500 artists is celebrating its 50th anniversary with the its biggest open studio event.

Cambridge Open Studios was launched by Julia Ball with a handful of artists in 1974. Today the event can be found across Cambridgeshire during weekends in July.

Potter and ceramicist Elspeth Owen, 84, began taking part within a couple of years of its start and has participated ever since.

“It was the biggest launch for me, as I was a long way behind in terms of experience, and it has been an inspiration,” she said.

Elspeth Owen Elspeth Owen looking down in her studio, with a table and bench behind piled with ceremicsElspeth Owen

Ms Owen said it has been “a major feature of my year” since she first took part in the mid-1970s

“At the time the city had an annual arts festival, but it was focused on music, drama, performance, that sort of thing,” said Ms Owen.

“Julia’s idea was to wave a flag for the visual arts.”

The event involves artists opening their studios to the public, who can learn more about their processes and inspiration.

Many of the artists are professionals, but it has remained non-selective throughout its history and is open to non-commercial or hobby creatives.

That ethos “fitted with my politics, the lack of authoritarianism”, said Ms Owen, who has exhibited around the UK and in Europe.

She said: “I love the relationship that you have with the people who come to the open studios.

“It’s very, very different from showing in a gallery, it’s much more relaxed and I gain more from it, as I hear people’s responses at open studio.”

Genevieve de Vorms Genevieve de Vorms leaning against a wall with a green, blue and cream canvas to her leftGenevieve de Vorms

Printmaker, photographer and painter Genevieve de Vorms is taking part in her second open studios in July

Genevieve de Vorms’ first Cambridge Open Studios experience was visiting Ms Owen’s workshop, an old wooden cricket pavilion in Grantchester.

“I was about 12, we’d just moved to Cambridge and my neighbour took us for a walk across the meadows to her studio,” the 24-year-old said.

“I have fond memories of going through her ceramics and the incredible building she works in.”

Now a printmaker, photographer and painter whose work is “inspired by the way light falls on water”, she is taking part in her second open studios from central Cambridge.

She said: “I had been wanting to do it for year and years, but wanted to build up enough work – and feel confident enough to do it.

“It’s very special because it gives the artist a lot of agency – you can curate the space how you want, you can price them how you want and then you can communicate your artwork how you like as well.”

Jonny Church Jonny Church talking to two members of the public with a large painting behind himJonny Church

The event offers visitors the chance to see where artists work and find out more about how they create their pieces

What began as an ad hoc event focused on the city now includes artists from a large part of Cambridgeshire and in and around Saffron Walden, Essex.

Ms Owen said: “It’s great that it’s multiplied and it’s great to see the incredible range of work – digital work, for example, which wasn’t event being made back when it started.”

Those taking part need to commit to the event in January, so going forward she would like an additional fringe event aimed at non-professional artists “that could be more short-term and pop-up”.

Sarah Allbrook Sarah Allbrook during Cambridge Open Studioss with artwork behind and talking to a member of the publicSarah Allbrook

It runs every weekend in July, with some artists opening for all the weekends and others choosing to open for some