Sharon Virtue has an extensive history in building community through the arts. She lives in SE16 and has a part-time role managing Turning Earth, a ceramics studio in Hackney where she teaches hand building and throwing classes. But now her attention has been taken by an exciting community project on her doorstep. In Albion Street, one shop No 44 has been set-aside as a pop-up shop by the landlord, LB Southwark. Each six to eight weeks, the shop is let to a new business or project to try out the retail opportunity. Sharon applied to take the shop earlier in 2015 and was successful. From 6 May, Sharon will be running the pop-up shop as an arts studio creating art with local groups from all parts of Rotherhithe and Bermondsey. We met at the Canada Water Library.
So Sharon, how did this idea first arise?
‘Well, I was passing down Albion Street one day and it struck me that the street needed some more visual life to become the lively place we all hope it will be. I saw great expanses of brickwork particularly on the old Library building and recognised that since it is due to be demolished soon, the visual impact of hoardings could be equally boring. So was born an idea to create artwork to bring something of the green and beautiful aspects of Rotherhithe to Albion Street through mounting paintings on the hoardings and engaging the local community in creating them.’
There’s so much green space, it’s convenient and amazingly quiet. You can hear the birds sing here!
What will you do in the Pop-up Shop then?
‘The idea is to open as an art workshop from 6 May to 30 June. Most days I’ll open 14:30-20:00 offering workshop sessions of 2 hours a piece. The courses I will run will be for small groups between 5 and 12 people and I will supply all the art materials. All I need now are tables and chairs for people to sit at! I’m always looking out for visual magazines like National Geographic that can act as both inspiration for art work and as a resource for photo montages.
I’m hoping local groups will get in touch to hold one of their meetings at the shop, trying out some different art activities with me. I really want to bring an awareness of all the local organisations to a wider audience; hopefully the shop will be a neutral ground where people from different parts of the community – different ages, experience or styles – will be able to meet and explore the area through art. Everything we do will be focused on Rotherhithe and its rich diversity of spaces, parks, river, farm, shopping centre, stations and so forth.’
How come you’re doing this then? What’s in your background to make this work?
‘When I worked in San Francisco, I worked at Ruby’s Clay Studio where I designed and managed a mobile ceramics studio called the Mud Bus. We won several awards and funding for the outreach to kids from 5 to 18 using ceramics as a route to engagement. It was fabulous and so when I got back to the UK, I did an MA in Community Arts at Goldsmiths in 2012. This allowed me to combine my love of painting and ceramics in creating the Harmony Gardens bringing art into the lives of young people from the Broadwater Farm estate in Tottenham just after the riots. Since then, I’ve been looking out for a way to engage my own community in the arts and then the pop-up shop popped up and has given me a great opportunity to draw these different strands together.’
I really want to bring an awareness of all the local organisations to a wider audience
So what do you want to see for SE16?
‘I think the whole area is just fantastic! There’s so much green space, it’s convenient and amazingly quiet. You can hear the birds sing here! But there’s a lack of art in the area that truly reflects Rotherhithe and Bermondsey back to themselves. Over coming the demands of traffic, pollution and trash on the streets takes vision, beauty and commitment – that’s what art can do! I want to see the schools and the other institutions like GP surgeries taking on the art of the area, making their buildings alive with colour, shape and passion.’
How do we get in touch with you then?
‘You can always visit my website Virtue Vision for information about me and examples of the sort of things I have designed. I blog at Virtue Vision. You can find me on Facebook and on Twitter and of course you can email me. Please come along and introduce yourself at the opening of the Pop-up on Saturday 9 May 18:00-20:00 when I will be open with food laid on by my neighbours in Albion Street Deli Felice’
You can also find details of the shop at Albion Street Pop Up Art Shop on Facebook.