Oxheys was started in 2011 as a response to the closing of PAD Gallery in Preston, as the council could no longer afford the £84,000 a year it cost. At that time, there were no artist studios in Preston and nowhere else for local artists to exhibit or show their work or meet up.
Oxheys was set up to try and show that supporting the arts in Preston didn’t have to cost that much – just an empty building, a sympathetic and visionary landlord and a few artists that wanted to make a difference and who were prepared to roll up their sleeves to make it happen.
We got the keys to the near-derelict factory mill on Stanhope Street in April 2011. Despite much initial interest from quite a few artists, just 3 of us were left to clean it up in time to run our first open exhibition in the August. Several other artists then joined as residents and other than a few short gaps, we remained fully occupied, with a waiting list, until 2017.
We were determined to be self-sufficient – we didn’t ask for funding nor did we charge visitors for events, making just a nominal charge to artists to enter work into open exhibitions and taking a small commission on sales. Our landlord Cllr Albert Richardson and Mayor of Preston, was completely supportive and proud of what we achieved, never increasing the rent once in 6 years. He took great pleasure showing his friends around ‘his gallery’ – it also gave him bragging rights with his fellow councillors!
This model was however, totally dependent on the voluntary efforts of just a couple of resident artists on whose shoulders it fell to organise, manage, install, run and publicise exhibitions and events. We were also lucky to have some invaluable supporters who provided unpaid help with maintenance, installations, moral support and publicity along with donations and sponsored events. We say a big thank you to them and in particular to Lubaina Himid CBE for unending support and guidance, to Prof Charles Quick for encouragement, Tracy Hill and Magda Stawarska-Beavan from ArtLab Contemporary Print Studios for entrusting us with the annual 20:20 print event and Garth Gratrix for being our very first artist in residence. Thank you all.
Our exhibition preview evenings were always busy and became a favourite opportunity for local artists and art lovers to meet and network, enjoy a drink and conversation whilst viewing some innovative art. Albert always enjoyed attending these evenings so our last one on March 2nd 2017 was tinged with some sadness that he was unable to attend due to his failing health. We all wish him well and say once again a huge Thank You to Albert.
During our 6 years in Oxheys Mill we organised and ran 37 exhibitions, accommodated 27 resident artists, hosted 3 residencies, collaborated with 17 organisations, exhibited work from 111 artists.
We ran 14 arts-related events including theatre, live music, poetry and creative writing, hosted 8 talks and welcomed over 3777 visitors.
In March 2017 we sadly lost the use of the old factory mill on Stanhope Street due to its sale, so we have evolved into a peripatetic arts collective, now known simply as Oxheys. Watch for details of our future endeavours and do join our mailing list.
In 2018 we sadly lost Albert but his memory will live on.