Formerly known as Smithdown Social and focused mainly on music, Smithdown Social Arts Hub has now brought writers and artists into the fold and this inclusive ethos is seeing it thrive. Tony McDonough reports
A new hub for musicians and artists has emerged in south Liverpool amid the disruption of the pandemic with compassion and inclusivity central to its mission.
In early 2020 a collective of musicians called Smithdown Social was using Smithdown Social Club as its base. After COVID-19 hit the UK in March 2020 the social club closed down and the future of Smithdown Social was thrown into doubt.
It had developed as a group of bands and solo artists, as well as the people with the skills to support live music. They had also secured funding to launch Music Minds, a project dedicated to the mental health of musicians working in the music industry.
In order to keep the group alive during the lockdowns, Smithdown Social pivoted to a digital platform. This enabled them to continue to deliver music to the community and provide musicians with a digital ‘gig’ opportunity to provide some income during lockdown.
Now the group has been reborn as the Smithdown Social Arts Hub. It has now taken residence in a former post office at 455 Smithdown Road, with the location now called Gallery 455.
Social entrepreneur and director of the hub, Brenda Monahan, said they felt it was important to widen the scope of the collective to welcome writers, visual artists and filmmakers into the hub to create digital content and get artists and musicians networking and sharing their talents.
“Musicians are a highly skilled asset in the community that were being told by Government policy to ‘get a job’, which was an outrage,” said Brenda.
“Funding from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport through the Culture Recovery Fund has played a major role in the continuity of the business and artistic programming covering art, music, literature and film.
“The derelict state of our former venue caused us to also pivot locations and we now occupy the three stories at 455 Smithdown Road that provide the space for the arts hub operations. We turned the former post office on the high street into Gallery 455, which opened in June 2021.
“Here we exhibit highly acclaimed art from a diverse range of local artists. This idea stemmed from successful art exhibitions held at the former Naked Lunch Café, the first co-operative café on Smithdown Road, started by social entrepreneur and local visionary, Paul Tsanos, who is also a director of the hub.
“Over the last 12 months, the hub has collaborated with multiple creative artists and professionals. We successfully launched a poetry book called Bridge Over Smithdown: A Collection of Poems, and a short story book, Smithdown Stories Near and Far, for local writers.”
The hub also held two ‘Five to Film’ workshops with scriptwriter Paul Womack, where each participant developed a five-minute film script and produced a short film each. These will all be launching this January.
Brenda added: “We have been approached by so many high calibre artists and have exhibited art by more than 25 artists, photographers and digital artists in four exhibitions since we opened in June. We look forward to having many more during 2022, including some exclusives.”
The hub has also used social media, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, to good effect in highlighting the funding attracted by Brenda and her work in making successful applications.
“From the outset, our plans have been for the arts hub to be a focal and practical support for creative arts in the area,” said Bredna. “We knew that the key to its success would partly be finding the right balance in terms of supporting everyone who needed it.
“We are all about being local, supportive and socially enterprising,” insists Brenda. “For example, within Gallery 455 we cover costs of photography for artwork to assist artists to produce prints and cards of their work to sell during their exhibition and to digitally place their work on our website once their exhibitions end.
“Our goal is to help promote their work long term and not just for a four-week exhibition. It’s a compassionate way of running a business, helping artists feel loved, treating them like a human as opposed to just a commodity.”