A Volunteer’s Experience

Posted on: 18th August 2023

Read Terry's experience supporting the development of our archive over the last few months.

Having embarked on an Archiving Support volunteer role with Helix Arts in December 2023, I discovered that the organisation had a largely uncatalogued archive of material dating back 40 years to their foundation in 1983, when they were known as, ‘Artists’ Agency’. One of their earliest projects was, “Art at Work” (1983 – 84), which placed ten artists in work places, for between 3 and 12 months, ranging from British Steel, Teesside to Wrekenton Library, where they were to produce art inspired by the novel environment in which they found themselves. The project culminated in an exhibition held at the Hatton Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

A residency by Chris Stevens

Perhaps the most high profile residency was that of artist Chris Stevens with Sunderland Football Club – at the time a first division side. Even national television picked up on the event. Much debate was sparked in and around the club, Alan Durban (manager June 1981 to March 1984) remarked, “It has taken me two years to get rid of the artists in my team and they go and give me another one” (HAA/B07), while Chris Turner (goalkeeper 1979 – 85) said players thought the idea was a joke at first but were later impressed and accepted Chris Stevens as he was, “like any ordinary lad off the streets” (“Art at Work” HAA/B07). Stevens began by producing player portraits, which were well received, but swiftly moved on to depicting fans, particularly skinheads whom he wished to present with a softer glow than the stereotypical bad boy image which they had. This didn’t sit too well with some who thought that it created, by association, a bad image for the club.

Overall, Chris’s residency was largely successful, in promoting the club as well as producing some thought provoking artwork, he became well regarded by many players, staff and fans alike. When he began he stated, “who am I painting for, the club, the supporters or myself” (HAA/B07). He appears to have struck a balance which satisfied all of these demands and continues to be a successful artist to the present day, some examples of his work relating to the Sunderland residency can be seen at Helix Arts’ Re:Visits exhibition which runs at Segedunum Roman Fort, Wallsend, until September 2023.