It was built in 1905 by a multi-millionaire philanthropist as a gift to the people of Wakefield, but this month sees a new chapter for the city’s Carnegie library.
The Art House, which opened next door to the Drury Lane library in 2008 when it was still lending books, has expanded into the old building, with traditional craft makers, artists, photographers and film-makers moving in after a £3m restoration.
Many of the original features of the building have been retained and restored, including original arts and crafts tiles that were discovered under 16 layers of paint, the librarian’s desk, a book lift and clock and parquet flooring.
The 34 new studios add to the 14 already existing in The Art House’s original building, which was designed to be fully accessible and provide no physical barriers to anyone wishing to pursue a career in the arts.
Artistic director Stuart Tulloch, who joined the organisation at the beginning of the year, said moving into the Old Library had always been the ambition for The Art House.
It has been realised thanks to a £1.3m Arts Council grant, £1.2m from the European Regional Development Fund, as well as support from Wakefield Council, which gave a 25-year lease for the building, which became empty in 2012 when the library’s contents was transferred to a new central library at the Wakefield One civic building.
Mr Tulloch said: “The fact that it was a library, and what libraries mean to society - we want to capture that spirit within the vision of the organisation. Not only has it become something else, but the shell of the library has been restored.”
Moving into the Old Library has allowed The Art House to become something it was not before - open to the public. A project space will allow it hold exhibitions and workshops.
Mr Tulloch said: “It has been very important to keep the character of the building, but that goes beyond the physical features. Creating that public space continues the legacy of the library.”
The first studio holders received their keys last Friday, and moved in over the weekend.
Those already signed up include a freelance writer, an art therapist, a costume designer, textile artist and a record label. Eight studios remain open to new holders.
Heidi Waddington, The Art House’s marketing and communications manager said it wanted to appeal to alternative art forms and cottage industries, from “tattoo artists to circus performers”.
Mr Tulloch added: “We want to challenge preconceived ideas of what art and creativity is and its value to society, and create a place for people from a wide variety of backgrounds with a broad range of interests and occupations - artisans, designers, engineers, inventors and makers of all kinds.
“As well as being for those already pursuing their ambitions, we want to hear from people who fancy room to turn their spare-hour interest into something serious.”
The Library was built in 1905 using funds provided by American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who built four other libraries in the district at Castleford, Horbury, Normanton and Pontefract. Across Yorkshire, Carnegie libraries were erected in Swinton, Goole, Harrogate, Hull, Keighley, Rawmarsh, Shipley, and Sowerby Bridge. The restoration of the historic building follows the redevelopment of Unity Hall, a Grade II-listed former music hall that was built a year before the library and just metres away on Westgate. It re-opened last year after a £4m refurbishment.
Printmaker and textile artist Laura Slater, has had a studio in The Art House since it opened in 2008. She has taken on an additional studio in The Old Library, where the audio visual department used to be.
Miss Slater, who is from Wakefield, remembers visiting the library to rent videos as a child.
She said: “People have so much history with the building, and I think it’s really exciting for people to be able to see how the building has changed, but in a very sympathetic way.
“The new studios really appealed to me because they will give me the chance to be in and amongst a diverse creative community – a place that will challenge conventional ideas of craftsmanship and making. I like the idea that there may be opportunities to work collaboratively with people I wouldn’t usually get to mix with in more conventional studio settings.”
Costume maker Julia Wilson, of Stanley, has already held her first workshops in her new studio.
Mrs Wilson, who is currently working on a project for Opera North and regularly works on Emmerdale, said: “I was desperate to get a studio here. When I am working, I am usually on my own for long periods, so the beauty of being here is that I am now part of a creative hub. It’s great to be able to bounce off each other.
“The building is amazing too. You don’t realise the significance of what Wakefield has culturally until you’re part of it - like with the renovation of Unity Hall. It’s something I very much wanted to be part of.”
Writer Wil Law, 22, of Hemsworth, said the collaborative potential of being in a shared space was one of the attractions to him.
He said: “It’s already started to happen - I’ve learnt how to screen print with Julia, something I never thought I’d do. It’s a very special place.”
Anyone interested in renting studio space at The Art House should visit www.the-arthouse.org.uk or contact the team on 01924 312000.