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> > > News: Action Space to give organisations' archive to Sheffield University

20 March 2012

two women standing with a row of boxes on a table, with framed pictures on the wall behind them

Action Space, Artistic Director, Mary Turner & Rosy Cartwright, amongst the archive.

Participatory arts organisation Action Space Mobile have given records their work over the past 44 years to Sheffield University’s Special collections Archives Department, for use by graduates.

Mary Turner, the Artistic Director, has been with the organisation since its beginnings in London in the late 1960s as Action Space.  Mary has spent the past four years putting together an archive which will represent the history of the development of the company from Action Space through to Action Space Mobile, tracing the shifting ideas about the arts and community, the different ways of working, and different issues dominating the thoughts of the artists over the period.

The material includes black and white photographic documentation, colour slides, videos, films, Movietone Newsreel, posters of early productions and sound tapes.  Sadly, all the large inflatable structures were burnt in a fire in Sheffield in the 1980s.

The archive covers the early years of building visually stimulating huge inflatable and rigid structures which were supported by music and activities that elicited participation through dramatic interaction, surprising visuals and shock tactics through the use of such elements as water and fire.

It also spans the tours to all the major cities in UK, and international tours to Eastern and Western Europe and Canada.

It charts the work with disability which started in the big London mental asylums and which led to work in Romanian institutions; street arts; work with children that combined arts, play and education.

Artistically the company has always worked in a variety of media led by a desire to get art out of the galleries and theatres and to make art that could be enjoyed by anyone through their own physical and emotional participation.

Politically Action Space has played a role in the housing crisis in London and squatting, in Gay Liberation and in the Women’s Movement and in supporting the women in the Miner’s Strike.  It has worked with asylum seekers and refugees.  It has worked in mental institutions in Romania.  It has responded to community regeneration.  It continues to respond to the recognition of and talents of people with disability and mental health issues, drug and alcohol addicts and the elderly with dementia.

The archive collection will show:
• what it takes to survive and change through a period of great changes in the arts, politics and culture
• how to remain open to innovation and support new young artists

• how to respond, sometimes critically, to changes in culture, funding, issues and enthusiasms

• how to find new edges to balance upon so that the work remains fresh

Soon to be published is a beautiful illustrated book written by Mary of her memories of the work of Action Space, extending through to Action Space Mobile, and the numerous artists who worked for the company, many of whom are still working in the arts.

How does Mary feel about the removal of the archive to Sheffield University’s Special collections Archives Department?

“I’m glad to get the space back for more action, but sad to relinquish the past images.  It’s a serious business giving away your life.”

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