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We’re announcing our 20th birthday in April 2022, after two exciting and rewarding decades of operation in the UK. Founded in 2002 by Jude Kelly CBE and working with former Artistic Director and CEO Colette Bailey, Metal was imagined as an artistic laboratory to champion the need for continual investment in artistic investigation and the development of innovative ideas that would shift the thinking in the UK cultural sector.

Image credit: 70×7 The Meal Act XXXIX by Luca + Jorge Orta (2015), Photo: Chris Porsz

“Metal is everything you hope an arts organisation could be. It’s welcoming, engaging and nourishing for both the community it sits within and the artists it works with.”

Artist feedback

Our journey began in London back in 2002, and was originally stationed in the former ticket office of West Hampstead Railway Station. The original building inspired the name ‘Metal’ as steel works were discovered in the space where Sir Anthony Caro had built a range of his 1960’s steel sculptures and Tom Hunter had been running a metal workshop. After operating there for 3 years, we were drawn to relocate to places with an appetite for more creative infrastructure, to focus on expanding possibilities for the arts in a wider range of places. We now work from sites in Liverpool (since 2004), Southend-on-Sea (since 2007) and Peterborough (since 2012), providing multi-disciplinary residencies and development opportunities for artists from the UK and overseas.

“I founded Metal to champion the right of both artists and communities to explore hunches and dreams and to mutually build the cultural confidence of particular places. 
That vision still stands as the Board and the staff reflect on the vast range of individuals, projects and celebrations that Metal has initiated, supported and partnered with. We’ve had wonderful colleagues, wonderful artistic collaborators and the support of three amazing places in Liverpool, Peterborough and Southend, along with the Arts Council of England. We were determined to be a catalyst for change and we still are, in fact the Metal team are as excited today as we were when we had our own hunch and dream of creating the organisation twenty years ago.”

Jude Kelly, Chair
Image credit: SILT by Arbonauts commissioned for Estuary 2021, Photo: Nina Photography

In each place, we operate from buildings of historic significance that have been transformed from empty or derelict spaces into vibrant cultural and community hubs. In Liverpool, we work from the historic buildings of Edge Hill Station, the oldest active passenger railway station in the world. The original 1830s buildings now serve as a space for artists and surrounding neighbourhoods, continuing the building’s proud legacy of innovation and creativity. We renovated the previously unused Chalkwell Hall built in 1830 to form their base in Southend-on-Sea. The four storey Grade II listed Georgian building sits within the grounds of Chalkwell Park, and the hall has a fantastic position at the brow of a hill, offering magnificent views across the Thames Estuary. Metal Peterborough’s home is Chauffeurs Cottage, the original gatehouse property at the entrance to the impressive Peterborough Cathedral behind the ancient wall and castle-like gateway. The house has been renovated by ourselves in partnership with Peterborough City Council, and now provides a welcoming and stimulating space for artists to create with the wider communities of Peterborough. From these bases, we provide the catalyst that can transform the potential of people and places, through art and inspiration.

“Since officially opening the space in Peterborough in 2013, we have worked with so many artists and communities over the years to create some truly memorable projects. It feels like we are part of an ever-growing family of wonderfully creative people in the city and we are so proud to call it home. Long may it continue!”

-Mark Richards, Interim CEO and Director, Metal Peterborough
Image credit: Metal Buildings, From left to right: Edge Hill Station, Chalkwell Hall and Chauffeurs Cottage, Photo: Mark McNulty, Phil Stirling, Ruth Campbell

We support diverse artists to strengthen their practice and amplify their voice, offering both local and global perspectives through creative projects to stimulate curiosity and opportunities to learn. We emphasise the freedom to experiment and explore without a prescribed outcome whilst encouraging conversation, collaboration and a sharing of knowledge across disciplines, communities and sectors. Bringing together creative thinkers, we work to ensure that this investment in people and their ideas makes a real and lasting contribution to the wider social, political, educational, environmental and economic issues of the towns and cities where they work.

“Metal has been based in Liverpool since 2004 and we have worked from the iconic Edge Hill Station since 2007. Over this period we have made some amazing memories and we have put Edge Hill Station back into use as a space for innovation, experimentation and to encourage imagination across all ages and abilities. We can’t wait to see what’s in store for the next 20 years!”

Jenny Porter, Interim Director, Metal Liverpool

Over the last 20 years, we have produced large-scale participatory projects that respond to the immediate environment and involve people of all ages, through activities like Estuary Festival which in 2021, supported 265 artists and 208,764 audience visits across the Thames Estuary in Essex and Kent, and Harvest Festival, a cultural celebration of the land which presented an outdoor meal for 500 people created by international artists Studio Orta in 2015. We successfully presented the Village Green festival for 10 years, which attracted an audience of 8000 people in its first year and reached over 200,000 audiences across the years.

Image credit: Village Green: Next Generation audiences (2019), Photo: Amber Merry

“The truth is, when you look at the projects that would not have happened, artists who might have struggled for opportunity, people who would not have met, creative partnerships that would never have been forged and places that might have been creatively passed over were Metal to have never existed, it’s a huge reward to have played even a small part in the impact it has made.”

Ian Thompson, Metal Trustee

Recognising that the most impactful and relevant work often comes from building connections and exchange across all the different parts of community and place, we operate through a wide range of partnerships, including Arts Council England, local authorities and agencies. We have strong working relationships with other arts organisations, community groups, schools and HE and FE institutions, evidenced through numerous projects like Thames to Tama which worked with 4665 young people from 25 schools along the north bank of the Thames Estuary. Notably, we have won awards for several flagship projects, such as the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show award-winning garden A Space to Connect and Grow created by artist Jeni Cairns, Harvest Festival which won The Sunday Telegraph’s Bring Home the Harvest Award with Love British Food and The Telegraph, and the NetPark Wellbeing Project in partnership with Southend City Council which was highly commended by the National Mental Health Awards. Metal’s Village Green festival was also linked into the national Cultural Olympiad celebrations, leading up to the games in 2012 and was awarded one of the first London 2012 inspire marks, and Anthem in partnership with Southend City Council, saw a choir of 2000 school pupils and adults from across Southend sing a specifically commissioned new piece of choral music in celebration of the Olympic Torch visit.

Image credit: Peterborough Pride 2021, Photo: Jessica Lund

“Metal has been involved in some great projects over the past 13 years in Southend and the wider South Essex region, helping to spotlight the fantastic diverse cultural landscape of this place. Since restoring the beautiful Chalkwell Hall in 2007 there have been hundreds of magical creative moments and we are excited about the future and what is bubbling up culturally in our beloved Essex.”

Andrea Cunningham, Director, Metal Southend

When Metal was first conceived, our team was made up of only 2 members of staff to propel the vision, which quickly grew to a handful of 4. Over the years, we have flourished and now support a team of 18 staff members and 12 Board members, who work collaboratively across the three sites to deliver the ambitious programme. We have supported over 11,254 artists, engaged with 8,142,008 audiences and worked with over 109,155 participants through workshops and other events. In their first 10 years of operation, we worked with a multitude of creative people and communities, building on this over the last 10 years, and we are confident that the next 10 years will be just as exciting.

To celebrate 20 years of operation, we will be exploring our archives to share memories of historic events across our online platforms. We will also be reaching out to artists we have worked with over their 20 years, to learn more about their experiences. There will be opportunities to get involved as we encourage you to reflect on your last 20 years or how you might like to shape the upcoming years. We will also be launching a new website in summer 2022 to capture and honour our work over the years.

Celebrating 20 years!