Pillow and Palette: Leeds’ Art Hostel is a creative’s dream | holiday in leeds
IIn one bedroom, tiny sheep tiptoe over a bunk bed and there are hoof prints on the cement floor. In the next room, carrier bags have been twisted into a luminary like a Hindu flower garland. Down the hall, lost memories including holiday postcards, bingo tickets and grainy photos decorate a resin floor strewn with glitter and confetti.
Welcome to what is supposed to be the UK’s first Art Hostel – a social enterprise project that has given artists carte blanche to design every inch of its premises from scratch, with the aim of showcasing talent local creatives from the UK and overseas. It’s the brainchild of East Street Arts, a charity that works with artists and residents of local communities. And the hostel is not in a hip east London enclave, as you might expect, but in a deprived central suburb of Leeds.
Although there are several art-focused hostels and hotels in Europe, and the legendary Carlton Arms art hotel in New York, it is the first in the UK to operate the spaces themselves as works of art. And the result is nothing short of magical – a symphony of imagination unleashed on a massive scale. The hostel’s blank canvas is a building completed in 1894 that was once the presbytery of the old St Patrick’s Church in the Mabgate area of Leeds. (The church itself is now used as a warehouse by Opera North and Leeds Playhouse.) There are 12 rooms, each creatively addressing themes such as politics, history, environmental commentary and nostalgia .
Spending the night here is like wandering in a dream. Given the freedom of the empty hostel as it prepared to open, I sneak into The Common(ing) (room 8) and crank up the handmade music box to hear it sing. I squint at the marine pollution maps created from photos of soccer balls washed up in Ocean Galaxy (Room 6). I lie on the floor to take in the full splendor of the interlocking fabric ceiling of The Wooly Ewe (Room 9), which pays homage to sheep as a symbol of Leeds’ wool-making heritage.
The Art Hostel represents all that currently shines in the creative scene in Leeds, where local organizations and entrepreneurs are passionate about creating a leading arts hub in the North of England. Profits from the hostel will be used to support other East Street Arts projects, in Leeds and beyond.
“For the initial 17 commissions available, we had 218 candidates, and all of them were really great. It blew our minds,” says Art Hostel General Manager Rhian Aitken. In the end, they settled on 20, which included all the bedrooms, the kitchen, a commission for volunteer staff quarters, a filmmaking project for the central stairwell, and a sensor-driven facility. of motion with salvaged car headlights that mimic the sound of insects climbing a wall.
The Art Hostel started life as a pop-up on Kirkgate in 2016. Curious to see if such a concept could take off, East Street Arts originally planned to run the hostel for three years on a trial basis. A disagreement with its owner forced the hostel to close in 2018. But in less than three years of operation, it had taken 10,000 reservations. The business model had been justified, the travel demand was there, and so East Street Arts was encouraged to seek a forever home for the Inn. It was 2019, but Brexit-related delays thwarted progress, and then Covid hit. It was only recently, at the end of February 2022, that the Art Hostel finally managed to open.
Recycling and ecology are at the heart of the project. “A lot of old stuff from the hostel was repurposed and recycled,” says Aitken. “One of the bedrooms is made entirely from reclaimed wood, and even the flooring in the living room and some bedrooms is from a gym in Poland.” There is also hot composting and a vermicomposter; cigarette butts for storing water; a landscaped garden designed to reduce traffic noise (the hostel is just off the A64 ring road) and environmentally friendly Earthborn clay paints are used throughout.
The fact that the hostel has found a permanent home in Mabgate makes perfect sense. This district borders the Leeds Playhouse, the offices of BBC Radio and the headquarters of the Northern Ballet. And next door is East Street Arts’ Convention House, which started life as a convent but is now a multipurpose creative space with studios, artist residencies and technology facilities, including an eco-friendly darkroom. which acts as a research center for sustainable photographic practices.
“For many years there was no funding [for the arts]says Aitken. “So Karen Watson and Jon Wakeman [East Street Arts’ founders] got together and created a space with a common space, so everyone could come together, show their work and mix, and have that social aspect in addition to having their own studios. And it was unique.
Aitken says the reason East Street Arts and the Art Hostel have flourished is because of Leeds’ “DIY attitude” towards the arts. “This whole area has become a community hub for creatives,” says Aitken. Down the street there are now photo labs and more art and dance studios. At the bottom of the hill is MAP (Music and Arts Production) Charity, an alternative education provider that works with young people who don’t have access to mainstream school.
“Mabgate and Lincoln Green was one of the most deprived areas in Europe at one time. But there is a wonderfully diverse community there,” says Aitken. East Street Arts is now involved in creating a plan for artist-led community neighborhood for Mabgate, which will be the first of its kind in the country.The plan will help give local residents, businesses, schools, community groups and charities a say in how the area grows and regenerates – with a dose of creativity.” It’s not about gentrification. It’s not about artists coming in to make things pretty; it’s about giving people a voice and to help them make decisions about what happens to them and their families,” she says.
And the hostel itself is also a community effort: one of the rooms, the Ziggy Wingle (room 2), was a collaboration between Leeds artist Alison Smith and the local Shakespeare Primary School, resulting in splashes of primary colours, children’s drawings embedded in the window architraves and a huge playful wall of moving parts.
Plans are already underway to expand the Art Hostel concept to other cities in the UK. “There are a lot of up-and-coming artists, but also a lot of artists who are out there every day doing their thing, doing their creative lives, and it’s great that we can showcase them and give them the opportunity to do something really, really visual,” says Aitken.
The Art Inn has 12 rooms, made up of double, twin and bunk rooms that can be booked for groups of six to eightfrom £50 per room per nightbreakfast included