Cupola Gallery

gallery front March 2014

Tucked away on Middlewood Road in Hillsborough is a little gem of a place called Cupola Gallery. With an eclectic range of contemporary exhibitions from paintings to ceramics we wanted to know more so we caught up with Karen Sherwood, Director and founder.

Tell us about how Cupola Gallery came into being.

When I asked people about it, I was told, rather matter of factly, that a contemporary art gallery just wouldn’t work in Sheffield. The Prince’s Youth Business Trust couldn’t help, the bank virtually patted me on the head and told me to go away and Arts Council England told me, ’So many galleries in the past that have gone down the swanny we don’t bother any more’. Inspired with all that confidence, I put my dream to one side.

But then I got a call for some freelance work. A man asked me to meet him at his picture framing business in Hillsborough and he told me that he was running down his business to close it or sell it off cheap. Completely unexpectedly, around a fortnight later a cheque for £15,000 landed on my doormat. My grandma had died and had left me some inheritance. Decision made – I cleared my debts, ran off to Scotland to get married, learnt framing in a fortnight and opened a gallery.


You have over 300 artists using the gallery. How do you select artists that you want to work with?

We often have work from over 300 artists on display at the gallery although we are trying to reduce that number as it is difficult to manage. We like to prioritise artists that have trained, although we do show work by self taught artists. The work needs to be completed to a certain standard. It needs to express the artist who made it. I do not show work made for a market or genre based work. It needs to fit my gallery space, my market and feel right. This is the most difficult selection criteria to define.

What have been your favourite recent exhibitions?

Every exhibition has its own character. I enjoy exhibitions that engage and excite people, so I try to have as many of those as possible. I love to see people ‘connecting’ with artists’ work. I enjoyed Monomania a lot as both the artists and the pubic seemed to want to talk about the whole idea and discuss perceptions of madness and the artist as ‘creative outsider.’

You’re located in Hillsborough. How have you found being in the north of the city?

I never had a problem with my location, but right from the start a lot of people did. Artists as well as visitors have expressed their concern. ’Not really the right place for an art gallery is it?’ is a rhetorical question I have heard far too often since I first opened. Sadly, people still seem to think that galleries should be located in ‘posh’ areas, as there’s a lot of misinformation about who buys original artwork.


Art galleries are not known for their huge profits. How have you managed to keep the business going?

I joke that I have masochistic tendencies and that may be the honest answer. However, I am very good at selling. I have a huge enthusiasm for what I do and it seems to rub off. The gallery is not subsidised by anyone and has to pay its own way. It is very hard work and occasionally I would like to work less than six days per week, 52 weeks per year. However, I once tried to do something else and realised that actually, I can’t. This is my passion and I’m prepared to work very hard to keep it going.

You recently held an event in support of local charities Ben’s Centre and Yes to Life. Tell us a little about that.

Cupola holds a sale every year, Under The Bed Sale, where artists get to show and sell old and out of date work off at bargain prices. One year, one of our artists was emigrating to Australia and asked us if we would auction off some of her large work which she couldn’t afford to ship. This was hugely successful and so every year since then we have held a charity art auction on the last day of the sale. This year we decided to leave it a little longer and invite artists to contribute not only sale work, but anything, in aid of the three charities we chose to support this year – Bens Centre, Yes to Life and Alzheimer’s Research. Artists are always incredibly generous and this year was no exception.


What’s coming up at Cupola?

We host approximately ten exhibitions a year and this year there are twelve plus workshops and other events. It’s a crazy calendar but we enjoy the variety and energy that brings to the space. The current exhibition is 108 by Mari Ruth Oda. The next is a selected Open Call show titled Process and following that we have a two person show called Beauty and the Beasts by Lucianne Lassalle and Lyn Hodnett.

What do you think Sheffield’s arts scene is missing, if anything?

Connectivity. I feel there is a lot going on but that each venue or activity seems to exist in isolation. More collective marketing, collaboration, talking and just getting together would be fabulous.

What do you think Sheffield City Council could do to help independent traders in Sheffield?

I would love to see discretionary rates relief for cultural institutions. That would make a massive difference to me and any gallery as space is such a premium and, going back to my previous point, collective marketing of the cultural offer. Clearly my focus is on the cultural offer but independent traders are the lifeblood and character of any area. It would be great to see a survey completed about independent retail. It might be possible to offer discretionary rates relief or specialist support to businesses for three years while they get established.



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