Painter and etcher Ned Hoskins believed everyone should enjoy art but he was concerned that invisible barriers keep many people out of galleries. So during the Brighton Festival 1981 he welcomed people into his Fiveways home to look at his work. By opening his front door to all he launched the Brighton Artists Open Houses (AOH) movement.
Ned’s open invitation was an instant success. “The queue used to go up the street in the early days of the Open House”, his daughter Cass Hoskins remembers. “It was an event. We had to let one in and one out to keep it safe.”
The twice-a-year event (there is also a Winter Open Houses) is now firmly implanted in the Brighton and Hove DNA, and the movement has spread across the UK and circled the globe.
Ned died last year. He leaves behind the AOH, which this year starts on Saturday (7 May). More than 150 front doors will open in Brighton and Hove and Sussex to showcase the work of about 1,000 artists and makers on the weekends of the Festival month.
Special exhibitions to mark the 40th anniversary include a show of Ned’s work at the Regency Town House in Brunswick Square, Hove, where other early Fiveways artists are showing their work and reflecting on the beginnings of AOH in an oral history film.
A “Towards the Light” exhibition includes works by current AOH artists, Brighton University students and emerging artists. The title is taken from one of Ned’s paintings and reflects his concern about the natural world.
Poetry, illustration, photography, performance art and screen-based work by a group of autistic and other neurodiverse artists are on show at Devil’s Dyke Farm. Open Houses can also be found in schools across the city, and the Rosehill Rebels are showing their work at Rose Hill Court, a sheltered housing scheme.
Bringing all this together is a huge task for AOH festival director Judy Stevens and her team. “We start work on the May festival in January. After a summer break we start on the Christmas event in July.”
The pandemic made the last two years particularly challenging, she says. Nevertheless, AOH managed to dodge the covid bullet. “We moved the 2020 summer event to November and combined it with the winter event. Last year, along with the Fringe, the summer AOH moved successfully to June. Numbers were down in those two years but we expect to be back to pre-pandemic levels with 400,000 visits this year.”
About 40 per cent of those going through the AOH doors are from outside the city and 10 per cent are overseas visitors. Sales of artwork total about £1 million, says Judy, “which is good for the artists, but the visitors also spend money in the wider economy, which is good for the city at large.”
Very importantly, AOH offers a lifeline to artists and makers facing a chronic lack of affordable studio space in Brighton and Hove, she adds. “Many are leaving the city because studio space, already in short supply, is disappearing to make way for expensive new developments.
“More artists are working from home, and we offer them the chance to show their work twice a year in a city-wide exhibition, which connects them with an audience of art-lovers, buyers and industry professionals’.
The Open Houses are a fantastic example of Brighton and Hove at its very best, says Brighton and Hove City Council leader Phélim McCafferty. “Visiting artists in their homes and studios, meeting the artists, hearing about how the work is made and what inspires its makers, or just having a good nose around someone’s house is something we return to year after year as it tells the story of art in its setting.
“However, the arts are not just ‘a nice to have’. Open houses and the artists and makers who show in them are a vital part of the creative and cultural sector in our sub-region, which has an annual turnover of more than £1.5 billion and employs more than 16,000 people in 6,100 organisations – more than half of them in our city.”
Ned Hoskins’ movement now flourishes in many other UK communities, from Bristol to the Isle of Bute and from Stroud to the Spring Fling in Dumfries and Galloway. And it has gone global, from Belleville, Paris, to Beijing. To the Margaret River in Western Australia and as far as the beautiful Coromandel Peninsular, the far North East tip of New Zealand’s North Island, where more than 50 artists will open their doors again this year.
“I am thrilled we are celebrating 40 years of Ned’s crazy idea,” says his wife Gerry Holloway. “He would be delighted that thousands of artists followed his lead of democratising art by welcoming people into their homes.”
For full details of Artists Open Houses 2022, go to www.aoh.org.uk.