Antonia Shaw

Five years ago I met an established art dealer in his beautiful London gallery. The works on his walls were quite literally dripping with gold leaf, whilst a crystal chandelier hung lavishly in the centre of the room. Five years ago, in the height of the boom, money was no object. The rich and affluent continued to pour money into the art world. And the prospect of it being otherwise seemed incomprehensible to me, an eighteen year old who was enraptured by the heady art market. His tales of the 80s recession and its impact on art seemed shocking but ultimately alien. Tragically, many of his contemporaries committed suicide after their galleries and finances were ravaged by the economic downturn. Essentially, art is a luxury. Arguably it is the most indulgent of all luxuries. When purse strings tighten, the art world spirals into freefall.

Whitewashed shop windows, dilapidated signage and decaying frontages are a testament to and constant reminder of the economic turmoil we are currently living in. Yet these depressing empty buildings are undergoing something of a renaissance, for impromptu art exhibitions are springing up inside them across the country. Dubbed the ‘pop-up’ shows, contemporary artists have been encouraged by local councils to take over the boarded up shops and curate dynamic exhibitions. Even Selfridges is partaking in this new craze. The fashionable department store plans to showcase 10 up-and-coming artists from murmurART.

York has adapted this trend with their new initiative Windows of Opportunity, which was launched in August as a joint project between York Museums Trust, Visit York and the City of York Council. Artists were called to submit designs for empty shop windows, transforming them into digital works of art. Five shop windows are being used for this to date, including one on Coney Street, Goodramgate, Kings Square and Low Petergate. Artists were encouraged to create a design that would enhance the city, although there were no stipulations on subject matter. Three works are already being displayed by artists Matt Mellor, Vorm Graphic Design and Seamless Media, and the winners of the remaining two window displays will be announced next week. Gillian Cruddas, Chief Executive of Visit York said, ‘We’re delighted to support this initiative which is once again bringing art onto the streets of York.’

Despite the fall in artistic commercial viability, enterprises like Windows of Opportunity and other ‘pop-up’ exhibitions ensure that Britain will remain a hotspot of creativity, when traditional gallery spaces are dwindling. Keep scanning shop windows to stumble across York’s aesthetic response to the visual impact of this troubling economic climate. We may be in an economic downturn – but we are fighting back with culture.

The closing date for Windows of Opportunity applications was the 11th October. Winners will be announced the week commencing 19th October. For more information see the Windows of Opportunity Website: