Artcore: Celebrating 27 years of Working with Artists

In 1995, Zahir Shaikh, just out of art school in Vadodara, India, got together with a few like-minded friends, and decided to do the unthinkable. They established Artcore, a modest little Art Gallery, on the mezzanine floor of one of the city’s first shopping malls. It was a space by the artists, of the artists and for the artists. A truly democratic idea in a time when the art gallery business was defined to be vast white cubes in exclusive neighbourhoods run by nose-up-in-the-air culture vultures. Definitely going to fail, was the verdict, but though it suffered a hiccup or two once in a while, Artcore traipsed along quite gaily, bringing unusual, imaginatively curated shows to town for well over a decade. In fact, Craftcore was quickly added, a space carved out of a niche on the stair landing with a large window, to offer a selling platform for craftworks created by young art schoolers.

Then, in 2006, Zahir accompanied by his wife, ceramist Ruchita Shah Shaikh and toddler son, Armaan, moved to the UK. After working in London with an artist for 3 years, managing his workshop which ran art classes for all kinds of persons, Zahir slowly understood the principles of funded Fine Arts Charity that was available in the UK. A true Gujarati entrepreneur at heart, Zahir never wanted to work for anyone, and here he saw an immense opportunity for transplanting Artcore (still active in Vadodara) successfully in the UK. London was impossibly expensive, so he scoured areas in the neighbourhood that would offer fertile soil for such a transplantation. A friend suggested Derby up north, a town sandwiched between two large metros – Nottingham and Leicester, affordable, unexplored, ripe to be awakened by a gentle storm called Artcore!

In 2009, Artcore came to Derby, registering itself as a Fine Arts Charity in Derbyshire. Zahir is not a person who can sit still so he got around town, found a place to begin his work (absolutely fabulous this place was, right next to the Arboretum!), started applying to scores of funders, got some funding, and within weeks of moving into Derby, Artcore was up and raring to go! Zahir and Ruchita connected proactively to the BME communities, organized exciting art projects that they could be involved in, and created an environment where everyone felt welcomed, wanted and looked after. The achievements were celebrated with modest partying that all participants looked forward to. They explored sponsorship possibilities with corporates and public institutions such as airports, hospitals and schools with enthusiasm and these developed into interesting public art installations. Soon word spread that Artcore is a good place to be at and support was extended by most of funders and sponsors contacted, if not in cash, certainly in kind.

As Artcore began to make an impact as an active and innovative Fine Arts Charity, Zahir began to move ahead and explore the prospect of working with British artists and of establishing a gallery in Derby. In 2010, working with an Indian curator, he brought Artcore’s first exhibition to Derby. It made such a good impression, that the next exhibition, “Art in Empty Shops”, supported by the Derby City Council, saw a number of Derbyshire artists enthusiastically participating. From then onwards, there was no looking back and Artcore went from strength to strength, organizing back-to-back exhibitions with young and talented artists as well as established senior artists, organising artists’ residencies within Derby and to India (in the last 2 years), collaborating with prestigious institutions such as the University of Derby, DEDA, and Derby Museum, getting the support of Arts Council funding for various seminal arts projects, celebrating 175 years of Derby Arboretum as the first and the oldest in England, and making Derby a significant centre for the arts community in Derbyshire, after Nottingham. Artcore’s contribution to the cultural life of Derby has been acknowledged by the Mayor of Derby and the Derby City Council.

Recently during the pandemic-induced lockdown weeks, Artcore was one of the most active organisations, shifting overnight to the on-line mode. They tailor-made a number of exciting activities, especially for children sitting bored at homes with schools being shut, and keeping them engaged and learning new skills. Their work has been much appreciated by the Derby arts community.

Artcore’s new Gallery space, situated on Osnabruck Square, in downtown Derby, will now come alive as a throbbing cultural centre. Since Derby is twinned with Osnabruck city in west Germany, Artcore has made contact with the Osnabruck-based Derby office and a number of innovative and exciting cultural programmes have been planned for 2021, including artist exchanges and exhibitions.

Over the last 25 years, with its numerous activities, sincerely executed, Artcore has touched the lives of countless artists, craftspersons, arts administrators, art-viewers, art teachers, students and numerous young and senior citizens from the BME communities and citizens of Derby and Derbyshire.