Warrington Open 24: Artist Opportunity

Warrington artist Sarah Harris is this year’s Guest Curator of Warrington Arts Festival’s Open Exhibition 2024. A key part of the festival for almost 15 years, the competition provides a springboard for emerging artists within the area.

With just under a couple of weeks to go until the closing date, Sarah recently visited the studio of contemporary artist Marie Jones to learn more about how winning the Open in 2018 has impacted her career and why others should go for it…

Marie is a member of Studio 7, established by Culture Warrington to offer affordable studio space to artists. Ascending the central staircase, with its slight but noticeable tilt, to the top floor of the Victorian building, I was eager to see how this environment has helped to give life to her ideas.

The door was already open, and Marie welcomed me warmly, immediately enveloping me in the eclectic charm of her studio. There was a real sense of nostalgia as she shared stories behind some of the kitsch paraphernalia lovingly arranged around the space. Bundles of luminous woolen artifacts were stacked high, and past works were exhibited across the walls alongside handwritten notes and typographic elements.

She describes her practice as ideas-led, with interests in the snippets of everyday conversations that linger and our interpretations of them. She employs a combination of scale, colour, humour, and domestic craft techniques. As I stood facing a knitted plaque that asked, ‘ARE YOU HAPPY NOW?’, I have to say I found myself slightly affronted.

We sat down to discuss her artistic journey since winning First Prize in the open call program a few years ago.

Marie explained that when she first moved to the area, the Open Exhibition provided an opportunity to connect with the creative community and gain feedback on her work. While she didn’t expect it to impact her career, she was pleasantly surprised.

“I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing for me to do,” she added. “I had an idea that it was for people who weren’t trying to make a career with their artistic practice. I was completely proved wrong.

The experience built her confidence and led to a solo show at Warrington Museum, pushing her to create largescale artworks which later went on to win awards and be exhibited around the country including Alexandra Palace in London.

She said: “I think there’s a credibility to an artist’s work when it’s put in a museum, but it’s different from it being in a contemporary gallery or out in the world.”

Through the process of installing her intricate works, Marie learned about effectively presenting her art and the importance of witnessing audience interactions. This led her to write a reflection piece and resource on exhibiting in the museum, available for download here.

“Museums are here to preserve and promote social interests,” added Marie. “I think the Open Exhibition is a really good opportunity to bring together a mix of artists and creatives at different levels and exhibit them together. It kind of puts everyone on a level playing field.

“The submitted artworks show what people are thinking about and doing right now and place it against what was going on. It’s an opportunity to show change. And in bringing people from outside Warrington, we see what people in Manchester, Liverpool, and Chester are thinking and doing. Even though we’re neighbours, we might be miles apart, and art is a good way of highlighting this.”

Our conversation revealed how this turning point encouraged Marie. With a renewed sense of confidence that her work was on the right track, she began to embrace new directions in her practice. No longer constrained by her initial typographic rules, she produced some of her most thought-provoking work to date.

She said: “Having work in the museum taught me about going and spending time with my work and watching how other people interact with it. I realised how much text is in my work, and I noticed kids reading it out loud when they passed!”

Two of her pieces have since been acquired for the Museum’s permanent collection. Marie also reflected on the helpful mentors she met through the judges, who have continued to champion her evolving style. She expressed excitement about this year’s judging line-up and even considered entering again to get her work in front of them.

It was illuminating to gain insight into Marie’s artistic development and the role open exhibitions can play in that process. She encourages artists thinking of applying for this year’s open exhibition to: “Go for it and be ambitious. Put out what you want to do more of and what you’re excited about.”

Marie has recently been announced as one of four Associate Artists for Culture Warrington. I’m eager to see where her passion and wisdom, emphasising ambition, risk-taking, and community engagement, will take her practice and surely inspire and encourage other local creatives.

  • Warrington Arts Festival’s Open Exhibition is for artists of all disciplines within 60 miles of Warrington.
  • First Prize includes a solo show at Warrington Museum & Art Gallery in 2025 with £1,000 fees and support from staff while the Emerging Artist Prize includes £200 cash plus a studio visit from an institution that is relevant to the artist’s practice.
  • Full details including how to apply can be found here.
  • For more info about Marie, visit her website or follow her on Instagram.