ALISON RAIMES and AILEEN RYAN
Vision in Art
John Lock has lived and worked in London for twenty years. He currently works as development manager for the University of East London, in the department that deals with external relations.John Lock suggested that the audience should focus on the issues surrounding artists and workspace provision in East London and on the context of how practising artists have filled the gap created in the post-industrial period, in which 300,000 jobs have been lost over 40 years. He warned against the counterproductivity of becoming too absorbed in individual stories.
John pointed out that the report arising from the conference would be useful and timely due to the inauguration of the Cultural Strategy Group, which will now give a destination for concerns voiced at the conference. He added that Graham Hitchen, the second speaker, would be central in developing a new cultural strategy for London in his position as cultural advisor to the Mayor. He therefore advised the audience to make the most out of the day and the opportunities that might arise from it.
He recommended that the artist and arts organisation delegates should adopt a new perspective that day, to become more aware of how they and their activities are perceived by policy makers. He suggested that they examine whether they should stick to the established systems or opt for a new way of thinking in approaching the subject of artists and their role within cultural sustainability.
Graham Hitchen is cultural advisor to the Greater London Authority (GLA)—notto the Greater London Assembly, as is often mistaken.Graham Hitchen noted that although he was billed to talk about the strategic significance of workspace provision, he would instead be talking about GLA strategy and the importance of workspace—where pan-London policies impact upon the workspace issue in specific parts of London. He stated that he would therefore be talking about the role of the GLA and the role of the Cultural Strategy Group.
Graham pointed to a discussion he frequently has with GLA colleagues, often planners, who relay back to him the importance of clusters. He said that he always highlights how clusters of artists work to regenerate areas, but are then displaced as rents increase. The planners retort that this is not necessarily a problem because it is a sign of regeneration: a characteristic of the nature of London's economy—especially since the artists' jobs are often replaced by other, higher-paid employment.
Graham described the basic structure of the GLA: power vested in the mayor, held accountable through an assembly of 25 elected people (with a regional top-up). The Greater London Assembly exists to challenge, check, and balance the huge authority of mayoral decisions. It has been the task of Ken Livingstone to create ways in which policy and strategy are developed with members of the Assembly, thereby guaranteeing transparency and accountability. Graham suggested that Ken is attempting to develop consensus—such as through appointing a Greenpeace member as the environment representative.
Graham said that there is no direct money for "culture" in the GLA strategies; money is channeled through four main areas—transport, police, fire service, and the Development Agency function. Each of these is developed relative to policies laid down by the mayor. Graham said that, although there is no direct money for culture, the mayor is the accountable person who can influence how money spent by others is used, as he has an overview that other cultural agencies—such as the London Arts Board, English Heritage, and the Lottery—could not. Therefore, the Greater London Cultural Strategy can induce partnership and provide a collective sense of direction for strategic cultural development, thus creating a vision for London.
Graham asked, "What can a cultural strategy do?" He said that the first meeting of the Cultural Strategy Group was being held that night. Graham said that a Cultural Strategy could develop common objectives and priorities, which the development agency can support:It could challenge organisations and boroughs to demonstrate how they are meeting objectives—so they can take projects and champion them to funding bodies such as LAB, ACE, The National Lottery, DCMS, DFEE, etc. The most important thing is that other people's strategies can be influenced by it—"positioning culture," influencing economic and education development agencies, etc. It is important that other strategies do not see culture as a peripheral thing, but as something that can drive sectors.Graham acknowledged culture as the important factor in making London the place to live and the place to bring your business. He continued that the creative sector in London is driving the economy and is not simply an add-on. He also recognised that rhetoric exists that is not being followed-up through policy.
He suggested that the Cultural Strategy Group might want to tackle issues like office provision in London, the cost of properties in London, and the influences on affordable rent, greenbelt area, and affordable housing. He continued that all these issues relate to culture, thereby putting culture in a strong position to influence debate. He added that there have to be agencies with a voice to influence debate.
Graham argued that cultural industries have got to be able to make the case about the contribution its sector makes to other sectors. They need to show that they contribute to the city's economy and must try to position themselves to engage with other debates.The notion of "local community" is important. For example, the first thing Ken Livingstone did in his position of Mayor was step into the Dagenham Ford debate. You could argue that this is a dying industry and therefore why interfere? The reason to interfere is that there are underlying issues of human capital and community. These make economic arguments more complex and present challenges for the Cultural Strategy Group.He then said he would end with a positive note, continuing that the day beforehand he had talked with Franco Bianchini (who did his Ph.D. on Cultural Strategy in the old GLC and has since worked as a cultural strategist, academic, and consultant). Graham asked Franco Bianchini to identify who were the key people in cultural policy at the GLC. Franco was able to trace all of their present positions, with the exception of Michael Ward. He said that Michael Ward is now the chief executive of the London Development Agency. Graham said that he would be talking to him to find out how the GLC can be re-invented.
Graham ended by saying it is still early days—so the audience should not expect too much—adding that he hoped that change can be achieved in the longer term.
Nick Green represented the Town and Country Planning Association.Nick Green began his presentation by recommending that delegates who had not yet read the book Creative City by Charles Landry should do so. Landry has spent between 10 and 15 years in consultancy and has seen creative cities that were deemed "no hopers" regenerated by their cultural industries.
Nick picked up on Graham Hitchen's reference to "planning regimes" and added that there had not been many of these in the East End's transition from an industrial to a post-industrial economy. He continued that it was an era that had been both disruptive and hard for the local people but highly beneficial for artists. No policy maker then knew how to deal with the changes taking place in the locality, for the East End had been the industrial centre of the World City. The Greater London Council did not know what to do.
Space Studios had been the first artist-led group to benefit from the shambles left after the industrial transition. St. Katherine's Dock was derelict and subject to a competition. Bridget Riley and Peter Sedgley spotted an empty part of it and enquired at the GLC. Riley seen the 1960s New York artists converting warehouses into studio space, and Sedgley's vision was to start up an artist group. However, three years later they had to vacate the premises once the competition decision had been made. Nick believes that the regeneration of that area had come down not to Space Studios but instead to the competition, the dynamics of an industry in decline, and the GLC's uncertainty about what to do with the collapsing economy.
ACME, too, was another group that made use of that unstable climate, but its response was to set up a housing association. However, it stopped getting short-life housing around the 1980s and moved towards light industrial property instead.
These groups evolved organically, starting from the ground up, and were not organised. However, with the climate's current fluidity, this is causing problems for artists, as developers realised they can make a lot of money from those post-industrial spaces now occupied by artists. The fact that much of the space was light industrial, like that of the old furniture industry around Shoreditch and Bethnal Green, has helped matters greatly for them.
Nick's research had indicated that between 1968 and 1998 around 1,300 artists flocked to the East End and that the huge numbers of artists often stated are a bit of a myth. This figure, however, does not include what he calls "the dark matter"—i.e., those artists known to be in the area but who cannot be accounted for. He believes that there are some 500 – 3,000 such artists.
In the 1980s the first independent artist studio groups began to appear on the scene, starting with Chisenhale Studios, the original artists of which had been evicted from Butlers Wharf. The numbers of these independent groups started to rise steadily, most of these holding between 5 and 15 to 20 studios, the largest being Cable Street, which accommodates some 150 artists.
Nick pointed out that from 1996 to 1998 the number of cultural workspace providers acquiring accommodation had started to level off, and the East End's true identity as the artistic hub of London had come around a decade ago.
He believes that while artists were able to benefit from the fluid state, as might be expected of a district in transition from one economic base to another, new ways must be found of surviving in the tighter property markets that now exist. The transitional time is over, and the economy once again is stable. Nick feels that artists must be amenable to change in order to deal with the current context. He suggested that artist groups shift their emphasis to social and economical capital rather than to property, as their true value is more social and cultural than financial. He believes this new image will help workspace providers earn more leverage to secure property.
Shreela Ghosh (head of Arts LB Tower Hamlets) said that no reference had been made to the recent Cultural Strategy Partnership Document; she asked what had happened to that. She also introduced the "audiences" versus "artists" debate and asked for Graham Hitchen's position on this.
Graham replied: the artist-audience debate can create artificial boundaries: it is complex, cloudy, and sometimes divisive. There is a need to adopt a new language.
He agreed that the Cultural Strategy Partnership document had not been mentioned and added that neither had the Creative Energy, nor the Tourism, nor the Creative Heritage reports. He also said that the recent document, which looks at the contribution of voluntary and community organisations to the London economy and focuses on the contribution of small and micro businesses to the London economy—had not and perhaps should have been mentioned. This was as important as the "Ten Ways to Make a Difference" strategy document.
A representative of the Spitalfields Small Business Association queried if it needed to be the case that artists move on from newly regenerated areas, such as Hoxton and Spitalfields. She referred to the case of Spitalfields market, where a developer moved in, artists moved out, and many are now housed at the Business Development Centre on Greatorex Street. She also made the point that "producing a paper" is not the same as "having something done." She made a further point that the issues of small businesses are very similar to those of artists—and that a complementary relationship can be achieved, such as at the Business Development Centre.
Graham explained that the Greater London Agency is the development agency with accountability to the mayor. If a paper is written by the Greater London Agency, it is for the GLA to deliver on this. He argued that planners are as important as developers—and that the GLA can have a strategic planning role.
Charlotte Robinson, the Director of Space Studios, asked who is on the Cultural Strategy Group and whether there are any open channels to take advantage of. She added that Space and other workspace providers have a lot of experience, which could and should be used to influence decisions.
Graham said that members of the Cultural Strategy Group include three Assembly members, Nicholas Serota, and two practitioners. Their aim is to work openly with surrounding networks. The meetings are open to the public, and minutes are posted on the GLA Web site. The Cultural Strategy Group will move around London to visit different cultural groups. He could not remember their timetable in detail, but he added that the Cultural Strategy will be the last report to be published. The economic strategy should be ready by the end of September. The aim is for the cultural strategy to manifest itself through different strategies.