Regeneration and the Premises Crises:
The Conference – Case Studies



 

Contents


Bow Arts Trust

History of the organisation. Bow Arts Trust (BAT) is based at Bow Road, East London. The Trust was incorporated in 1995 and registered as an educational charity. Its remit is to provide long-term affordable studio space for artists, to administer an educational resource, and to set up and run a contemporary art gallery for the provision of the arts, culture, and learning.

BAT secured the buildings in the East End of London under a 15 year lease by forming a partnership with a commercial landlord. Over the past 5 years it has been developing with a range of professional arts and education organisations and bodies.

The management structure of the organisation has been an important part of the success of the Bow Arts Trust. Having developed from an organic base, in 1998 the organisation was able to make a dramatic change to how its infrastructure worked, and as a result the BAT was awarded an 'Arts 4 Everyone' grant to develop an education and gallery strategy.

Of 1,000 grants awarded in the United Kingdom, only two went to London-based organisations, of which BAT was one. This not only projected the them in the public eye and afforded them a lot of professional credibility but also gave them the opportunity to "put their money where their mouth was."

The organisation's work. Its education work can be divided into two sections (although all of the work BAT is doing cuts across education, practice, and exhibition): work in the community and supporting artists as educators.

BAT recently established an Education Resource Room, equipped with ten computers, scanners, and printers. This is for the benefit of those involved in current and future education initiatives and for BAT artists, who receive a free email address and virtual space to present their work, and which also provides contact details and CV's . Participants can access office facilities to update their CVs, deal professionally with correspondence, and do basic accounting. There is training for non-computer literate artists, and the opportunity to become conversant with multimedia packages, including Photoshop, Quark Xpress, and OfficePro. BAT hopes to bring schools into this area to train groups in information technology, PowerPoint, Web design, and desktop publishing. Problems faced within the organisation.
  The Bow Arts Trust concluded that Arts Managers should recognise other ways in which money can be used. They should strive to find the resources to buy their property in order to save on rental costs and, by so doing, to develop their organisation. Their objectives should be to create jobs and to develop and sustain longer-term regeneration of their locality.
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Chisenhale Studios

History of the organisation. Chisenhale Arts Place (CAP) was formed in 1980, following the eviction of a group of artists from Butlers Wharf during the regeneration of South London. The artists negotiated a 25-year lease with Tower Hamlets on a derelict factory. They set up a not-for-profit company and charity, raising funds for the conversion of the 35,000-square-foot factory. They carried out the conversion work themselves and began managing the organisation.

One of the guiding principle of Chisenhale Arts Place remains the provision of affordable workspace to resident artists, to Chisenhale Dance Space, and to Chisenhale Gallery.

Workspace provision allows for the professional research and development of artists. It brings artists' work, skills, and expertise into the public arena through local, national, and international exhibitions, public art projects, schools, colleges, and universities.

The organisation recognizes its considerable importance to the local community through offering access to the arts, supporting local businesses, complementing partnerships, and adding to the diversity of local activities. It recently undertook a survey among resident artists to identify the impact of its support to the community and to the professional development of its artists.

Major achievements in artistic practice supported through the studios include UK, European, and international commissions, residencies, curating and participating in exhibitions, fellowships, art fairs, and exhibitions in major galleries (the Barbican and Tate Bankside).

Professions of the resident artists include: community-support workers, external examiners, gallery education workers, local authority officers, arts administrators, technicians, graphic designers, illustrators, decorators, and prop and scene makers.

Problems faced within the organisation. Chisenhale Arts Place, along with many other workspace providers, has faced great difficulties dealing with the changing climate in arts policy, funding, and the charitable sector. Over the last five years, the organisation has had a 'wake-up call' and has had to address a significant shift in its thinking. Times have been, and still are, difficult, with limited and finite resources. Outstanding dilapidation costs, charitable and financial issues, and an uncertain future in the building remain as the lease draws to a close.

The organisation's problems are heightened because the local authority owns the building. Negotiations over the building's purchase are difficult, owing to inflexible local-authority guidelines and a lack of departmental cooperation.

Despite the difficulties of balancing the organisation's vision with its resources, Chisenhale Arts Place has a real commitment from many supporters. Volunteers in 1998-1999 gave the equivalent of £44,000 per annum in real-time support. The organisation uses the skills and expertise of its staff, artist members, and the wider arts community to make art accessible and to increase the awareness and enjoyment of contemporary art forms.

Chisenhale Arts Place invests the equivalent of £100,000 per annum into its charitable activities. These include the provision of a localised education programme, run with little outside funding. It also helped initiate Vision in Arts, a support agency for the visual arts that, thanks to a partnership with Space Studios, has had access to European funds. The voluntary support it receives contribute to research and development space for visual artists, space for a contemporary gallery and experimental dance group, and a variety of work placements

The organisation is in the process of quantifying its role and value to the community. It believes that the importance of practitioners—and of the organisations that support them—has been long undervalued.

Helen Ridge & Cllr Janet Ludlow
Chisenhale Studios
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Cable Street Studios

History of the organisation. Cable Street Studios was formed in 1984 as an artist run institution.  It fell into financial difficulties due to high service charges and after dramatic increases in its rent (a 5 fold increase, even after a rent review). The lease was dissolved and private landlords took over who were unsympathetic and unaware of the needs of artists.  Initially, they had trouble filling all the spaces.

In 1992 rents were still high and half the spaces remained empty.  There was no confidence by the artists or vision by the landlords.  Michael Cubey took over as manager and the first floor was converted into 25 studios and, after six months, occupancy was up to 100%.  There are now more than 180 artists, with 350 on the waiting list. Today, after 15 years existence, Cable Street artists have helped the organisation to develop into an establishment of 155 studios, two galleries and a licensed cafe.  The artist run galleries were opened in 1996 and there have been more than 60 shows to date.  This year their Annual Open Studios attracted over four thousand visitors.

The problems faced within the oprganisation. In 1998, the landlords, without consulting with the studio management group, established Cable Street Studios as a charity on the basis of offering studios to artists in need, and also offerering educational facilities to benefit the community.  Without obtaining any legal advice on behalf of the charity, the trustees entered into a twenty year, full repair and renewal lease, where they would benefit from a preferential clause in which they could termintae the lease by giving the charity six months to vacate the premises.

The trust in the landlords rapidly disintegrated as a result and the organisation was unable to establish a strong enough Board of Trustees to build on what existed. Under those conditions it became increasingly difficult to fulfil the charitable duties at the studios. Artists were invited to join the board to address this difficulty and to seek funding for the innovative education and outreach programmes that they had proposed to the landlords. Unfortunately, the landlords clearly intended to sell the property for redevelopment, and the new board of trustees failed to have an impact.

Alison Raimes, a non-paid director of Cable Street Studios, was appointed to the board of trustees in January 2000. At that time the landlords had been the only trustees on the board, and she had had a very good relationship with them. Alison helped form an artist cooperative, with the intention of working with the landlords to develop the education and outreach programme.

The charity had not been fulfilling its obligations under its charitable status, and it became apparent that the charitable company was merely an extension of the landlord company. Indeed, the landlords extended their invitation merely so that they could disengage with the charitable company and sell the property for redevelopment. In February, the property was placed on the open market without notice, as "possible vacant possession." After several discrepancies in the accounting process had become apparent, Alison contacted the Charities Commission for advice. As a result, a formal investigation of the charity's former trustees began and is still ongoing.

Problems faced within the organisation. With the charity dissolved, the property would revert to the landlords—the very group that, because of the breach of trust during their term on the board, has put Cable Street Studios in such a vulnerable financial position. Because the charitable company is now recognised as being insolvent, the present trustees have been advised not to continue trading, lest they become personally liable for the company's debts.

There is still a chance to make the former trustees accountable for their breach of trust and to recover the inflated service charges that have been levied recently without substantiated evidence. However, because of the threat of personal liability and a lack of funds to fight the landlords, the studios are facing imminent voluntary liquidation. That raises the serious problem of rehousing 180 artists. Although many of them have sitting rights under the Landlords and Tenants Act, they would each need legal advice in order to fight their eviction. Moreover, the landlords could probably create an unworkable situation, giving them no option but to leave.

It is critical that complexes like this one do not disappear. Artist groups are not only vulnerable financially, but also exposed to manipulation because they are often unaware of their rights as tenants. They rely on organisations such as Cable Street to act for them and to provide affordable space. Through it, artists can dedicate time for their work, research ideas, develop work opportunities, and gain access to peer groups, audiences, and training.

Cable Street serves as a model for artist interaction with the environment, after a vast investment in time and energy over fifteen years. It is unique in its size and setup, and it has the potential to be an important cultural centre for Tower Hamlets. Its collapse would incur the loss of many artists who impact on small businesses in the vicinity and the local community.

Places like Cable Street Studios should be talking of expanding, not simply surviving. Workspace providers need to be clear about their strengths and open about their weaknesses—beginning with a lack of resources. The case of Cable Street should alert other studio providers to the pitfalls that have left it with the threat of imminent closure after only two years into a lease agreement.

Michael Cubey & Alison Raimes
Cable Street Studio
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Afternoon workshops

The Chair asked the delegates to form groups with the purpose of formulating how they would approach policymakers to support the sustaining of cultural workspace. The discussions aimed to identify the strengths and weaknesses of workspace providers and to define possible solutions, including partnerships with policymakers and the purposes of such additional funding.
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