The conference provided an arena in which smaller, independent studio groups, which provide workspace for artists and craftspeople, could come together to fashion a unified and reasoned response to issues that affect them all. This document will refer to them as the studio providers.
As the majority of London's studio providers are located in the boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Hackney, the areas currently most at risk, they are here referred to as the East End, and the artists and craftspeople who work in those boroughs are here referred to as the area artists.
The conference gave studio providers a rare opportunity to make contact with representatives of the Greater London Authority and London Arts (formerly London Arts Board), which influence cultural public expenditure in London and which will be referred to as policymakers.ALISON RAIMES
Vision in Art
- The Next Logical Steps
- Identifying universal issues
- The changing vision in cultural policies
- The changing vision in art
- Reasons for sustaining the concentration
of creativity in the East End
- Regeneration and its relationship to art
- Ways for studio providers to achieve their objectives
- Recommendations: collaborations
The Shift from Industrial to Post-industrial. The change from industrial to post-industrial society during the latter part of the twentieth century has particularly affected the East End, where the dominance of industry and the factories that evolved during the previous century have now declined. The end of industrial centralisation and the structural change in the economy have resulted in urban decay that the surrounding community and local government are anxious to improve.
The Regeneration Threat to the East End Arts. The ongoing commercial regeneration of the East End of London, as a result of low property prices and a new demand for residential accommodation at the top end of the property market, poses an imminent threat to studio provision for area artists. The recent trend, however economically desirable, has resulted in the escalating threat of their eviction in favour of residential development of their workplaces.
Issues Identified. The conference for building a partnership framework identified eight primary issues:1. Document the importance of the area's practising artists. It is claimed that the East End of London has the highest concentration of artists in any one area of Europe, including some of the most skilful and talented artists in the world, but objective, credible data need to be collected to support this contention.
2. Create as large a base of support as possible among studio providers. To be effective, we need to use this pool of talent to its fullest capacity in order both to benefit the local community and the artists on a significant scale and to attract investment to the arts in that area.
3. Identify and recruit experts in influencing policy. Specialised knowledge is needed from those in the community and the arts so as to influence the development of unlocked potential and help to activate the local government cultural policies.
4. Establish systems of communication among artists through the studio providers. Studio providers need a network to improve effectiveness of their initiatives and encourage and release innovative ideas.
5. Enable studio providers to become more professional in their approach to business. Lack of corporate knowledge in the financial sector often prevents studio providers from realistic budgeting. Assistance and training would help studio providers to become more qualified in producing business plans. This would allow them to foresee when an injection of capital is necessary to fulfil their objectives and financial commitments. They would then gain credibility as a vital component of a growing industry.
6. Emphasise to policymakers the value of studio groups to the community. Studio providers need communication channels to help them illustrate the existing contributions of area artists to the community and to work alongside area artists to develop cultural strategies specifically aimed at those areas where artist-run organisations already make a contribution to the well-being of the community.
7. Stress the tenuous financial status of artists and studio providers. Formation of effective strategies will be helped by government awareness of the added problems of working with artists able to stay in London only temporarily because of the cost of living and the cost of studio space. It will alert policymakers to the financial vulnerability of the studio providers, who must enter into lease agreements on property for which they are unable to finance the freehold purchase.
8. Enter into negotiations with the Charity Commission. These negotiations must address the status for artist-run organisations and compare charitable organisations with other nonprofit models.
Entering the Millennium with culture at the helm. The Year 2000 has been named the Year of the Artist. Speaking at the launch, Chris Smith said:
- Realising the strength of engaging people's creative side in building confidence and a sense of achievement
- Exploiting the social advantages of cultural strategy in creating a sense of pride in the community through people-based projects
- Developing the possibilities of attracting investment in culture to a vibrant area
- Recognition of the creative industry as a developing contributor to London's booming economyBig, eye-catching projects like Tate Modern, the Lowry Centre, and the Royal Opera House rightly grab the headlines, but the arts at community level can be just as vital if the nation's creative soul is also to be renewed. The Year of the Artist provides an opportunity for people to experience the arts in new and innovative ways. It will help artists in all mediums animate their communities through unusual work presented. The last few years have seen an astounding surge of interest and excitement in the arts in this country, in unusual places. The Year will celebrate creativity and creators, helping artists to work across all art forms and across the whole community.1This is indeed the year for action. London Arts has the responsibility for disbursing funding to arts organisations in London and their budget covers grants of £5,000 to over £1 million. They also have development funds and small lottery grants. A significant, though still small element of their funding is for regional development initiatives. As a major policymaker in the arts, they provide a valuable financial support system, which is available for regions like the East End to utilise. London Arts already provides important research on the national needs of artists, which can then be related to the needs of the area artists. The opportunities for funding artist-run projects already exist.
Strength of cultural policies in social renewal. The Cultural Strategy Partnership for London, launched its cultural agenda, "Culture and the City: Ten Ways to Make a Difference," in March 2000. The Partnership's proposal set out the need for London's culture to be nurtured in order to allow its residents a voice and sense of community. It recognises the strength of engaging the creative potential of people in the development of unleashed talent and in improving individual quality of life. The celebration and development through the arts of the existing cultural diversity within communities has an abundance of social advantages that this agenda already recognises. The London Partnership has stressed the attractiveness of further investment into deprived areas and the opportunity to build its reputation on successful investment where the greater benefit is to the local existing and impoverished communities.
Significant contribution by the arts to London's economy. The Creative Industries Task Force recently revealed that the creative industries generate in the region of £60 billion of economic activity and employ around 1.4 million people in the United Kingdom, which makes up approximately 5% of the UK work force. Their documents show that London's creative workers are highly skilled. Some 41% of creative professionals in the sector and 32% of the whole work force are educated to degree level, and 30% of the London creative work force is comprised of visual artists.2
The chance to facilitate social renewal through the arts. Statistics such as this already serve as powerful support for policymakers to take notice of the arts as a growing industry and carefully consider the possibilities of broader investment in that area. The role of the East End studio providers in assisting the success of those policies is willingly being made available. This is one of the best opportunities for the Mayor—and for London—to become connected with world class events and projects that will continually attract tourists to a city that is already recognised as one of the world's leading cultural centres. This is the opportunity for the artists and their own community to engage with and work with the Mayor to make this vision become a reality.
Acknowledging the possibility of further rift between the wealthy and the poor. In the latest British Deprivation Index, the London boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Hackney were listed in the top five most affected areas. As a result, they have some of the lowest property prices. The recent attraction of commercial property for residential development is a result of the booming financial sector. The expanding Docklands and City area has resulted in the recent upsurge in the demand for residential property. As a consequence, developers who have been "sitting" on disused industrial buildings are embracing the commercial opportunities of developing those sites into profitable residential units. However, while the area's commercial sector continues to prosper, there appears to be a reduction in the focus on the needs of the impoverished community.
Time for action. The cultural strategies now being proposed by the policymakers are likely to be inadequate in the face of such displacements. Those strategies aimed at improving cultural situations in impoverished communities fail to consider that a neighbouring new and wealthy community may only accentuate the division between poverty and wealth and so create greater social rifts. Government policies already address the needs of the existing communities, and these policies do recognise the significance of a cultural strategy in the changing role of the creative industry in London's economy. Yet they consistently fail to act on those opportunities.
The 1999 Local Government Information Unit publication Arts and Regeneration, edited by Ramani Chelliah, included a report "Assessing the Impact of Urban Policy." It identified the lack of impact that the physical infrastructure has had on the effectiveness of programmes to instigate social renewal in deprived areas. The report concluded that past policies "failed to use social and community programmes to enhance confidence and harness local skills." In order to address this, the Local Government Information Unit has produced several publications aimed at a people-centred approach to regeneration. The successful 1980s regional projects across Britain cited in this publication serve as models of how arts and regeneration policies can create a mutually beneficial partnership. They illustrate the power of the creative arts in unleashing creativity and injecting spirit and hope into communities.
The Art of Regeneration gives many examples of how cultural initiatives can have a positive benefit in urban regeneration. Francois Matarasso examined the claims in the document and published his results in Use or Ornament. In addition to this, the impact of culture on the broader regeneration strategies has been published in Road to Regeneration.3
Bringing art into the twenty-first century. The popular image of art and the artist is still largely based on ideas about modernism. But contemporary art and artists now show a new attitude that is in the process of changing how art is viewed by society. British art in particular is reaping the rewards of world attention as one of the most desirable places to see art and attracts new artists and lovers of art in droves. It has some of the finest art education facilities and an excellence in teaching that is envied across the globe. However, London is in danger of losing the emerging talent due to its inability to accommodate it. The Cultural Strategy Partnership document states the importance of supporting London's creative industry:
- Allow artists a democratic voice in policy and strategy decisions
- Identify the changing attitudes to art
- Acknowledge the need to sustain and nurture artist participation in local community
- Address the problems of artist constituents on low incomes in the East End
- Break down the barriers between artist and audience
- Address the need for training and access to specialised knowledge to help artists market and promote their ideasLondon is an acknowledged world leader in training for the performing arts and the visual arts. But creative talent emerging from graduate and postgraduate training needs to be nurtured.New graduates flock to London to feed on and search for a way to build careers after their education. But the relocation is too often temporary and the result is premature exclusion from following their ambitions by their inability to cope with the high cost of living. The huge demand for studio provision and the scarcity of affordable spaces, combined with steep private rents on residential accommodation, make working in London a struggle that many do not survive. Graduates are forced, by necessity, to work in jobs that are unrelated to art in order to pay for daily living costs. The energy and time that could be invested in developing and researching their own practice is forfeited to earning a living. For emerging artists in particular, the outmoded myth of the artist in his garret offers few viable career opportunities and often prevents artists from progressing further than art school level. In studio complexes the peer group becomes a support system and allows more access to career opportunities through the groups' internal network.
Making art more accessible. In addition, there is a new vision in art today, which rejects the elitist attitudes attached to mainstream art. The East End has reacted against the hegemonic structure of critics and galleries by offering alternative spaces for artists to show their work outside of the mainstream. This innovation, in turn, attracts a new audience, one that is more interested in the experience than the purchase of a product. Many artists are forfeiting the chance to make money from art in favour of reaching out and interacting with their audiences. They are increasingly attempting to attract the local community that have had little or no previous contact with art.
Art as a service, not a product. The priority is shifting from producing a product with commercial value, to reaching a wider audience and sharing experiences through art. In order to use fully the opportunities offered by these new ways of making art, artists now need more specialised knowledge in financing, promoting, and marketing their ideas to reach these new audiences. Few artists have the knowledge, the expertise or the resources to do this; they rely on the support of artist-run organisations that provide the infrastructure. The alternative exhibition spaces through the studio providers in the East End offer the facilities to do this. What is now needed is additional support for those spaces. Help with legal matters, business practices, raising finances, marketing and promoting their services, and property-development services are needed. A central body to offer studio providers these services is in great demand.
Challenging the dominating role of curator and critic. As with any significant change, the process of reshaping how art is made and communicated is complex. That evolutionary process is hindered by the dominant role of today's critic and curator in the institutions that promote contemporary art. While society becomes increasingly aware of the problem of exclusive hegemonic structures, artists are addressing this very problem within their own professional organisation. The emphasis on artist as superstar and celebrity is becoming of increasing concern to many of them. Artists want their practice to develop and are seeking ways to defeat the art school myth that only one in ten of art graduates ever succeeds in sustaining an independent art career. Very few seek superstar status, an idea most view as destructive to their art.
b The value of the East End's existing artistic community to the arts, to the local community, to London, and to the nation has been recognised and now needs to be sustained and nurtured. Its diversity and pool of talent marks it out as one of the most exciting places in Europe for artists to commune, and it has a national and international reputation that acts as a magnet for multicultural artists. Where such a concentration exists, the possibilities of releasing this talent into the local community become an attractive incentive for policymakers to work with—and respond to—the momentum in the growing creative industry.
- Concentration of talent and skills drawn from one of the world's finest art education systems
- Reputation as an area attractive to national and international artists
- Recognising strength in clusters of cultural activity
- Creative potential for innovative outreach activities
- Exciting, vibrant, and lively cultural area
- More accessible art appealing to a wider audience
- Collaboration of a diverse range of cultures and artistic trends
- Challenges to the hegemonic structure of the gallery/museum system
The value of artist-run projects. The case studies presented at the conference have proved the capability of artist-run projects to release the creative potential of communities and to engage local residents and whole communities in dialogue with the arts, often for the first time. On a more local scale, the community is offered a relatively familiar and welcoming environment in which to engage and question their own creativity. Often driven by the natural excitement, enthusiasm, and vibrancy they encounter in studio groups, East End residents become increasingly interested in interaction with those groups. Through Open Studios and artist-run gallery spaces, the bridge between audience and artist lessens the daunting challenge that the national exhibition spaces impose to first time visitors.
The participating studio groups at the conference identified that an artist-run outreach programme was active in all three groups. The success of those programmes has been proven by financial assistance received and by the level of long-term security in these groups' working environments.
Supporting regeneration. Regeneration forms a major component of government policies. Local cultural strategies aim to encourage councils to devise a cultural strategy that supports regeneration. But cultural initiatives are too often building based. People-based projects—ones that include cultural strategies in decisions addressing the needs of the community—could help to break down the barriers between government and its constituents in deprived areas.
- Encouraging economic regeneration that includes and sustains cultural development
- Addressing jointly the growing division between wealth and poverty
- Identifying the advantages of art in the community for social renewal
- Recognising the changes from industrial to post-industrial society and seeking out new opportunities for the development of a culture-based society
- Recognising the strength of a partnership in which artists and policymakers can make cultural policies function most effectively
Encouraging pride and a sense of belonging. These changes can help to create more harmonious communities. Both economic and cultural policy advocates would benefit from exploring the possibilities of succeeding in their cultural objectives through small-scale projects. There are clear financial advantages to low-cost, flexible projects that are easier and quicker to develop. Projects like these have maximum impact when the community has been included in the decision-making. In addition, they pose a relatively low risk and high return that are especially attractive to policymakers.
Regeneration and art working in unison. Through the conference, it was possible to recognise the changing role of the artist and the importance of studio provision as vital ingredients in sustaining new cultural policies. But the most valuable contribution was identifying the need to form a partnership with policymakers in local government in order to activate strategies. If such a relationship can be successfully forged, it may be possible both to find solutions to the problems faced by studio providers and to aid local authorities in activating their own cultural visions for the deprived areas in the East End. The conference demonstrated that studio providers have the resources and energy to work with policymakers in achieving their objectives and in forming a mutually beneficial relationship. It also showed the need for a coordinated, efficiently controlled infrastructure if the innovations of the artists and the policies of the government are to have a positive effect.
Regeneration of industrial space as part of the cultural strategy. Space for the arts and vital commercial and residential development need not be incompatible. For example, the development of the new Tate Bankside offers a superb building for a much needed cultural venue. With appropriate financial assistance, there is no reason why East End studio providers, already occupying disused industrial sites, cannot similarly coexist with and facilitate the development of their boroughs. The vision and initiative to explore the possibilities already exist. Artists are notorious for innovation, energy, and dynamic drive but infamous for being unable to cope with bureaucracy and finance. Studio providers act as the catalyst between the artists' ideas and the opportunities to realise them. At the conference, studio providers acknowledged the crucial need to harness expertise in the fields of property development and finance in order to achieve their objectives. Sufficient access to information and advice, guidance on both commercial and government funding, an infrastructure that can efficiently use the resources granted them, and the support to sustain and develop long-term projects are all in great demand.
Supporting the source of cultural innovation. London Arts' mission statement supports the need for artistic quality and innovation. Its stated objectives are, first, to create a climate for the arts to thrive and, second, to make a significant contribution to the life of the capital. In a recent report it was claimed that:
- Financial assistance or access to soft loans, allowing studio providers to purchase the freehold on premises—providing not only for property investment but also for long-term security
- Short-term leases to use disused premises awaiting planning permission
- Access to micro-credits
- Lobbying the Charities Commission to reconsider certain regulations on charitable status for studio providers
- Making empty properties available for artists to use as exhibition spacesArtists continually provoke and respond to urban renewal, and thus make visible to other artists and audiences features of [the] terrain not previously recognised or valued . . . [and] inspire other artists to follow suit.The successes of longer-running artist organisations, such as Art in Perpetuity Trust operating in Deptford, are models for the new ideas and projects that are being proposed across East London. Art in Perpetuity Trust has successfully received both commercial and government funding to purchase the freehold on its property. This organisation shows how, with financial support and efficient management structures, it is possible to establish links with local communities that vigorously advance the objectives of government cultural strategies.
Adaptability and inviting change. Artists respond well to change, and they are able to understand and to adapt to short-term options for available studio facilities, a commodity for which demand often far exceeds supply. They are willing to occupy buildings on short-term leases but are wary of landlord exploitation, because such leases limit tenants rights. Short-term leases that provide legal fair protection for both landlord and tenant would allow many more building to be released for short-term use. When, however, an organisation enters into a long-term lease with the landlord, the need for competent legal advice is critical to ensure fair treatment of tenants. Often this advice is beyond the means of the arts organisation—as illustrated in the conference case studies. The purchase of freehold properties allows long-term security and achieves a greater contribution to the local community.
Building on experience. Clearly many studio providers now have the experience and managerial expertise to be appropriate conduits or recipients for soft loans to purchase the buildings they lease. With a suitable support system in place, those organisations would have the capacity to demonstrate their true potential. Soft loans would also be valuable to studios, with sound business plans, whose operational programmes benefit the community through offering gallery space, workshop facilities, and outreach work. Micro-crediting would enable the advancement of their short-term arts projects.
Working in conjunction with the Charities Commission. The Charities Commission has admitted that the boundaries for charitable status are vague. The most likely reason for a building-based arts organisation to apply for charitable status is tax relief or reduction in business rates. The majority of artists fall into the low-income bracket and are dependent on affordable studio space; they therefore rely on the exemption from business rates on their work spaces.
The educational and outreach potential of studio groups has been used to gain charitable status because it is seen as the most beneficial contribution to the public. By the very volume of artists today, there are strong grounds for working with the Charities Commission in addressing the needs of artists. The possibility of a means-tested system, using the charitable duties of the studio providers so that artists can be aided and their needs assessed, could benefit those in real need.
The conference suggested that the pros and cons of becoming a charity, as opposed to an alternative nonprofit organisational structure, need to be investigated, and the Charities Commission should be approached to do so. There was also a feeling that new relationships need to be formed with London Arts in order to address this growing problem before the art community in East London is irreparably damaged.
Where do we go now? The East End studio providers are keen now to put into action the outcomes of the conference. Through debate in artists' forums across the Internet, it is becoming increasingly apparent that this is not an isolated problem but a global one. Debate should therefore be opened not only across Britain but across the world. A similar situation threatens artists in San Francisco and in many regions across North America and Australia. As a result of the conference, advice and information has been offered from artists who actively fought for workspace in the West End of London during the 1960s and 1970s. The scope is there to draw on past experiences and to apply them to the current situation.
How will the outcomes be activated?
The strength of an infrastructure. The conference welcomed the idea of developing an infrastructure to support the linkage between arts organisations and regeneration and saw a network as a critical factor. The need for a resource for sharing opportunities and ideas, as well as helping studio providers, was recognised. In order to form a successful partnership with local government, it is important that those who will work as ambassadors for the East London studio groups must themselves have an efficient and workable system of communication. The issues of a consensus on the arts in London and a central point for administrating the network are therefore the first stage in this partnership.
- Creation of a workspace-providers network
- Establishment of a committee of experts with the experience and knowledge to address the issues of the conference
- Support for comprehensive research
A network would allow studio providers to draw on limited resources. While still maintaining their independence, they would also benefit from pooling their human and financial resources with other studio providers. By exchanging ideas and experiences, problem solving and project planning would become easier and faster. It would thus be a way of ensuring that each and every studio group, and in turn the area artists, would contribute to the decisions being made for their industry.
In order for the network to be successful, expertise and experienced committee members are crucial. To attract them to the organisation, the infrastructure must be seen as a professional body that is well organised and has made realistic plans for its survival. The enthusiasm and energy will follow once that has been established. Sufficient funding is essential if such a network is to be professionally implemented.
The network would then provide one of the best avenues to collect data and information that can give a true picture of what happens in the East End arts. Research collated and updated constantly offers policymakers a valuable source of information to back up their current policies and provides reasons for them to sustain it. It would offer a communication channel to work with policymakers in regenerating East London into one of the most culturally attractive areas in Europe, if not the world.
Note 1. "Year of the Artist Launch," May 30, 2000, at the Lux, Hoxton Square, London. Back
Note 2. Creative Industries Mapping Document, Department of Culture, Media, and Sport, 1998. Back
Note 3. The Art of Regeneration (Comedia, 1996); Use or Ornament (Comedia, 1997); and Road to Regeneration (Greater London Authority, 1999). Back