Artists

It's nothing new to assume that wherever the Artist community move, the Property Developer will shortly follow. There are of course many trend creative minds will set and (un)affordable housing may not immediately spring to mind. However, as the capital moves deeper and deeper into unsustainable housing prices there is growing evidence that artists are being driven out further, by rising rents and redevelopment.

The importance of the issue was first flagged up in 2010 when City Hall released a report, however the investigation was shelved. The Mayor's Office is now examining possible solutions and plans a wide range study, "to provide an overview of existing and potential future demand for affordable studio space".

The development comes after it emerged that a former biscuit factory in Bermondsey (V22) which hosts close to 380 artists, has been sold and will be converted into 800 flats. The arts organisation, which rented out the studio spaces, had hoped to remain on site for several more years, however the property boom and new planning rules making it easier to convert commercial properties into homes, are putting London's artist communities under huge strain.  It's unsurprising to find more artists looking further out of the capital to find affordable artist studios. Places as far as Essex and Croydon have opened their doors to London based artists. One solution is a new scheme being introduced in order to include affordable artist studios into new build properties.

The scheme is relatively simple - the developer gets their planning consent, profit and creates affordable housing, the artist find their permanent studios that are high quality because they're new build and the London authority and local communities inherit a cultural resource.

The art scene is thriving, and with almost two thirds of all artist studios' in the UK based here, it provides a huge contribution to areas of cultural and economical wealth across the city. Jonathan Harvey, who set up Acme Studios (a London based charity which provides artists with affordable studio space) tells the BBC in an interview in 2013,

Artists require a lot of space and cheap space. How can that happen in London where property values are so high, is a real question… It’s now about the Mayor’s Office and local authorities who put the true ‘value’ on artists.

Acme supports more than 600 artists with studio space, but there are currently 1,000 on the waiting list. "There is huge demand and it's only getting more and more difficult" Mr Harvey said.

A phrase we keep repeating is that artists are pioneers of regeneration because they go where others don’t. But they’re also the victims as they get priced out.

Artists have always drifted to the cheaper areas of London, often into disused industrial factories and quirky spaces such as Katherine's Docks in the 1970’s to Hackney (currently seen with Peckham now in the spotlight for increasing property prices in a thriving artist community). He has called on a change in planning laws to support the scheme and include studio spaces in new developments.

Another damaging effect of unaffordable studio space is the rate in which these changes to the area are being made.  Gasworks, a South London based contemporary art organisation, housing eleven artist studios has noticed these changes as director Alessio Antoniolli comments, "the neighbourhood was changing 'at the speed of light' which was damaging to the community". Building an engagement with those living and working within these communities is a huge factor in the success of an artist neighbourhood, creating links, building relationships and developing projects becomes increasingly difficult when being pushed out of the area. You can never settle or feel secure when you are constantly being moved.

He said that he receives "hundreds of requests" for studios every year which is "an indication of how sacred artists are". 

I’m not saying regeneration is a terrible thing, but what makes something so great and special needs to be kept and celebrated and supported.

And he is not the only one. With thousands of art and design students churned out in the capital every year, it's clear that the Arts is something people still value. With the supply of inexpensive studios dwindling, landlords have been getting away with hiking up the rent year on year. Sixty years ago the Young British Artists (YBA's) may have paid £50 per month for a studio space in inner-London, nowadays a £500 bill is more commonplace. And with studio rental value equating the same as a second 'home' in terms of cost, it's no wonder artists are having to chose to move out of the capital or live in their studios entirely. Live-work has become live-live.

So what does the future hold for artists within London? The argument continues to question people's values on living in the capital, drawing focus to a quality of life over why they want to live here as opposed to other, cheaper, creative cities across the world.

(Image: Sleek)

Berlin for example, has been up-and-coming within the art scene for a number of years and where London lacks, Germany oozes exciting and cheap opportunities for young artists. It's a wonder why we aren't all packing up our paintbrushes and moving there?

 

Author: C. Willan