Space Race: Part 2
David Powell is an independent property consultant and offered constructive perspectives and advice. There are 250 studio organisations in the UK, together offering 10,000 studio spaces, with as many artists again on their waiting lists. Accordingly, about 45% of artists’ needs are unmet.
His best advice to artists and studio providers was to ‘follow the money’. Key investors were the UK’s Regional Development Agencies (RDAs), and three other key players were ACE, the DCMS, and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. There was undoubtedly a need for artists and studio providers to ‘get into the commercial mind-set in order to procure sustainable workspace – after all, artists cannot be expected to be specialists in dealing with applications to planning authorities for planning gains’. He was referring in particular to Section 106 of the UK’s Town and Country Planning Act 1990, which enabled local planning authorities to impose conditions on property developers – when granting their planning applications – in order to enhance the local environment and its facilities.
Lucy Wurstlin is creative industries manager for Culture South West, a Regional Cultural Consortium. Despite her role and job title, she considers ‘creative industries’ an unhelpful term, even though using it had proved helpful in her dealings with the DCMS. In her experience a sound evidential basis was needed to make out the case for support for studio provision, together with a common language to facilitate dialogue between potential funding bodies and the advocates of artists’ needs.
Chris Murray, director of learning and development with the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, warned that support for studio provision should not be tokenistic or short-term, and suggested some arguments that might be deployed to persuade potential backers. For example: creating better and more inclusive spaces promotes civic pride; artists are an essential ingredient in the civic identity/ pride mix, and need to be part of a co-ordinated vision of a successful future; and, in modern times, there has been a significant shift in art practice – from artists traditionally being the creators of objects, to now also being the creators of environments. In his opinion, there was a ‘once in a generation opportunity to bring about radical changes, by everyone involved in studio provision working in partnership, in new and innovative ways’.
lan Wall, a property developer and chairman of Wasps Artists’ Studios in Scotland, agreed with all previous speakers that artists did not constitute ‘creative industries’. He confessed that, while property developers ‘only cared about making profits’, they had to rely upon local planning authorities for legal consent to their development applications. He advised that it was those authorities who needed to be targeted to achieve artists’ studio provision, because only they had the legal power to achieve planning gains – by insisting, for example, on developers providing social housing and/or work space for artists or the creative industries. He was convinced that ownership of properties should be the ultimate objective of studio providers, and stressed the vital role that arts administrators should play in persuading local planning authorities how to use planning laws properly – not only in the name of economic regeneration, but also for the benefit of art and artists.
David Cook, director of Wasps Artists’ Studios, described its provision of accommodation for 750 artists in Scotland. Wasps had recently changed its original strategy – from leaseholding to owning property – and was no longer a reactive occupier, but a proactive property developer.
David Panton, co-founder and co-director of Acme, explained that it had also changed its strategy in recent years, and was no longer simply the self-help artists’ organisation it had been from the 70s to the mid 90s, but a property developer – albeit in furtherance of the same aim: cheap studios. In his experience, there were three key ingredients for success. First, cross-subsidy, whereby Acme’s internal financial policies enable surplus revenues from some of its properties to subsidise the rents and expenditure on others. Second, enhancement, whereby Acme has successfully renegotiated long-term leases from initial shorter-term starting points. Third, planning gains, for example, through Acme’s recent partnership with a national house builder to provide studio accommodation as part of a major residential development in East London.
Charlotte Robinson is director of Space, providing 450 artists’ studios in 17 buildings in East London, within its overarching objectives as an arts educational charity. An example of Space’s latest strategy was the acquisition of a 25-year lease on a former textile factory in Hackney, with capital grants totalling £1.2m from the European Regional Development Fund and the London Development Agency. Two main lessons learned by Space over the past four decades were that there was ‘a lot of rhetoric, but not a lot of commitment and delivery, by key decision makers’; and that local authorities could help much more by ‘seeing things in the longer term, rather than going for quick, short-term gains’.
Helen Smith is an artist and director of Waygood Gallery and Studios at Newcastle upon Tyne, providing 28 artists with 18 studios in the heart of the city centre. This capital development project arose when the city wanted to invest in creative industries as part of an urban regeneration project. Following a successful feasibility study a three-way partnership was created between the local authority, property developers, and Waygood. The RDA had donated £1.6m for the purchase of the building. The contractual terms of the funding agreement required that the building’s sole use would be for arts and culture, that a 25 year lease would be granted to Waygood at a peppercorn rent, and that any profit made from use of the building had to be ploughed back into the property.
Paul Rubinstein, head of arts and culture for Newcastle upon Tyne city council, described the interaction between his local authority and Waygood. The council had looked holistically at the regeneration of the part of the city surrounding the arts project. Crucial to its success had been the council’s multi-disciplinary team-working policy, which had involved a property and development officer being seconded to work in the Cultural Department. He urged the need for the UK Government to publish guidance to local authorities on the development of property for cultural use, and for government regulations to include special exemptions to promote and facilitate the development of cultural projects.
The array of sector-specific skills, experience, and dedication of the 250 participants at this conference, together with the wealth of ideas and advice generated, provides an excellent basis for future action. The key to future sustainable studio provision for artists in the UK lies in those people and organisations working together; it would be extremely valuable if they came together, at least annually, to report on their progress.
© Henry Lydiate 2003