NFASP responds to Draft London Mayor’s Cultural Strategy 2010


Acme's Leven Road studios. Photo: Gary Weston 2009

NFASP believes there is a significant opportunity for the London Mayor's office to stop the threat to existing studio provision and help establish a self-sustaining infrastructure.

Draft London Mayor's Cultural Strategy: Cultural Metropolis 2012 and beyond

The NFASP response to the draft cultural strategy for London focuses on its section on creative workspace and gives emphasis to the role of creative workspace in the cultural life of the city. Here is a synopsis of that response:

NFASP welcomes the recognition given to the role and value of visual artists’ studios both in suporting cultural production at the most fundamental level and in making a key contribution to cultural, economic and social regeneration, particularly in the City Fringe and the East End.

The Draft Strategy correctly identifies the continuing pressure on artists’ studios from increasing rents on short-term space. As acknowledged in the Draft Strategy, the research NFASP commissioned shows that, within the Olympic boroughs, most studio holders occupy space on a variety of formal, and often less formal, lease arrangements. Most studio buildings are not owned and those on long leases are often subject to high market rent reviews. We would add that artists are more economically vulnerable than other creative professionals, because their contribution to culture and society often does not result in commercial return.

The Draft Strategy highlights the difficulty government agencies face in investing in artists’ studios because of the ‘enormous, growing demand for affordable housing, accommodation for key workers, tackling social deprivation and transport infrastructure’. However, we would argue that permanent, affordable artists’ studios can be established at no cost to the delivery of these other priorities and that successful models already exist.

Acme's partnership with housing providers
Acme’s partnership development with the Swan Housing Group – a social housing provider - is an important example. In this instance, the developer made a commercial decision to work with Acme Studios because:

• Acme could guarantee the planning requirement to re-provide the employment originally on the site at Leven Road would be met; and
• Artists’ studios represented a known outcome (because of high demand), whereas developing commercial space speculatively was high risk.

Swan took the decision to work with Acme even though the return on the sale of the units was less than a commercial return (to ensure that they could deliver affordable rents) because it provided certainty.
Acme has successfully delivered a range of projects, based on variations of the same principle, in partnership with commercial and social housing providers, as follows:

• 50 studios at The Galleria, London SE15 with Barratt Homes (opened 2006)
• 12 studios in Harrow Road, London NW10 with Kensington Housing Trust (opened 2010)
•  Acme is currently in contract to deliver 30 studios at High Street Stratford, Newham, E15 with Genesis Housing and 49 studios at the Lesney Matchbox Works site, Homerton, E9 with Telford Homes, both for delivery in 2012.

The role of the Mayor's office
NFASP believes there is a significant opportunity, not only to stop the threat to existing studio provision, but also to establish a self-sustaining infrastructure.

The Mayor’s office could play a leading role in promoting these successful models to social and commercial developers and planning authorities at the regional and local levels.

Currently, affordable, sustainable studio provision is not consistently or adequately represented in Local Development Frameworks, or in legacy planning for major regeneration areas such as the Olympics, reflecting its low policy status and priority within economic, regeneration and policy departments. At best, artists’ studios are covered by statements of intent or priority relating to creative workspace, but they are a different proposition and unless otherwise catered for, require special mention.

The Mayor’s office could play an important role with local authorities and regeneration bodies in London by advocating the need in planning and policy frameworks for specific reference to the need for affordable artists’ studios as well as for more commercial creative workspace.

Temporary use of vacant property
The Draft Strategy highlights the current availability of space in vacant or under-used property, and suggests local initiatives that support the temporary use of vacant buildings for artists’ workspace and other forms of creative workspace, should be supported. It is important to note, however, that the majority of artists’ studios are, and have always been, within buildings that are only temporarily available to artists. The Draft Strategy refers to the commonly observed irony that artists are both the pioneers and victims of culture-led regeneration, yet strategies that promote the use of vacant buildings for temporary studios in order to bring life to our high streets are in danger of perpetuating this irony.

Temporary artists’ workspace is potentially a positive way of establishing the presence of artists’ within a locality and demonstrating the vital role studio organisations can play in supporting artistic practice and community engagement through the arts. However, it is not a long-term solution to the problem of unmet demand for studios, nor will it address the underlying vulnerability of the studios sector.

The Mayor’s Office could support authorities in putting formal procedures in place for the use of temporary space and encourage them to see this as an opportunity to integrate artists’ studios into their infrastructure planning and to develop and maintain permanent facilities for artists in the future.
(NFASP has developed guidance notes on temporary space as artists’ studios and case studies).

Artists' studios and public benefit
The Draft Strategy also highlights the difficulty government agencies face in investing in artists’ studios “exclusively for the benefit of artists or creative professionals.” Research undertaken by the NFASP has shown that artists’ studios – studio providers and their individual tenant artists – deliver a wide range of benefits for the public. Some studio organisations provide public programmes of activity directly within their premises. These can include open studios events, exhibitions, and courses and workshops.
In other cases, studio organisations enable the public to engage with art and the artist studio-holders through their activities in a variety of contexts outside the studio buildings. These are as a result of a wide range of partnerships developed by studio organisations with local authorities and other agencies.  Examples include: exhibitions of the artists’ work in public and private galleries, teaching and workshops in hospitals, schools and prisons and other community contexts.

Bow Arts Trust, for example, delivers a successful programme of educatonal work with schools in some of the most deprived boroughs in the city. The programme involves many of their tenant artists who are then able to supplement their income through their teaching and related activities.
It is the provision of studio accommodation at affordable rents that enables artists to carry out their art practice, research and produce artworks and be involved in wider educational and community programmes for the benefit of the public.

While artists are paid for some of their activities (for example, teaching, running workshops or leading participatory projects), they invariably fund the research and production of their art practice themselves, therefore subsidising the public outcomes referred to above.

Such outcomes deliver benefits that cannot realistically be described as "exclusively for the benefit of artists..." but which make a genuine contribution to culture and community wellbeing.

The Mayor’s Office can also play a leading role here, in promoting wider understanding and recognition of the valuable contribution that artists make to society and culture and the importance of affordable studio provision, not simply as a private benefit to artists, but as a vital component of our cultural landscape in all areas of London.