Growth and Future of the Affordable Studios Sector

Growth and Future of the Affordable Studios Sector

Before 1970, there were only five studio organisations in existence. Collective action by artists to create affordable multi-unit studio buildings can be dated back to the formation of SPACE and the leasing of a redundant warehouse in St. Katharine Dock in London in 1967. 

Since then the artists' studio sector has expanded throughout the UK, with many thousands of artists being supported through the self-help action of individuals and groups to find low-cost space opportunities within the property market.

However, the sector is vulnerable. According to the 2010 NFASP Survey, only 16 studio organisations received Arts Council revenue funding and 19 received local authority revenue funding. Around half of groups receive no form of public funding at all. 

In 2007, when NFASP became operational, the main threat to affordable studio provision was rising property values. Since the economic downturn, the situation has changed. There is now an abundance of vacant property, from office buildings, to light industrial spaces and empty shops. Although this makes cheap, temporary studio space available for many artists, most property is provided on a very short-term basis and the underlying insecurity and vulnerability of the affordable studios sector remains the same.

Few studio buildings are owned and permanent. The NFASP 2010 Survey found that of the 214 buildings in the survey, 79 per cent are rented and 21 per cent owned. But many studio buildings are on short-term leases, with 64 per cent on leases of less than five years. That means around 650 studios are under threat, should the economic tide turn and property prices rise again.

Yet again, there is the danger of artists' workspaces, which played a major role in regeneration, being squeezed out of inner city areas and town centres. There are also fewer options for development through the traditional ‘self-help’ route and capital finance is difficult to secure.

But despite these threats, new ways of achieving studios are also emerging, in collaboration with new housing schemes and mixed-use developments, through which studio organisations are delivering cultural, community and economic value.

Future developments will require partnerships between studio organisations and commercial, public and social developers, brokered and supported by development and funding agencies. If these partnerships are not realised the sector faces decline.