Investing in Creative Communities by renovating buildings for artists' studios

The recent release of the Mayor of London’s 2018 Artists’ Workspace Annual Data Note, highlights the importance of creative workspace in our cities and is a welcome intervention in an issue that also concerns the visual arts sector in the South East. Many artists will recognise similarities between the picture in London outlined in the report, and that in this and other regions. In particular, the pressure on rents, the vulnerability of studios through lack of freehold tenure, and new spaces often being mixed use (artists and other tenants). CVAN South East is interested to hear what migration effect there may be of artists moving to our region from London, and the calculations that lead to this decision.

Sarah Davies, Executive Director of Phoenix Brighton, gives her response to the Mayor’s report and points to the vital contribution of studio providers to the cultural ecology:

“There are many benefits of locating artists’ studios in disused or ‘hard to fill’ buildings. Representatives from local authorities, developers and private landlords who may have properties like this under their ownership need to be shown how such buildings can be renovated at relatively low cost. There is a plethora of benefits that renovation projects for artists’ studios can bring to communities and to the various partners involved, and it is vital for us to raise these issues.

Here at Phoenix, we are in an unusual position in that we own our building and don’t have landlords breathing down our necks; however we do have maintenance costs that are costly to our organisation. We were set up over twenty years ago when the collective of artists in the building bought the freehold as part of the government’s Single Regeneration Budget. Those were the days. Now Phoenix is a registered charity and primarily exists to provide affordable studio space to artists.

Studio space in the South East is at a premium. There is a dearth of former factory buildings that could be converted into creative spaces. Phoenix has an open application process once a year, however we receive expressions of interest from artists continuously throughout the year. We could fill our current building ten times over. Luckily we are about to launch our second building in Portslade which has come about by working in partnership with a property developer and the local council. We will work in this community to deliver affordable studio spaces and to also reach out to the local residents, businesses, schools and community group to partner with us and to instigate creative encounters.

We believe that creativity thrives off itself. Working in a studio by yourself can be lonely or isolating, but artists in our building know they are surrounded by like-minded people. Friendships, advice, jobs and collaboration opportunities are always happening in our corridors and during the networking events we run for our community of artists.

Having such a diverse pool of artists in our building adds cultural capital to the Phoenix name. We strive to promote Phoenix artists through our social media and newsletter, as well as holding events such as our annual Open Studios weekend and Spotlight where artists talk about their process and practice to an audience.

Therefore we very much welcome the Mayor’s initiatives such as the Creative Land Trust and the Culture at Risk Office. In addition to this we need a guide for local authorities, planning and regeneration professionals and developers to understand how affordable artists’ studios present an ideal solution to the challenge of dealing with empty buildings.”

Sarah Davies
Executive Director, Phoenix Brighton
August 2018

Image: Phoenix artist Joshua Uvieghara in his studio, photo: Manel Ortega.