London is currently home to almost two-thirds of all artists’ studios in the UK, mainly concentrated in Hackney and Tower Hamlets, according to the most recent numbers compiled in the 2010 Cultural Metropolis report. But for how long?
In the midst of all the desperate land grabbing and selling, and the apartment blocks being thrown up hastily all around us – eloquently described as “the city that ate itself” just last month by Rowan Moore – London’s artists are being pushed out – literally, out of their studios –in a trend which is picking up some serious speed.
London’s creative villages – Shoreditch, Hackney, Dalston, now Brixton and Peckham – once full of cheap spaces, like abandoned primary schools and one- time offices above shops on the high street, are being drained of their artists as landlords sell their properties to developers.
Even though there are about 3,500 creatives on waiting lists for studio space in the city, and affordable studios like those managed by Acme are oversubscribed – obviously artists still want to be here – many of London’s artists are just giving up all together, after years of constant upheaval. One friend recently moved to a new Hackney studio due to rent hikes in the old one, only to get a letter a month later saying the new place was being sold to a property developer.
Who can blame them for upping sticks and fleeing to places like Hastings and Ramsgate, with their cheap vacant garages and fresh seaside air? This of course is great for those towns, and makes for a more diverse, less capital-centric UK arts scene, but not all want to leave London, and what’s left behind is nothing short of a cultural vacuum.
Last month we saw a move from famously arty (and relatively affordable) Berlin which some think we should replicate here: the introduction of new rent control laws. These cover studio space as well as residential accommodation, preventing landlords from increasing rents by more than 10% above the local average.
If introduced in London, this could help artists to some extent, but doesn’t protect them if a landlord wants to get rid of a building all together and sell to a developer. In fact, if landlords are unable to hike rents to levels they’re happy with, perhaps they’re even more likely to want to sell up.
As it stands, the only group who can put a halt on this culling of London’s artists is the landlords. And as they stand to make extremely big bucks by selling their precious, ripe-for-converting, properties to developers, then we have to give them a really good reason not to.
I propose an attack on their heartstrings. Artists: build relationships with your landlords, show them that you’re human and that you are important. Invite them round for coffee, show them your work, have them attend open studio days and shows. If they attend, make a big deal of them: make them feel like VIPS. Even if they don’t respond (and most won’t): persevere. What have you got to lose? Oh yeah, your livelihood.
Do the same with your local community and businesses: the more integral you become to the area, the more people will protest if you are threatened with eviction. Invite the local press into your spaces, let them run profiles on you and other local artists. Hold regular community events, offer to show local children a few tricks of the trade.
Basically start the fight before the battle has begun; there’s no point protesting at an eviction if this is the first time your landlord and community have ever heard your voice.
If the threat of eviction looms, go to the press – local, city-wide, national – and tell them your story. What makes you as a studio worth keeping for the community? What would it mean for your area and the city if you were evicted? Name your landlord – but try not to slate them – and the potential property developers; maybe making them publically accountable will make them rethink how they treat you.
The more you can make people care about you and what you do – especially landlords – the more hope you have of retaining your space. And the more hope the rest of us have of keeping our city vibrant and creative: what a capital like London should be.