A Culture24 guide to artist–led studio/galleries

By Mark Sheerin | 11 March 2010
Photo of exterior of studio/gallery space

(Above) Spike Island, Bristol. Photo © Adam Faraday.

The pristine white walls of the gallery and the paint splattered chaos of the studio are no longer art world opposites. Studio/galleries have now joined the establishment but are artists still running the show?

Many begin as anarchic, entrepreneurial experiments like the do-it-yourself-art-centre at The Old Police Station in New Cross, London.

Revenue from 40 rentable studios, a cafe and supper clubs funds a programme of screenings, performances and exhibitions. They even have their own radio station

But before long artists tend to organise themselves and, as in Nottingham, collectives form. With the opening of a new attic space at One Thoresby Street the city’s vibrant scene has a new hub.

The building also houses Trade Gallery, 16 studios run by Stand Assembly, a project space run by Moot and The Reading Room, which does what it says on the tin.

Put a bit more order in the mix and you get the co-operative model as found at Bankley House Studios Galleryin Manchester, where 30 artists are in residence.

Painters, textile artists, photographers, installation artists, sculptors and ceramicists all share exhibition space, an in-house curator and visitors to the annual Open Studios.

Another photo of exterior of studio/gallery space

One Thoresby Street, Nottingham. Courtesy One Thoresby Street.

A bit of initial support from a local council can go far. Phoenix in Brighton have taken an unwanted city centre building and set up an artist-led charitable organisation.

They offer more than 100 studio spaces, a gallery, space to hire for other purposes and a range of art courses for the local community.

Reading Borough Council were also on hand to support Open Hand Open Space. In a former military keep you will now find 14 artists studios and an exhibition space.

With ongoing funding from the Council and Arts Council South East, OHOS also provides IT resources and professional support to keep talent in the Berkshire town.

The benefactors are private at Studio Voltaire in London, which the organisation says gives them the independence to take risks with the art and artists they support.

40 artists are housed at their Clapham studios. While the public also benefits from a programme of exhibitions, commissions, live events and offsite projects.

G39 in Cardiff is an artist-led space with collective roots which, thanks to added structure, gets most of its funding from Arts Council Wales.

A team of volunteers help them stage between six and eight exhibitions each year. Meanwhile the Wales Artist Resource Programme offers studio space upstairs with additional funds from the Esmée Fairbairn foundation.

Interior shot of a gallery

Welcome to Paradise, 2009, Art Gene New Gallery. Courtesy Art Gene, Gallery.

At Royal Standard Liverpool, funding sources are just as diverse. Regional and city-wide funders for creative industries line up with two national Arts Councils to keep the sociable artist’s hub in business.

There are 27 studios. A multi-purpose project space offers them a testing ground for new ideas. And the gallery showcases local, national and international artists.

London also has five regularly funded organiations (RFOs) in the small galleries sector, two of which are Cubitt and Gasworks.

Both studio/gallery spaces have both constitutions and an artist-led culture. Cubbitt is home to more than 30 artists and has strong ties to its Islington community who turn up for exhibitions, performances, screenings, symposia and talks.

Gasworks meanwhile has 12 studios, with three reserved for international artists, and an exhibition space which hosts up to six shows a year. Here too there are screenings, plus workshops, seminars, events and an Open Studio. You can expect to find design and documentary filmmaking among the visual arts represented here.

Both art and architecture are on offer at Art Gene in Barrow-in-Furness, where they supplement low level funding with commercial projects in the built environment.

The artist-led agency has two galleries and five studios, two of which are used for international residencies. The remit here is research and regeneration rather than art for art's sake.

Night time shot of purpose built studio/gallery

Wysing Arts Centre, Cambridgeshire. Photo courtesy Wysing Arts Centre.

Research is also the name of the game at Wysing Arts Centre and they too have a trading arm, which sells the work of artists from the East of England.

At any one time up to 30 will be using the purpose built studio set amidst 11acres of Cambrdigeshire farmland. Other funding comes from Arts Council England East and a number of arts foundations and patrons.

But the commercial giant in terms of production and exhibition spaces would have to be Spike Island, Bristol. It has both scale and national presence with 80,000 square foot of space and high profile exhibitions.

Along with two floors of studios, the former dockside tea packing factory now houses a busy café and branded workspace for local creative businesses, Spike Design. More than 200 people work and 300 people study in the recently relaunched building.

The roots may be artist-led, the studio operations are still entirely artist-run and artists sit on the board of trustees. But in the words of curator Marie-Anne McQuay, Spike Island and many of the venues in this piece have a "mixed ecology".

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