About Me

"Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?"

Friday, 10 February 2017

Two more art enterprises fall victim to London's property vultures

It's hardly news that London's rapacious property developers are driving anyone who's not rich out of newly-fashionable areas. Among the victims are artists, who are being pushed out of their studios and work-spaces. It's a cliché (and therefore true?) that struggling artists, musicians and their ilk, who always tended to migrate to areas with cheap, large work-spaces, helped to make those areas fashionable and desirable. And then these very people who made the area popular get driven away as rents soar and the bankers, advertising execs and the hedge fund mob move in.

Any hopes that this dismal trend was slowing down have been dashed. It's only February and already, two very different artist-led enterprises in south London have been given notice to vacate their premises, both in once-despised areas that have recently become highly desirable: Vauxhall and New Cross Gate.

These are just two examples that I happen to know personally. The same thing is happening to dozens of others, typically in the areas which have been made more marketable to city commuters by the arrival of the London Overground.

These two places are at different ends of the art world.

The first is LARA - the London Atelier of Representational Art - a well-respected independent art school, known for adapting the classical atelier system for teaching the traditional skills of drawing, painting and sculpting the human figure. The tutors are all successful practitioners, and the students learn by example. They spend weeks and months and years learning to use the sight-sizing methods developed by Italian renaissance artists, to build their knowledge of paints and brushes and pigment, canvases, papers, the lot.

Who could guess that in the basement area of the buildings to the right,
on the busy Vauxhall gyratory system, there's an amazing hive of artistic
activity - the London Atelier of Representational Art.
It runs full-time diploma courses and a  busy schedule of short courses, evening and weekend masterclasses, exhibitions and excursions. It's a hive of intense artistic activity, and at the moment it inhabits the basement of a big old office/warehouse building on an unremarkable part of Vauxhall's one-way traffic system.

Recently LARA was given notice that the building they've been in for several years is going to be demolished for re-development later this year. They're going to have to leave by late summer, meaning students on their three-year diploma course could face disruption (although LARA already has its sights on alternative premises).

So here's a unique, creative organisation which provides employment for dozens of artists, tutors, models and others, which is at the heart of an international revival of the atelier method, and which has also played a part in the re-energization of this fascinating part of London. So close to the centre, and yet so different. And now of course the money-men have noticed, and the place - which survived so much, including one of the most murderous traffic systems in London - is now being torn apart for the development of high-rise luxury flats and "serviced office accommodation".

Ironic that, as a new upmarket Newport Street gallery owned by Damien Hirst opens in Vauxhall, so the organisations that will create future artists are being pushed out.

The second sad story is another hive of creativity: the ASC Studios in Bond House, Goodwood Road, New Cross Gate. This big old former factory, just round the corner from the railway station,  currently hosts over 100 artists' studios of varying shapes and sizes as well as exhibition spaces.

Amongst them are a celebrated community project, The Gate Darkroom, which started in 2011 and provides  studio, developing and printing facilities for hundreds of photographers, students and other artists.

These studios are just over the road from Goldsmiths; they are part of that incredible ecosystem of creative talent that's existed in this corner of south east London for decades, and which every so often erupts into international notice, as with Hirst and Co back in the 90s.

There's no doubt that proerty people - estate agents, the lot - owe a huge debt to these artists, students, the punks and poets and actors and activists who have between them, over decades,  created a unique atmosphere in the Deptford - New Cross - Peckham - Camberwell valley. That's one of the reasons this area is now so sought-after.

But alas the area is also succumbing to the Overground effect. Wherever this extremely useful railway lines goes, it carries a parasitic virus with it: the dreaded virus, Luxuriosa domos. The Overground trains arrive, then sure enough, along come outbreaks of "New-London-vernacular" flats, which pop up like a bad case of measles alongside the stations.

No doubt Bond House will go the same way, soon after the artists are kicked out on March 26. There's already a crop of them just round the corner.

ASC is one of several organisations that exist to secure affordable spaces for artists and craftspeople of all types, all ages, all nationalities. But no-one is immune to the squeeze: and there is no government or even local London legislation to ring-fence certain types of property, apart from the listing system for buildings "of special architectural or historic interest considered to be of national importance and therefore worth protecting".

Perhaps they could add: "and cultural, educational or local community" interest to those, as well as building up a strong "continued public access and purpose of use" to this admitrable system.   This is what should be happening NOW!

Or maybe legislation that forces developers to provide alternative, equally well-positioned accommodation to any of the above that they displace, and that that should only happen with full agreement on all sides - current occupiers, other local businesses and residents.

But this is pipe-dream stuff in the world of Theresa May and co.

In both the cases I cite above, hard-working dedicated artists and students will have their long-term plans disrupted, even wrecked by the impatient greed of property people - these ones who are perhaps trying to squeeze the last millions out of the London property market before it goes pop when all the money men leave for Paris.

Then maybe the cycle will start again. Meantimes there's only one sane response for those with the strength and energy to do it: Squat!

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