Sharon Gill, chief executive of Rotherham Open Arts Renaissance (ROAR) provokes the North/London debate when it comes to available, affordable studio space.
Having run studios for over 15 years in both Sheffield and now Rotherham, there has never been a time when you could not find a space to work. That’s not to say they were fit for purpose, but definitely affordable, if you can work around the damp walls and flaking plaster, non-flushing toilets and very worn stone stairs.
It has long been suggested that Sheffield houses the most artists anywhere in the UK outside London. There have been recent attempts to quantify this statement, and I can easily rattle off at least six different studio based organisations without difficulty. The recent acquisition of a 6 storey office block by one organisation saw artists vacating spaces from other providers and a massive reshuffling took place in Sheffield. Artists can choose the organisation, its management style, pricing structures, support, locations etc. to suit their needs.
Yes, there has been a great deal of redevelopment of old industrial spaces for both business and housing, but there is also a recognition of the importance of the makers, the craftsman, the small entrepreneur and space is made for that too.
Sitting here in Rotherham in our studio base, where half our provision is vacant and available to rent, (at very reasonable rates I might add), it is hard to find empathy with the plight of artists in London. We have a secure 20 year lease, we work in partnership with a Charity to provide further spaces on the meanwhile basis- but realistically, there is not the demand for buildings for development here and those temporary occupations can be long term propositions.
It seems there are questions artists need to be asking themselves. Is being in London so important even if you cannot afford to live and work? or would relocating to the North, where you can have ample space even live-work in a larger residential accommodation, that will provide the creative freedom that London and the south east cannot offer, be an attractive option if not favourable? The trains are also frequent and reasonably fast, the internet provides communication needs.
How can we work with colleges and universities to inform and inspire the makers of our future to grow their career outside the capital?
What are you waiting for?