City Spaces: a knowledge exchange event on London studios and meanwhile spaces

On April 17th, CVAN London convened a knowledge exchange event in response to critical conversations and concerns of network members on the city’s assets and creative spaces, specifically studios and meanwhile spaces that are essential for artists, and in turn for the visual arts ecology.

The following commentary is a brief summary of the Chatham House Rules event.

Guest contributors shared thoughts, reflections and provocations on policy recommendations, public-private collaboration and sector innovation. Speakers included:

  • Stevan Tennant, Managing Director Development, Ballymore Group.
  • Lea O’Loughlin, Co-Director, Acme Artist Studios.
  • Lois Stonock, Founder & Director, Metroland Cultures, 
  • Gordon Seabright, Chief Executive, Creative Land Trust
  • John Newbigin OBE, Member of the Mayor’s Cultural Leadership Board and Chair of the Counterculture Partnership

Participants from the visual arts sector included artists, artist studios, meanwhile spaces, and London boroughs, responded by sharing their experiences and ideas. The discussion explored the important questions around the city infrastructure and issues of how can we respond to the loss of more than 75,000 public assets and continue our shared aim to support artists? And how can we begin a different conversation that recognises the financial challenges of London living and facilitate an inclusive and diverse arts community to develop a career and remain permanently in London.

In a year that will see both London Mayoral and national elections, it is important to talk about the city’s artists, infrastructure and cultural assets. It is the studios and meanwhile spaces – the pop-up and interim spaces that provide the workplaces and stepping stones of opportunity for artists, and collectively, underpin the visual arts ecology. At this potentially, pivotal time, we noted the problems and discussed ways these could be addressed.

The London problem

  •   cost of city living negatively impacting artist practice & ability to enter/stay in the city
  •   loss of truly affordable space
  •   loss of meanwhile space
  •   lack of funding & limited modes to attract investment
  •   challenges to capital investment and acquisition of new permanent, freehold spaces
  •   expectation of trade-offs rather than equitable models for the 21st century, free market city
  •   limitations created by existing categorisation of charitable/non-for-profit workspaces
  •   issue of reactive and responsive models which increase artist and arts organisations precarity
  •   limitations of planning policies and section 106 agreements
  •   historically high operational costs including utilities, insurances and business rates
  •   bureaucracy of meanwhile spaces challenges the capacity of small organisations
  •   lack of mutually beneficial models for long-term sustainable partnership.

Opportunities for re-thinking the visual arts in London and retain artists in the city

  •   a commitment from the visual arts sector to develop a better understanding of the needs and motivations of our partners so we can make a valued contribution
  •   critique of what works in 2024, what doesn’t work and for whom
  •   identify and leverage global best practice and local sector expertise
  •   develop sustainable planning that centres the social value of artists in the city
  •   seed funding of new opportunities
  •   re-modelling of Section 106 e.g., enable developers to deliver equitable and innovative outcomes for the creative sector
  •   boldly mobilise the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) as an investment model for artist, arts spaces and art programming, including the safeguarding of low cost studio spaces as essential infrastructure
  •   expand business rate relief on empty premises
  •   Culture at Risk register as an agile framework for long-term (artists and asset) security.


How can the imbalance be addressed; opportunity be unlocked and a sustainable model be achieved

  • trust the voice of the visual arts sector fairly and equitably across size and scale, from artists and new organisations through to established studio providers
  •   early, honest and frank conversations with partners (developers, landlords, local authority, investors)
  •   reduce bureaucracy to develop a collaborative system that is easy to use, and enable agile modes of accessing meanwhile space for charitable organisations (using existing data)
  •   share what has worked well in public-private collaboration and planning, and build upon it
  •   advance collaborative practice and resource between and across zones and boroughs
  •   innovation to keep city spaces active and live through policy, planning (zoning), and fiscal incentives (investment mechanisms)
  •   create a sub-category for the visual arts economies; workspace charities and not-for-profit organisations (separate from co-working spaces, profit-based models)
  •   lobby and advocate for higher level of spend and develop an asset base.

Taking the conversation forward

Network members will prioritise 5 points (from those listed above) for further investigation.

City Spaces : Studios and Meanwhile Spaces. [CVAN London]