Acme Studios — #40 Understanding the Value of Artists' Studios: The Childers Street Project 2021-2022

Supporting Artists since 1972

#40 Understanding the Value of Artists' Studios: The Childers Street Project 2021-2022

50 stories from The Acme Archive

In 2021 Acme and University College London (UCL) collaborated on a research project to investigate the importance of long-term, secure and affordable artists' studios for artists, and their relationship to the local area in which they work.

For this case study, Childers Street Studios in Deptford was chosen, Acme’s largest studio building for over three decades, it was an ideal place to explore the experiences of artists, some of whom had been working there for almost as long, and some only a short while. UCL’s researchers from Bartlett School of Planning initially conducted a literature review, then formulated a value-based framework to inform 21 onsite interviews with the Childers Street artists. These interviews lasted from 30 minutes to an hour and explored the artists’ feelings of belonging in their studio, what having a studio meant to them both personally and professionally, what having a studio did for their practice, how the area the studio was situated in affected or inspired their practice, what their studio needs were, the importance of place to their work and life, how the area had changed during the time of their studio tenancy.

Artist’s work contributes to London being seen as a centre of cultural capital, and yet there is still a shortage of provisions for affordable studios that enable artists to work to their fullest capacity. Therefore, this project looks at “value” away from being monetised and towards how artist studios bring value to artists and the community they are part of, by exploring what was of value, that centred on artists’ lived experiences. In the research framework, the notion of value was multidimensional - social, economic, spatial, symbolic, psychological, educational - and generated at different scales (the studio, the neighbourhood, the city). There was an appreciation that value may be perceived and experienced differently, and that the diversity of artists in terms of e.g., gender, stage in career, type of work, etc. was considered.

The project produced four key findings:1. The physical qualities of the studio space are fundamental for artistic practice. 2. Having a studio, managed by a provider and located away from home, provides stability to produce artwork and reduces financial and psychological stress. 3. The studio space is central to the artist’s sense of identity and well-being. 4. The long-term security of artists’ studios enables artists to become embedded in their locales, providing circular benefits for communities and artists.

Also developed from the research findings were eight recommendations and conclusions devised in order to inform advocacy, policy decisions and planning,:

  1. An understanding of value in the built environment needs to be broader than economic value and informed by the lived experiences of actors and users
  2. Recognise the holistic benefits of workspace for artists
  3. The value of artists’ studios, and of supporting artists, needs to be seen as distinct from the value of creative workspace, or creative industries more broadly.
  4. Value artists’ studios as places of work and the contribution of artists in terms of the work they produce.
  5. The GLA and boroughs should be mindful, when developing their policies, of the continued need for long-term, secure studio provision for artists.
  6. Where funds are allocated to support workspace initiatives, or other support for creative industries, a portion of these funds should be allocated specifically for artists, and there should be a monitoring of the impact on artists’ studios as a separate category.
  7. Boroughs need to be more proactive in facilitating partnerships between developers and artists workspace providers, and boroughs’ affordable workspace policies need to be more mindful of the specific requirements of artists’ studios.
  8. There is a need for further research, lobbying and advocacy work, and to provide better support for smaller, less established artists studio Providers.

The Childers Street project culminated in a published report available on Acme’s website and archive, and an evening celebrating Childers Street launched the first day of Lewisham’s Borough of Culture Year 2022. During this event, listening stations played snippets of interviews with our artists, archive images and studio portraits of Childers artists were on display, Acme also commissioned works of art for this celebration that were projected onto the walls of Childers Street, to show the community of Deptford and elsewhere, what fantastic work was being done within the huge walls of Childers Street’s studio building.