Mayor Sadiq Khan has said he will explore the concept of a Creative Land Trust to help support the capital’s artists with affordable workspace.
He revealed he is working with Studiomakers, a group of entrepreneurs who came together earlier this year to look for ways to maintain artists and creatives in the city, as rising rents threaten to make workspace less affordable for them. The move follows earlier work commissioned by his predecessor Boris Johnson, whose Artists’ Workspace Study, published in 2014, predicted the loss of around 3,500 workspaces by 2019, representing around 30% of London’s capacity.
Jonathan Reekie, director of Somerset House Studios, has been part of a taskforce looking at the issues that has floated the Creative Land Trust concept. Speaking at the opening of the studios, an experimental workspace just launched by Somerset House, Khan said: “There are few if any places on earth that can rival our city for its creative industries. Culture is in the DNA of the capital but we cannot be complacent. As property prices rise and new areas of the city grow, artists are finding themselves unable to put down roots here.”
“I am committed to improving access to dedicated, affordable workspace so that the next generation of creatives are given the extra support they require to flourish. I want the artists of tomorrow to be able to fulfil their potential and follow in the footsteps of their role models so that London can continue to be the cultural capital of the world.”
The aim is to secure studio buildings across the capital, and tie down conditions that ensure they can be offered to appropriate users at a lower cost. It will draw on the success of other models established elsewhere, such as the Community Arts Stabilization Trust in San Francisco. There, CAST helps to acquire properties, offering access to funding or affordable rents. The model being investigated for CLT is to access finance and soft loans that help buy permanent creative workspace. A loan fund would be used to purchase buildings, with the trust aiming to protect their use permanently. The trust says it would “combine public funds, philanthropy and social impact investment”.
Deputy mayor for culture and the creative industries, Justine Simmons, commented: “I’m really excited about the Creative Land Trust idea. If we get it right, it could go a long way to addressing this important issue by providing access to much needed finance to secure permanent spaces for the creative community.”
Over the coming months, we’ll be announcing further ways in which City Hall is supporting the capital’s creative community, including two firsts for London – a new Night Czar and a Creative Enterprise Zone.”
LPA Perspective: It is the nature of art and artists, that many struggle through life with their work only fully appreciated and highly valued after they have died. Seeking to break that, is this well-meaning attempt to subsidise artists and make it easier for them to deliver work that they perceive as valuable, but which may not actually make them a living.
There are some similarities with local authority demands for “affordable workspace” with developments. And, in common with those, there are issues around who selects the tenants that are eligible for this cut-price space. Wherever there’s a deal to be had, there will be those keen on exploiting cut-price business premises. Such schemes are difficult to police and enforce.
And, do they actually help? Any business that cannot afford swanky new premises needs to work out of cheaper, grottier space until they can afford better. Surely that’s one reason why Shoreditch and the buildings around Silicon Roundabout have enjoyed their recent years of success – by delivering interesting, great value business space.
The irony is that the property industry used to deliver this cheap, meanwhile space. But government initiatives such as removing empty rates, and permitted development, have reduced or removed altogether those second hand buildings that might have been sitting underused for a while. In London, the meanwhile uses of Spitalfields market buildings are a great example of how a stalled property development spawned a number of interesting new creative enterprises, effectively helping them by offering cheap business space.
One person who will doubtless raise a wry smile to the news is artist Tracey Emin. Her recent attempts to build her own, unsubsidised workspace in east London have gone to appeal, after designs by renowned architect David Chipperfield were turned down by planners in Tower Hamlets.