Historically, creatives would go into dormant or unattractive areas and inhabit them, but are we seeing an opportunity to reclaim more gentrified areas in London.
At the time Covid-19 was becoming known to the world I was in Hong Kong, meeting artists and viewing vacant properties, with the vision of expanding our model into an international artist exchange program. Along with colleagues in NY and Glasgow we would create the beginning of a system to allow artists to use each other’s creative/living spaces on a time share basis, so that their only costs would be travel. This idea was thwarted by the travel restrictions employed by most countries, but through the round table discussions between the awardees of the CLT fund it became clear that this model could still work on a local basis. The disparity between studios that are over or under subscribed, we could time share the available space in order to keep each other afloat and also make sure that creatives in need of space have somewhere to work. It would also create a network of collaboration outside of our individual studios and create a wider community and support network.
The way that the metropolis of London has adapted and changed during the pandemic has been fascinating. A friend, who works in art direction, forwarded me a gumtree advert offering 7×7 square metre spaces in an office block, next to the Gherkin tower, for just £50 a week on a rolling contract. The financial district of london has become a ghost town, and in a strange twist of fate, it’s now the top of the pyramid that is looking to the creative community to save its proverbial bacon. Historically, creatives would go into dormant or un-attractive areas and inhabit them, building new communities and exciting spaces. Then the entrepreneurs would come in and build the amenities to service the new community. Then not far behind would be the capitalists, eager to profit from the developing areas and ‘gentrify’ them in order to make big profits, inevitably driving the creative community out, forcing them to start again elsewhere.
I believe that what we are seeing in London right now is a reversal of the process. A healing of the system and a chance for the creative community to reclaim the spaces they had built in the first place. A good barometer of this is the line that runs from the bank of England, straight up the A10, into Tottenham Hale (which is, interestingly, the area with the most languages spoken in any place in the whole world). The pandemic has hindered the functionality of the gentrification system and spread of capitalism, and the bar has fallen back, with areas of Dalston and Shoreditch becoming ghost towns, and whole swathes of City becoming flooded with dormant properties.
This creates an interesting dynamic, where it’s now more affordable to rent a huge office space in the middle of the financial district than it is to get a small deskspace in Dalston. So the next 10 years could be very interesting indeed. There is now the opportunity for the creative community to seep back into the areas it once converted, as well as right into the heart of the financial beast that sought to profit from its efforts.
We can already see this in action outside of London. In Hong Kong they are roughly 1 year ahead of us in terms of recovery from the pandemic. It’s already being documented by the South China Morning Post, and other outlets, that the creative community is rapidly taking over buildings that can’t function in the current climate and turning the vacant spaces into galleries. We already have a working model, from a city that is on a financial and spacial equivalent to London, to study and learn from. And we should. If it’s one thing we need to do as a community, it is to learn from those around us, not to gamble. Governments gamble, in order to save the economy they have built. Artists adapt, to survive and preserve what they have created.