Somerset House opened the doors to its new studios in central London last night, offering affordable workspace for up to 100 artists and designers in the heart of the city.
The arts hub has converted 36,000 sq ft of its New Wing – formerly the Inland Revenue offices – into Somerset House Studios in a bid to quell the exodus of creatives from the capital.
‘We want to bring experimental messiness back into central London,’ says Somerset House Studios director Marie McPartlin. ‘Our rents are capped at the same price as an average art studio in 2014, when a Mayoral report predicted London would lose nearly a third of its artists’ studios within five years.’
Fashion designers Gareth Pugh, musician LoneLady, artist Christian Marclay and writer Juliet Jacques are among a trial group of creatives who have piloted Somerset House Studios over the past few months.
LoneLady – aka Julie Campbell – has turned the building’s naval rifle range into a recording studio. ‘She was inspired by the volume of concrete in the space,’ says Somerset House director Jonathan Reekie. ‘This was the space she fell in love with.’ Brian Eno, a supporter of the studios, has even donated a synthesiser to Campbell.
Twenty-five more artists will join them next year via an open application process which launched yesterday.
‘There are no boundaries in terms of art forms,’ says Reekie. ‘We are looking for people with interesting ideas, whose practice will thrive in this kind of community and who can contribute to Somerset House overall. Residents can stay up to 2.5 years.’
Desks cost as little as £100 per month, the same as a gym membership. In total, Somerset House – which is also home to Makerversity, a workspace for professional makers established in 2013 – will offer studios for 300 creatives.
Renovations have cost around £1.4m so far. ‘We could double the numbers of residents but we don’t yet have funding to renovate other parts of the building,’ says McPartlin. ‘Some parts don’t even have electricity at the moment.’
Extending the programme would help cement The Strand – also home to broadcasting hub, The Store Studios – as a major artery for London’s creative scene.
Artists at Somerset House Studios will have access to several bars – one designed in collaboration with Frank’s Café in Peckham – and a ‘snooker room’, formerly the games room of the Inland Revenue. They can use them for hosting events, including film screenings, club nights and parties, so long as these are open to all residents.
Creatives will feed into the Somerset House programme and connect to its audience. The studios are launching with an exhibition featuring residents’ work, including artist avatar LaTurbo Avedon’s virtual nightclub and fashion designer Gareth Pugh’s sculptural installation of The Tempest’s Sycorax, which marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.
‘At its heart, this is an artist development programme,’ says Reekie.