A new artistic residency has opened in the heart of London, in a burgeoning effort to create affordable studio space for creatives in the British capital. Officially launched in October by Mayor Sadiq Khan, Somerset House Studios will house 25 artists as part of a multidisciplinary community in the iconic Central London building.
“Somerset House Studios is remarkable,” Khan said in a speech at the opening. “The reality is that although London has been a remarkable place for artists, for makers, for entrepreneurs, those who make this city the cultural capital of the world, we know that one of the things that makes artists give up or leave London is how expensive creative workspaces are. It’s a real challenge.”
In 2014, the office of the Mayor of London released the Artists' Workspace Study, an extensive report into artistic spaces and their providers throughout the city, highlighting that limited rent protection meant that “as many as 3,500 artists are likely to lose their places of work in the next five years,” due to rising property prices and lack of opportunity for ownership. Somerset House Studios, however, offers space for £13.73 (about $17.16 USD) per square foot, per annum, a price based on the average cost of studio rentals in London in 2014. This means that an average desk costs approximately £100 (about $125 USD) per month, not including a nominal fee for utilities.
“We’ve got 11 rooms here, and they’re all about creating a more experimental program through just the sheer volume of experimental things happening in one place,” Somerset House Studios director Marie McPartlin tells The Creators Project. “What’s unusual, as well, is that all of these rooms are public, so artists are being pushed further out and being given a [large public] audience in central London. That’s an audience for work that is unfinished, in progress, experimental, or collaborative. That never happens in London. Everything is so homogenized, planned in advance, or with a budget attached to it. That’s not what we’re about.”
Somerset House formerly housed government offices but became a full-fledged cultural center and self-funding charity in 1997. Artists, selected through a nominating process, are starting to move into the spaces at Somerset House Studios, which has the capacity to house 100 in total. New acceptances are based on a panel review.
“People have to make a case for why,” McPartlin explains. “If you’re a visual artist, why do you want to be next to a composer or sharing space with a filmmaker? You have to make a case for that, which can be for any number of reasons. I think that’s what’s kind of unique about it. We’re not looking for those people who want to be on their own. It’s very much about community building.”
During the Somerset House Studios launch, the office of the Mayor of London also announced a new initiative called the Creative Land Trust, which offers potential financial solutions to artists, by helping them purchase affordable properties through strategic funding.
“London is the greatest city in the world,” Khan says. “What makes us a place to be, to want to come to, to have the potential to live and raise a family here, to meet friends and fall in love? It’s the arts, the culture, the artists, the designers. So thank you for all that you do. My mission as the Mayor is to make sure that more of you have your potential fulfilled, and I think that the Creative Land Trust is one way of doing it.”
Somerset House Studios is accepting applications for its second round of artist residencies through December 7. To submit an application and to learn more, click here.