Based on that story a couple of weeks ago on the RSA Arts & Ecology website, I have this feature in the current New Statesman:
Thereâ€™s a hint of tumbleweed blowing down the nationâ€™s high streets. Behind the headline-worthy collapses of Woolworths and MFI are the disappearances of hundreds of smaller shops. By the end of 2009, the analyst Experian predicts, one in six UK shops will have closed down. Not only will the effect on employment be catastrophic, the projected 135,000 vacancies will not be good for the health of town centres â€“ empty shopfronts quickly multiply.
Yet what is grim news for some may prove a bonus for artists.
From the abandoned warehouses of Shoreditch in east London to the empty apartments of Berlin, we know artists gravitate to disused space, and have been successful in transforming it. Can art now drive the regeneration of slack retail space by turning it into a low-cost cultural playground?
In Durham, Carlo Viglianisi and Nick Malyan, an artist and an art fan, both in their early twenties, took over the lease to a disused off-licence in December last year and reopened it as Empty Shop (www.emptyshop.org), a gallery and creative centre where local sixth-form college students can go for media and art classes. â€œThe local response has been fantastic,â€ says Viglianisi.
They are far from alone. Across the country, artists and would-be gallerists have been having the same idea, seemingly quite spontaneously. This January in Brent, a group of artists formed Wasted Spaces; they are holding their first show in a vacant retail space in Wembley this summer. In Halifax, another group has taken on an empty unit at the Piece Hall and opened Temporary Art Space (www.temporaryartspace.co.uk), which will run for six monthsâ€¦
See the rest of the feature here.
Photo by Tony Knox.