18th August 2020

Tannery Arts - building a sustainable and inclusive infrastructure for artists of all identities

A case study from a recipient of the Creative Workspace Resilience Fund.

Tannery Arts is a studio provider with a commitment to sustainable affordability. As a small charity, they work to support a dynamic community of artists at all stages of their careers across their three London sites.

Through their partnership with the Drawing Room, Tannery Arts hosts a specialist international exhibition programme of cutting-edge drawing practice as well as the Outset Study Library, a unique resource of books on curation and drawing available to their artists and the wider public.

Sustainable affordability has always been a cornerstone for Tannery, as Director Andrew Bick explains, “Tannery Arts has a business model where it fixes rents for as long as possible, and with our shorter-term buildings, we front-load the recovery of build costs. This means that we do not apply an automatic rental increase through an annual uplift” says Andrew. “This is unusual for the sector, but our artists recognise the value of rent stability and we intend, as far as possible, to make this model sustainable.”

In order to continue on this trajectory, Tannery is currently planning for a 25-year lease on a new building from 2022, “management of this process is foremost in our efforts to design and deliver high quality & sustainable studios in a Central London location for artists.”

However, once Tannery started experiencing the effects of COVID-19 their work to secure a new, long-term and affordable space for their artists began to feel compromised, “it became apparent that exhibitions were being cancelled, freelance work was drying up and the eco-system of artists employing other artists was under threat.”

Despite the uncertainty, they decided to offer two months of 50% rent discount to support their creative community whilst they began negotiations with their Landlords. Still, the pressure for the small management team heightened as they felt increasingly unable to offer the support needed to artists who were facing dire choices about their work, their futures and their livelihoods.

“This is not simply a case of aspirational artists living beyond their means with unrealistic dreams. Established, recognized and awarded artists are being placed in a position where the structural demand on their resources is bigger than any personal reserves they might have. Even those working on a very modest and realistic scale are losing the financial independence they have carefully nurtured through freelance work” says Andrew.

Amidst the increased uncertainty and heightening pressure, Tannery Arts applied for and received a grant from the Creative Workspace Resilience Fund. “Effectively the funding plugged a growing financial gap and given us a bridge to our future plans, which were always solid as long as we were not under too much duress prior to accessing our new building in 2022.” As well as this, Andrew says, “we have offered up to three more months at 50% discounted rent to all of our artists who need this help. The funds have relieved a huge number of issues for individual artists”.

“I've been a studio holder with Tannery Arts for over four years,” says artist and Fiona Grady. “In addition to providing me an affordable space to work; it's allowed me to create a strong network of artists, friends and collaborators which have really enriched my life. I am a full-time freelance artist; I create public facing installations using lighting gels to make stained glass effects on windows, for organisations including University of Brighton, Broadgate London, ITV and Watts Gallery Artists' Village. During the outbreak of COVID all of my commission opportunities were put on hold and the galleries were closed, with many of the staff furloughed it meant that my anticipated income was suspended, and I was unable to continue developing projects with galleries.”

“As I've recently become full-time self-employed, I was only able to gain a small amount of money from the government that wasn't enough to even cover one month’s rent and bills for my London flat.” Fiona continues, “Therefore, the studio rent discount was very much appreciated as it relieved some of the financial pressure and allowed me to focus on making art and cultivating sales.”

“My studio is integral to my art practice as it is a space where I can develop new ideas, make work and store my equipment. It's also a hub that helps to support my practice through interaction with fellow artists, arts professionals and potential clients. The funding will help me to sustain my studio for the next few months.”

Victor Seaward, artist and Tannery Arts tenant, shares a similar experience, “all the freelance work and opportunities I rely upon vanished.”

“The funding Tannery Arts received from the Mayor of London was directly passed on to us in the form of studio rent discounts during the most difficult months of the lockdown. This came as a great relief and has enabled me to keep producing work despite the financial challenges the pandemic has raised” says Victor.

For some artists, the fallout from the pandemic will have long lasting impacts, as Artist and Tannery tenant Jamie George explains, “although I am now earning money again, the long-term implication for freelance work as an arts’ professional in London has changed significantly, and it would appear indefinitely.”

However, Tannery hopes that the support received will see them into their new space, in which they will be better positioned to offer secure and affordable studios to support London’s creative practitioners, “Thanks to the Mayor of London’s Creative Workspace Resilience Funding the approach we have taken to supporting our artists has been underpinned for the longer term because we have still been able to conserve enough of our financial reserves. We are currently working hard on plans for our new 25-year lease site, from 2022 and on other potential sites that will help expand our provision and income.”

For the Tannery Arts team, the pandemic has brought to light the need to address the issues faced by the capital, “in response to a crisis that has also accidentally created cleaner air in the capital, we think integrating social housing, proper cycle networks, public parks, local community & education with delightful and challenging aesthetic experiences is what the future has to be about.”

“What we have realised as a team, is that building a sustainable and inclusive infrastructure for artists of all identities and at all career stages is a key contribution to community in London.”