Vacant Office Space Hosts ‘Pop-up’ Art Galleries
One of the most evident reminders of the UK’s recession experience is that of empty shops and office space.
Frequently seen on the High Street, accompanied by tattered ‘Closing Down’ signs or dark empty rooms, the sight is a continual prompt of the country’s perilous economy and a slur on business confidence.
But happily, there is a quiet revolution going on amongst the creative industries that is helping to transform these blots on the landscape to something inspirational; that could be just what UK cities need to boost morale, lift spirits and plug the vacancy gap of shops and office buildings.
Last weekend, the shoppers and residents of Leeds were treated to a ‘pop up’ art gallery in an empty shop on Bond Street in central Leeds. Local creative types were encouraged to bring their own art and see it displayed in the shop window, and subsequently the space was filled with sketches, paintings, sculptures and photographs from over 80 impromptu exhibitors, from novice amateur to professional.
But this idea is not limited to Leeds, as according to the BBC, the scheme has spread to other parts of the country and is proving to be an effective use for vacant space.
A former solicitor’s office in Newcastle is now used as an art studio, along with an empty shop in Kilburn, North London, which has also been given over as studio space for artists and sculptors. Classes and photo galleries have sprung up in disused office properties, and numerous industrial buildings are being transformed into film sets.
Ken Stratford, Operations Manager at East Street Arts in Leeds says that former shops and offices are ideal as they are both spacious yet cheap.
“The premises are being used for public benefit, we’re brightening up areas that are standing empty and helping to change the image, and we get the resource that we can give artists to use,” he said.
However the idea is not a new one, and even before the recession took hold, empty shops and offices were being transformed for all manners of different uses.
Artist Dan Thompson, who runs the Empty Shops Network, has been filling empty space with creative juices for over 10 years. He believes that shop fronts are more inviting than traditional art galleries and the open space is typically easier to adapt for exhibiting artists.
“People are fed up of empty shops, they are fed up of units that sit there doing nothing,” he says. “They’d rather see them doing something creative and fun rather than just being empty. When we started 10 years ago there were a few people who did it here and there. Now it feels like every town has got something going on.”
He added: “Because it’s low cost and it’s often temporary, it gives you a chance to be bold and try things that you might not try otherwise. It gives you a chance to experiment.”
According to Thompson, aside from helping local artists to display their work in a low-cost and public environment, it also generates interest and “new crowds” for the area and helps to improve the appearance of both the building, and the street it is located on.
According to research by property agency Colliers International, almost one in 10 stores in the UK is vacant. While this is not necessarily good news for the commercial property or retail industry, it appears that there is a silver lining as young and aspiring artists are getting the helping hand they need to succeed.
Have you attended these ‘pop up’ art galleries? Do you have any other ideas for transforming empty space? Share your thoughts using the comment box below.