Have a heart: how East London galleries and art promoters cope with the property boom

Saatchi Gallery KIngs Rd Chelsea 17 aug 2011 © David.altheer[at ]gmail.com

Melina Payne Melina Payne, right, gets the inside story on the struggle of those trying to make a not-for-profit operation work for artist and art-lover alike


THE HOUSING and rental boom that has roared through London has hit nowhere harder than East London, where long-resident people and young would-be locals have fought a losing struggle with housing prices.

Nowhere in the capital have the rises been more startling than in Hackney, which has as many newly super-expensive postcodes within its boundaries as the upper-class royal borough Kensington and Chelsea.

So, in the face of such radical upscaling, how do not-for-profit galleries and artist-led initiatives survive?

As I walk the streets of Hackney I am surrounded by art: on a Sunday morning in Brick Lane Market, painted on alleyway walls, in galleries and at pop-up exhibitions.

How is it then that something so firmly embedded is becoming harder to showcase… are galleries feeling the strain?

Corrina Eastwood is co-director of Sweet ’Art, which has formed a growing network of artists whose work the organisation helps to showcase on line. She admitted she is feeling the financial strain of working in East London.

She told me: “It is becoming increasingly difficult to be inclusive of upcoming artists on low budgets and maintain the high standard of our shows.”

Art exhibition-goers @ Flowers East gallery, Shoreditch, Lon (painted by Lydia Bauman lydiabauman.com)
Art exhibition-goers at a launch in Shoreditch (painted by Hackney artist Lydia Bauman)

Despite the rising cost of hiring spaces, artists’ ability to invest in the promotion of their work was not increasing, she said. So Sweet ’Art had introduced a three-tier system, charging artists £25 to £70, to make the organisation’s service more accessible to artists. But it was still difficult to keep prices low for artists.

Hiring a venue could cost £3,000 to £7,000 for a weekend or five-day hire.

Eastwood added: “Through our hard work, however, we manage to get sponsorship and discounts, which help to cover the costs.”

Carlos de Lins, director of the Espacio Gallery, faces a similar problem. He said: “We are squeezed from all sides — between the landlord, the government and suppliers.”

Next year the rent was to rise, by up to 50% and the business rate was going up in April 2016 by 70% to 80%. The gallery will “have to pass all these increases on to our membership fees as well as our hiring fees. That’s madness”.

Yet, in the face of this madness, not-for-profits are determined to continue supporting the work of artists.

Montse Gallego, director of Hundred Years Gallery, emphasised to me that his gallery was not founded to serve “the bourgeois”. Instead, “our gallery’s aim from the very beginning was to promote emerging artists and give the multicultural working class of Hackney access to art experiences”.

The battle may be uphill for the not-for-profits in art field but it goes on, property crisis or not.

* The writer is an intern at Sweet ’Art. 

* Main picture: an exhibition at Chelsea’s Saatchi Gallery, the opposite end of town in more ways than geographically: when a work is chosen for showing there, the artist sometimes need never worry again about the rent. All pictures on this website © DavidAltheer [at] gmail.com, unless otherwise marked, and all for sale for reproduction. Most photographs are available in bigger formats

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