Bow Arts, established in 1995 as an educational arts charity in East London, is a community of London’s emerging artists. They support the arts through maintaining a network of affordable studios, generating events within the artistic and cultural worlds and connecting artists with employment opportunities. The launch of the new studio complex was held right before their renowned open studio weekend that attracts an average of over 6,000 visitors. It is an event that seeks to give support to artists and make the actual process of art more available to the public. Bow Arts currently supports 400 artists by providing affordable workspace within London’s Artistic Quarter. It believes that arts and creative services are the anchor of supporting community renewal in East London—something gradually disappearing due to the economic redevelopment of the area.
The significance of Bow Arts opening their new studio complex in Wapping, particularly within the Pennington Street Warehouse, lies in the historical significance of the building and its role within the area. Rum Factory studios are located within the last remaining building of the London Docks (a key element of the vast trading system of the British Empire). The former warehouse witnessed key events that accurately represent the changing city of London. Originally a rum factory, part of the warehouse survived the Blitz and witnessed the redevelopment of Wapping into housing schemes in 1977. In the early 80s the London Docks site was redeveloped into an £80 million publishing and printing facility, when many workers were sacked due to the newly bought machinery, causing one of London’s most famous riots. By 1986, News International’s UK office took over the warehouse and remained there up until their recent phone hacking scandal, after which the building was cleared out practically overnight. Presently, the warehouse and its restoration are part of a housing master plan approved in 2012.
Significantly, this huge warehouse is not being developed into a housing or office block project, but is dedicated to arts and culture. These new 90 studios provide a decent amount of working space for numerous artists. They are a saviour to London’s art scene, arriving at a time when artists are constantly being pushed out of the city due to rising rent prices. Artists there expressed excitement about the new space, and sadness when discussing the difficulty of obtaining studio space within London. According to Munira Mirza, Deputy Mayor for Education and Culture for London, this gallery directly connects us to the struggle artists are having with the increase of housing construction. Sir Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate, commented on the role of artists within communities; artists are being brought back into London by spaces like this one, and they need to be in constant conversation for the future of collective arts.
This space allows emerging artists to create within London, a city that to many has always acted as a source of inspiration. Meeting some talented artists such as Robyn Litchfield who specialises in fine art historical representation of her home, New Zealand, was a thrilling experience. We were thrilled to be exposed to such unprecedented artwork. Another artist, Martin Cottis, currently concentrating on wooden sculptures of birds portrayed from authors and travellers in a linear and asymmetric manner, further opened our eyes to the amount of talent that we are left unaware of. Two artists working together, Kevin Broughton and Fiona Birnie, displayed their uncanny images and sculptures. Their use of materials is vast, ranging from socks to wax.
The opening of these studio spaces acts as a force against the economic difficulty of obtaining studio space in London. Perhaps gradually, through organisations like Bow Arts, more artists will choose to stay within the city. Bow Arts is an example of an organisation that has an altruistic purpose of supporting humanistic values; their simple devotion to new emerging artists is evident through several of their studio spaces around London, not just through the Rum Factory Studios. Come along to their open studios weekend on the 19th and 20th of June and witness the artists developing London’s art scene right in front of you.