Eryka Isaak, Childers Street studio. Photo: Hugo Glendinning.

Double agents & Acme Studios October 2012

The collaborative project between Acme Studios and Double agents began as a series of conversations between Graham Ellard and Acme’s Chief Executive, Jonathan Harvey, about current and emergent practice in relation to the artist’s studio. This led to a successful application to undertake a pioneering, government-funded, Knowledge Transfer Partnership. The project was initiated in July 2010, and is now approaching its completion in January 2013.

The KTP is examining the role, form, function and future of the artist’s studio in a context of changing art practices and economic conditions. It brings together the work of Acme Studios with that of Central Saint Martins and Double agents. The research is being undertaken by Dr Arantxa Echarte, an artist and academic, who was appointed in July 2010 as Artists’ Studios Research and Development Associate. Employed by CSM Arantxa is seconded full time to Acme.

In pursuing the project Arantxa has conducted a series of research activities including reviewing Acme’s charitable purposes, mission and operations; detailed desk-based research into the profile of current artist tenants; visiting a range of studio providers throughout the UK, and has carried out an extensive literature review. Contextual research has identified a range of ‘critical factors’ that characterise the studio’s role and function, and this fed into the selection of a representative range of artist tenants for formal recorded interviews, covering Acme’s London buildings, both converted and new-build. The selection was based on objective factors such as an artist’s age, size of studio and distance from home, and more practice-related factors including the nature of the work and the materials, processes and technologies employed.

Thirty-one interviews have been conducted. Undertaken as ‘oral history’ interviews they focus not only on the role and function of the studio for each artist, but importantly capture more general contextual information associated with each artist’s life and the development of their practice, and the parallel history of the use of studio space.
Alongside the interviews a series of specially commissioned photographs by Hugo Glendinning portray the artists and their studios; views and details of the studios as specific types of spaces and of the artists in action.

In parallel with the interviews and photographic essay photographer Moz Bulbeck was commissioned to document a series of 11 near-identical studios which form part of a development of 30 newly-converted spaces at Acme’s Childers Street building in Deptford, SE8. Recorded in October last year the initial images are of the empty studios taken from fixed viewpoints. The resulting images provide a unique and objective record of how artists, representing a wide range of practices, respond differently in their use of these spaces.

The recorded interviews, the photographic essay and the studio documentation not only provide critical research material for the project but, importantly, also constitute an important permanent resource for future study.

Developing a partnership with Acme Studios.

The project has also formed the basis for a number of contributions to the College curriculum and the experience of the students. A series of seminars run by Graham Ellard and Arantxa Echarte with BA Fine Art students have provided an overview of the project, the activities of Acme Studios and the affordable studio provision sector in general. These have prompted and facilitated discussions, eliciting and cross-examining the students’ perceived priorities in terms of studio needs and studio provision. The seminars proved very valuable in drawing the project’s initial findings or research questions into the curriculum and, in return, the project has gained from the students’ responses. Sessions have followed with MA Fine Art students, articulating and examining their expectations and priorities regarding their perceived studio needs on graduation.

More recently we collaborated with Oscar Brito and Greg Ross, tutors on the BA Architecture: Spaces and Objects course on a project with their final year students. For this project BA and MA Fine Art students acted as ‘clients’ in a hypothetical commission to design a new studio space. The project involved architecture students visiting artists’ studios in Childers Street (a converted ex-industrial building) and Leven Road (a new purpose-built studio block). The artists taking part; Tete de Alencar, Jack Duplock, Eleanor Moreton and Christy Symington, then visited Central Saint Martins to participate in a follow-up workshop crit.

Future developments

Both Central Saint Martins and Acme intend that this creative dialogue between the two organisations will continue and will lead to future partnerships. For the School of Art the project represents an invaluable opportunity to build relationships with the worlds of professional practice into which its students move on graduation, and that they themselves can begin to influence.

For Acme, sustaining affordable, high-quality and appropriate studio provision in London in what is likely to become an increasingly challenging economic environment for artists and arts organisations alike, will leave little margin for error. Acme’s future (and current) programmes and developments will benefit enormously from research to provide a better and more in-depth understanding of their beneficiaries’ needs. The project with Central Saint Martins therefore is particularly important for Acme at a time when a number of new capital projects are in development, in addition to their permanent new-build studios opening this year – 49 studios at Matchmakers Wharf, Homerton, E9 and 27 studios at Warton House on Stratford High Street, E15.

Currently Acme is working with architecture practice HAT Projects and High House Production Park Limited on the design development of 40 affordable artists’ studios, the next phase of the High House Production Park development in Purfleet, Essex. The £2m project will create over 40 affordable artists’ studios and work-live units, including project spaces for large-scale making and public showing of work. The insights emerging from the collaboration with Central Saint Martins are proving invaluable in helping to achieve a detailed client brief for this pioneering new project in the Thames Gateway, as the development of a standalone studio building.

In addition, Acme’s partnership project with developer Spiritbond in Stockwell Green, The Glass Yard, will provide 30 new build studios. The fact that these form part of a student accommodation development for UAL creates a significant opportunity to explore and pursue a range of collaborative programmes. The KTP project has already identified the important role played by a specific type of space for recent graduates; one that reconciles the desire for autonomy, community, a professional environment and affordability. As a result, and in addition to the KTP’s broad aims, Acme and CSM are now working together towards the creation of specifically-designed ‘transitional studios’ for recent graduates as part of this new studio development. The scheme is informed by our workshops with current Fine Art students and Acme’s own Graduate Awards. Recent graduates of CSM will be invited to apply and around eight will be selected to join the programme which will offer studio space within a partially open-plan model, at half-rent, supported and animated by a parallel programme of studio visits, artists’ talks, round table discussions and other forms of input from CSM.

The culmination of the project coincides with Acme’s 40th Anniversary. Numerous events are planned including an exhibition in the Whitechapel Gallery drawn from the Acme archive, and a new film commissioned from William Raban. A publication collating and discussing the research undertaken by the project with CSM will also be published, and a symposium is planned.

For more information about Acme, and their current and future activities, visit:

Acme Studios

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