Space race gets urgent in Cork: Artists having difficult time finding affordable studios

The economic upsurge isn’t good news for every one. Artists on Leeside are finding it increasingly difficult to find affordable studios, writes Colette Sheridan

Space race gets urgent in Cork: Artists having difficult time finding affordable studios

The economic upsurge isn’t good news for every one. Artists on Leeside are finding it increasingly difficult to find affordable studios, writes Colette Sheridan

WHILE there is talk of an oncoming recession, the resurgence in the economy over the last few years has not been good for artists working in Cork. Artists find it more feasible to secure affordable studio space during a recession, but when the economy is on the up, they get squeezed out.

Add this to well-publicised accommodation issues that can be hugely problematic for a sector where regular incomes can be a rarity, and the life of an artist is looking increasingly unfeasible.

Joseph Heffernan, who works as an artist from Sample Studios in Churchfield, says: “It seems extremely cynical to think that when the economy was in bits, artists were invited into the old FÁS building on Sullivan’s Quay [the original location of Sample Studios] to bring in some sort of revenue through rent and to essentially act as caretakers by not leaving the building completely dormant for years. Then, as soon as the economy picked up, everybody had to leave.”

Heffernan, who also works in the kitchen of the Market Lane restaurant in the city, doesn’t think he’ll ever be able to make a living solely from his art. But he stresses the importance of having a communal space in which to make art.

“Sample Studios is vital for the arts in Cork. Artists’ studios are really about providing more than just physical space to work in, because artists need to be around a community of some sort in order to thrive. The rent at Sample Studios is not a problem for me as I am working full time outside of the studio.”

Kim Ling Morris is the artistic director of Sample Studios which opened in 2011. Now located away from the city, Morris says that while the former city centre studios housed 85 artists, there are just thirty-four artists in the current premises, the former FÁS training centre in Churchfield.

“A lot of the artists have had to go back to working from home or find other spaces. The move split up the community we had. We also lost our gallery space.”

Morris says that if Sample Studios has to move again, she and her colleagues would like security of tenure. Among the suitable premises could be the derelict former crafts centre at Shandon (which used to be the Butter Exchange). “It’s heartbreaking to walk past that beautiful building that’s slowly falling apart.”

Cork City Council arts officer, Jean Brennan, says that Sample Studios and Camden Palace (the former artists’ space on Camden Quay, have met with the director of corporate affairs and the tourism unit of Cork City Council around Shandon Craft Centre.

“They have been informed that the council is preparing an expression of interest document for it. Both organisations will be able to submit any expressions of interest.”

Director of Cork Printmakers, Miguel Amado, originally from Portugal, observes that Cork, in comparison with other cities of the same scale, doesn’t have enough artists’ spaces for the number of artists that are based in the city and county, as well as for the number of art students who graduate in Cork and other nearby cities.

He also bemoans the non-existence of a council gallery or a continental -style non-collecting institution that would facilitate the emergence of artists by showing their work.

“The city and county council should make a joint effort to set up a public gallery or facilitate the occupation of vacant buildings by collectives of artists,” he says.

Cliff Dolliver of Outlaw Studios
Cliff Dolliver of Outlaw Studios

Studio director at the Backwater Artists’ Studios on Wandesford Quay, Elaine Coakley, says there is an urgent need for more studio space in Cork at subsidised rent. She would also like to see more gallery space in the city centre. She cites Wasps Artists’ Studios in Scotland, the UK’s largest non-profit studio provider for artists in Scotland, as something worth looking at.

“Over the years, they have bought up a number of buildings. There’s a similar model in London called Acme.”

Cliff Dolliver runs Outlaw Studios in the Marina Commercial Park. What started off as a space for his company, Dowtcha Puppets, in 2003, slowly expanded, sublet from a builder who eventually moved out, giving Dolliver and the other artists more studio space. “I really feel for young artists coming through at the moment. If I was arriving in the city again, I think I would be very challenged trying to find somewhere to work, “ says the Australian. He agrees that it would be desirable for dockland developers to allocate a certain amount of space in their new buildings for artists.

“Obviously, you couldn’t have people welding or hammering because of the noise. But you could certainly have people working on paper in studios and photographers also. Galleries would be fantastic in the new developments. The dockland developments are incredibly valuable properties. But if you lose your culture, you lose your soul.”

Artist and long-time critic of how the arts are managed in Cork, John Adams, says that nothing will ever be right until the council has the right attitude to the arts. “They treat artists like we’re not important, that we can be moved around all the time,” says Adams.

Adams says that in an ideal world, he would like to see “politicians taking some pride in artists and promoting them. Why is there no-one in Cork that shows the work of Cork artists apart from a couple of small galleries? The council should have a large building showing off Cork artists. There is so much talent here.”

He adds: “I’m not saying artists deserve or should get anything from the council. I just think it’s a shame our politicians are so uncultured that they don’t understand or have any interest in artists and facilitating them. There are so many empty buildings around. Who wants to go to Churchfield? It’s out in the middle of nowhere. If you look at Outlaw Studios, it’s a good example of how artists can set up and run a place themselves without any interference from the council.”

Elaine Coakley of Backwater Artists.
Elaine Coakley of Backwater Artists.

Estate agent, Andy Moore, says that from his first floor office window on Paul Street, he can see a lot of empty or partially occupied buildings around Paul Street and Castle Street. Yet, “there’s loads of artists out there who haven’t a hope of getting a place (to work in).”

He would like to see developers consider facilitating artists. “I think the developers should be encouraged and motivated by the planners. If they’re encouraged, I think they would come on board. Where developers can soften how they’re perceived is through being more favourable towards the arts.

“I don’t think developers are necessarily against the arts. It’s just that it’s not in their thought process when they’re at the front line of capitalism,” says Moore. “But it all comes back to the mindset of the city fathers and city mothers. If the direction comes from City Hall and from the politicians, it will happen. We live in a city that’s full of spaces and we have great artists. Why can’t the two be joined up?”

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