In Cork and Dublin, the improving economy can be bad news for artists with spaces in the city, writes Colette Sheridan

WITHOUT the presence of artists working in cities, there is nothing but commerce and consumerism with nothing for the soul to feed on. So says Bertrand Perennes, the artistic director of the former Camden Palace Hotel community arts centre on Camden Quay in Cork which is being taken over by new owners for development.

From Cork to New York, and Berlin to Dublin, it’s a similar story. Artists who found it easy to get affordable or even free space during a recession begin to get squeezed out when the economy is on the up. It’s simple economics.

Perennes, who is currently looking at three alternative potential premises outside the city centre, believes artists working in urban spaces give a sense of community to people. “They’re good for business and for tourism. There is a lot done for business people through tax breaks. I would love to see as much done in the line of culture.”

Perennes, originally from Paris, says France understands the importance of artistic culture “and the professionalism of culture which creates employment”.

He says that his arts group has not been able to find a suitable alternative in the city centre to their recently vacated building. “The problem is that people think they’re going to make millions because of the reprieve in the property market.”

Bertrand Perennes of the former Camden Palace Hotel arts centre
Bertrand Perennes of the former Camden Palace Hotel arts centre

TAKE A SAMPLE

Aideen Quirke, the artistic director of Sample Studios, housed in the former Revenue Commissioners’ building on Sullivan’s Quay, is also looking for alternative premises as an office block and hotel are planned for the site. Eighty-two artists currently use the building, as well as the Indie Cork film festival organisers.

“It’s really difficult to find a new home,” says Quirke, who praises building owner BAM for how they’ve worked with the artists’ group throughout their tenancy. “We’ve been so lucky to have had this huge space in the city centre. The only place I’ve identified that would be able to house all of us is in the Marina area. It’s outside the city and it’s not really suitable as we’re talking about excessive rates for work spaces that are not ventilated or heated. But I am hoping to move our gallery [Gallery Tactic] to another city centre location that will be a hub where we will get footfall.”

At least some of the creative energy that exists along that stretch of the River Lee will continue when the CIT Crawford College of Art moves into the distinctive white building just across the footbridge on Grand Parade.

Quirke also points to the model adopted by Creative Limerick, where they work with the city council to be offered disused spaces for short-term use. Space London, she says, is an artist-led organisation that works with business and corporations, to be offered disused spaces in degenerated areas, bringing vibrancy.

That UK group has had mixed results. At least 35% of artists’ studio buildings in London are said to be under threat over the next 10 years. These spaces are can be profitably developed for residential use. They might once have provided space for creative activities.

Dublin City Council’s arts officer, Ray Yeates, estimates that the amount of studio space available in the city has fallen by 24% in recent years. The recent upsurge in the property market has led to the closure of a number of art studios last year. They include Broadstone Studios which housed 34 high-profile visual artists on Harcourt Terrace.

Dublin City Council attempts to provide studios. It runs the Vacant Spaces Scheme which matches artists and arts organisations with properties available for short-term lettings. But it’s not enough. About 350 artists and organisations are on the Vacant Spaces Scheme’s waiting list.

In Berlin, the creative re-use of buildings gathered steam since the fall of the Wall, attracting artists and musicians in the 1990s and the noughties. But for the past 10 years, foreign capital has been flowing into the city. The privatisation of publicly owned assets has changed the terrain of the city that was once so appealing and affordable to artists.

AVAILABLE SPACE

Back in Cork, the city’s arts officer, Jean Brennan, says there are a number of possibly suitable sites within the city that are vacant or underutilised. “Cork City Council would urge the [arts] sector to examine its needs and to model a number of options for themselves in terms of what they require. Cork City Council will work closely with the sector to see how these needs can be addressed through private, community interest or not-for-profit business models.”

Cork City
Cork City

Brennan says that the council has met with both Camden Palace and Sample Studios over the past few months to assist them. She also points to the Creative Cork Scheme which applies discretionary rates relief to premises which are occupied by tenants involved in cultural activity at the current vacant property reduction rate of 50%.

Auctioneer, Frank Ryan of DTZ Sherry Fitzgerald in Cork, says there are still plenty of vacant premises in the city. “Just walk along the streets. There are plenty of landlords who’d be willing to help artists.”

Ryan points out that the most important thing artists can do is confirm they have insurance. “If a landlord is giving them a premises for nothing or for nominal rent, the last thing he wants to find is problems with what you might call a charity letting.”

He also says that landlords in these scenarios do not want to be exposed to full rates. “If City Hall comes on record for what one might call a short-term nominal rent letting, then they’ll disregard it from a rates point of view. Artists must have an emphatic agreement that if the landlord wants possession of the building, they’ll be gone [in an agreed time].”


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