Representatives from 18 Belfast-based grassroots arts organisations – host to approximately 450 artists – will gather at Belfast City Hall today to request emergency intervention from Belfast City Council City Growth and Regeneration Committee members in the face of “rampant redevelopment” that they claim “threaten their spaces and livelihoods”.
Many of these artist-led organisations say they save their private landlords thousands of pounds annually in rates, make their own repairs to buildings often in substandard conditions of inhabitability, and occupying spaces and buildings that could not easily be rented to other organisations without significant financial input from the landlords.
A spokesperson said that whilst many organisations do have good relationships with their landlords, there is no incentive for them to invest in the infrastructure where the studios are only given short term leases and are occupying buildings on a temporary basis.
“The only way to ensure a vibrant arts sector going forward is to give studios and grassroots organisations security and stability by offering them support to buy their own buildings or long leases in publicly owned buildings.
“Most of these artists do their work in their spare time and manage their buildings and output voluntarily on top of job, family and education commitments. Many artists work in low-paid arts and voluntary sector jobs, also in the city and so contribute to the ecology of the arts in the city in multiple ways, that would be impossible to replace easily or quickly, or without a great loss to the cultural caché of Belfast.”
Jayne Cherry, founder and artist member of Pollen Studios and Gallery, said: “Creating a space for public viewing of art, facilitating workshops for direct art experiences and enabling a creative energy to survive in the city centre free of charge has always been a struggle. It is now becoming impossible.
The building we and other creative artists have been paying rent in for 10 years has been sold and will become offices. This has been a self funded organisation that has provided support and opportunities to many student, graduate, post-graduate, local and international artists, other art organisations and the Belfast School of Art.
“We are one of the last two artists’ studios in the city centre. There is no stable, secure and dedicated place for us to provide this service anymore. How is society to access creative enrichment from another office block?
Dorothy Hunter, Flax Arts Studios, one of around 50 artists currently based in the former UTV premises at Havelock House, added: “Artists do not want to be cynically used as pawns of gentrification as we’re pushed further and further from the city – we want to be able to have enough affordable and secure space to work to the best of our ability and make a vibrant creative culture. Sustainability needs to be a priority.
“Our city’s planners are looking to international models to improve other elements of city development, such as Copehagen’s fully pedestrinised streets, Oslo’s carbon neutrality and Glasgow’s appreciation for its built heritage. Our grassroots art infrastructure also contributes to the social, environmental and economic texture of our city. Let’s use it before we lose it.”