Historically, art lovers might not have considered Deptford as a top destination for a cultural day out. However, with recent redevelopments and engagement from the community, the borough is being seen in a different light, not least because of the Deptford X festival, now in its 18th year.
The festival celebrates a mix of emerging local talents, and already globally known artists. The popularity of the festival has resulted in the opening of Deptford X gallery this September. Liz May, gallery manager of Art in Perpetuity (A.P.T.) on Creekside comments: “Because of grants from Lewisham, Arts Council England, and funded spaces from Galliard Homes, we were able to expand our offer to develop a year-round programme of visual art and education projects in Deptford.” Now the Creekside area has become an artists’ haven, with galleries cropping up one after another
“A.P.T works with the local community and local organisations to ensure that Deptford is a vibrant and exciting destination,” May explains. According to her, Deptford’s location has proved to be extremely beneficial as “it attracts a wide audience and our visitor numbers are strong. Our proximity to the DLR, Southeastern Railways and London Overground enables visitors to comeback as often as they want.”
One interesting aspect of Deptford’s growing love affair with art is that gallery owners are not seeing each other as competitors, but as collaborators with only one mission in mind – to turn the borough into a new artistic centre. Julia Alvarez, the owner of Bearspace, came up with the idea to set up South London art map, which is designed to encourage visitors and locals to discover the creative side of Deptford. “We also operate tours frequently from our gallery and around the other galleries, just to make sure that we are engaging with people as well,” says Sophie Nibbs, the gallery assistant at Bearspace.
The most significant difference between areas in the East End and Deptford is the affordable rent. Landlords are screwing up the prices of properties and this has become more pressing on the recent graduates’ pockets. Property owners are becoming more interested to sell their spaces to make way for more profitable places such as cafes and clubs, squeezing the artists out of the area and causing them to relocate, which Deptford has been welcoming them with arms wide open.
Art graduates are looking at Deptford as a terrific space to showcase their work. Kasper Carter, who received a bachelors in Fine Arts from Goldsmiths, University of London this year says: “Exhibiting work locally means you can find exciting spaces that challenge the way art is traditionally viewed and experienced. Lots of spaces around Deptford are run by recent graduates and friends of friends, which gives you a higher degree of control over your work and the institutes and morals it gets associated with.”
Smaller galleries also bring some sense of security with them, causing artists not to feel exploited. Kasper argues: “Larger institutions, companies, and medias often seem to capitalise on aspects of the art world with little thought of the wider picture. People coming through art school are more aware of these things nowadays and generally try to be more careful about who and what their work is associated with.”
Emily Kelly, a graduate from Wimbledon College of Art, who has her work studio set up in the area, agrees: “With the danger of generalising, central and east London can be super commercial. You would definitely need initial representation to be approached.”
Next time you’re craving some art, Deptford might be offering something exactly for your taste.