A new artist studio complex- the Rum Factory – was opened in the former News International site in Wapping last week by Bow Arts Trust.
The Rum Factory studios in The Pennington Street Warehouse are named after the buildings previous use as a rum store, although they were more recently part of the Wapping complex formerly owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News International.
The warehouse refurbishment is part of the London Dock development by property developers, St George. Bow Arts and St George are working in partnership to restore the warehouse, which has been closed to the public for over 200 years. St George bought the site from News International in 2012 for £150m.
The launch featured with talks from leading industry figureheads, among them Sir Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate, who congratulated Bow Arts “on prospering after twenty years and celebrating twenty years by this new development.”
The panel discussed the history of the building, highlighting the significance of reinventing it into a creative space for a community of artists.
The site was a scene of an acrimonious year-long dispute from 1986 to 1987, after News International moved its entire production from Fleet Street to Wapping and effectively ended the dominance of the printing unions, who staged a mass picket of the plant, which led to angry confrontations between pickets and police. The building was also the heart of the phone hacking scandal at the News of the World, which led to the Leveson inquiry.
In an apparent reference to the hacking scandal, Sir Nicholas said of the past residents of the building: “I know that within 24 hours the artists in this building will have banished the ghosts that remain here.”
Baettig said The Rum Factory studios were brought about by “the vision of affordable workspace in the heart of London where artists can thrive and work together and have ideas.”
The space features ninety studios, all of them open plan, with no ceilings or doors, which encourages communication and networking.
The size of the studios ranges from 90 to 400 square foot, with prices starting at 138 pounds a month. Most expensive spaces are rated at 500 pounds. The bigger studios can be shared between a number of artists. Baettig, Bow Arts’ Chief Executive, said: “I am enormously proud of what the organisation has achieved in its first twenty years and how many emerging artists we are now able to support.”
The opening marks the 20th anniversary of the charity, which supports more than 400 artists in East London. In addition to providing affordable studios for artists, Bow Arts runs an education programme and a contemporary art gallery called The Nunnery on Bow Road.
Baettig added: “We were very much community facing and it was that community facing attitude which has helped to mould us and teach us over the years and its probably why we are still not just going but also growing.”
Sir Nicholas said: “The fact is that artists right in the heart of the city make a difference to the city as a whole. And artists, especially young artists, need to be in conversation with each other. Being in this complex and meeting other 40, 50, 60 other artists is a very different experience from finding a small room somewhere way out on the central line.”
Pia Bramley, one of the artists who has newly moved into the space emphasised the difference that having a workspace makes to an artists life: “I always used to work from home but when I did that course [at The Royal Drawing School] we had our own studios and it made me realise how important it was and how much more productive I could be. It makes your work better and your life better because when you’re at home you can do home things.”
Bramley specialises in expressive ink drawings of everyday life of ordinary people. In the past she has worked for London Fashion Week, Anthropologie and The New York Times.
Another artist, Johanna Bolton, said: “I think you get a lot of influence and ideas just by looking around, even if people are doing very different things you still get this energy in the space where people are doing things.”
Bolton, who has a doctorate in molecular biology from Cambridge but recently graduated in Fine Art from the Chelsea College of Art, focussed on the complexity of objects. One of her projects involved photographs and sculptures based on a three-year study of knots formed by hairbands.
To apply for a studio artists can visit http://bowarts.org/studios/apply-studio.
This weekend will see Bow Art’s annual Open Studios weekend on Bow Road, running from June 19 to 20.