In the past few years, Croydon has had changing fortunes: businesses such as the new Westfield shopping centre have arrived, while other large employers such as Nestlé have left. Even so, according to the accountancy group UHY Hacker Young, Croydon has, ‘the UK’s fastest-growing economy, attracting growing numbers of technology companies.’ As well as economic improvements, the town has also received a boost to its arts scene thanks to the efforts of people like Kevin Zuchowski-Morrison, a friendly guy with faith in Croydon’s future who has introduced two projects to promote artistic endeavour and make Croydon a nicer place to live.
Zuchowski-Morrison has a degree in economics but found his heart – and his living – as an art broker/dealer and now masterminds two key projects in the area: RISE gallery, located on St. George’s Walk, and the Art Quarter that is spread over St. Georges Walk, Park Street and Katherine Street.
RISE was born from the ashes of the 2011 riots, which rocked parts of London after the killing of Mark Duggar by police in Tottenham. ‘The name is symbolic of the rebirth Croydon saw after those events and I wanted to open a gallery that celebrated Croydon and its art,’ says Zuchowski-Morrison. ‘I want to see my hometown flourish and be celebrated. Community is high on our agenda.’ As proof, Zuchowski-Morrison turns to the pictures hanging in RISE’s colourful space dominated by works by both local and non-local emerging and established artists (including a piece by famed graffiti artist, Banksy).
Zuchowski-Morrison feels that that this is a more inclusive way of operating. ‘Displaying the works of aspiring artists next to well-established ones gives them the opportunity to be out there and to shine and makes their art appealing to a larger number of diverse buyers.
‘I think it’s important when you’re in a position of responsibility to better your community in any way you can, I’m a strong believer in that,’ he says. In this respect, RISE differs from many galleries in that his vision comes ahead of commercial and financial motives. ‘We are continuously looking at new ways to engage our community with art,’ he says. This includes giving lectures and workshops at The Croydon School of Art, which counts fashion designer John Rocha as one of its alumni, and hanging paintings on the walls of Croydon Hospital in order to add life to the hospital. He’s onto something; a study conducted in 2006 by a Department of Health Working Group on Art and Health proved that arts, ‘have a clear contribution to make and offer major opportunities in the delivery of better health, wellbeing and improved experience for patients, users and staff alike.’ As a result, Zuchowski-Morrison selects optimistic and bright paintings, to make sure that the art is having a positive influence on its viewers.
This brings us to Zuchowski-Morrison’s charitable endeavours. He set up ArtHalo, a charity funded by RISE that works directly with vulnerable adults from the street homeless to people with learning difficulties. To make sure they are targeting and helping everyone, he employs a dedicated Community Relationship Manager to engage with a broader spectrum of people who live around their area. Not only that, but they hold exhibitions with the works produced through ArtHalo.
His other ‘baby’ has had a more noticeable effect on Croydon’s town centre. The Art Quarter was inspired by a street in Melbourne, Australia, where the local authority invited artists to draw on the lanes and walls to attract visitors. His plan to introduce the same scheme to Croydon wasn’t all plain sailing, and the project received opposition from the local council. Undeterred, Zuchowski-Morrison did his research and gathered stats to convince the council that this idea could benefit the whole town. He finally managed to get the council’s approval, but not any form of financial support.
This is where he artistic community came to his aid, with artists volunteering and offering contributions, such as the French Artist Oliver Roubieu. ‘I don’t know how they heard about us, but they’ve made a difference,’ he says.
The impact of the Arts Quarter has been huge. ‘We witnessed a 400% increase in foot traffic in the area and a 75% increase in unit occupancy.’ Impressive. Zuchowski-Morrison has even more plans for the Arts Quarter; vintage fairs, food markets and rotating art displays. Reflecting on the success of the Art Quarter, Zuchowski-Morrison says, ‘Gosh we see the benefit daily with those who we interact with in our community. Since we’ve started the Arts Quarter, Croydon is really buzzing and things are really changing here. The benefits have been so much more than we ever expected or planned for.’
Locals agree, ‘I really like how the Art Quarter made the atmosphere livelier than ever here, it really attracted visitors to come and enjoy Croydon,’ says resident, Claire Morrison, 30. ‘It’s also a great hangout place to chill with friends and take pictures on weekends.’ Hi praise, and worthy testimony, to the man and the art.