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artsquatters
Image courtesy of Erich Ferdinand

Because there is always room for creativity

by Adriana Mendez

To most, the vacant shops in high streets mean nothing but decline and failure. To a growing band of artists, they represent a golden opportunity.

No wonder artists are regarded as the “creative” contributors of this generation. Unlike bankers, they have managed to turn the negative effects of the recession into a promising opportunity.

While most of us see the increasing number of shops being closed as a signal of failure and unemployment, artists and curators have been taking the “slack space” and transforming vacant shops into ‘creative squats’, galleries and studios without paying rent for their tenancy.

By taking over the shops, artists have a place to work which they couldn´t afford otherwise, but also they are spreading the idea of a creative reuse of high street failure and bringing life to the desolate high streets.

Until now, ‘art squatters’ as they have become publicly known, have been allowed to occupy recently closed stores to promote art events and local artists. According to the Guardian, the former Woolworths and Carphone Warehouse shops have already been colonised to promote the work of local artists and for performance events,

In a disused greengrocer´s shop, Justin Mitchell and Emily Firmin are planning o open a papier-mache workshop. They will work in front of the shoppers to brighten the streets and the mood of the people in times of recession.  

Why?

According to the Guardian, 72,000 retail outlets could close in the UK during 2009. So why have an empty space where you can have art?

There are several reasons to promote this new trend:  

1. It brings life to what would otherwise have looked as another empty front shop.

2. It gives artists the opportunity to show their works since many of them can´t afford gallery space.

3. By making use of discarded space, art can be appreciated by an entirely new public who would not normally experience works of this kind.

4. The public can discover art outside the limits of a traditional art space as it narrows the traditional barriers between art and the audience.

5. Vacant shops get cleaned up and are no longer seen as abandoned, which helps to deter vandalism and squatting..

Slack space for success

Throughout history, “slack space”, as it is known in the art world, caused by business closures during recessions has provided a platform for successful businesses. The legendary music venue in Camden, the Roundhouse, was born from the hulk of a disused railway shed.

Neals Yard Remedies, the cosmetic company which now operates across the US and Japan and the UK was established by Romy Fraser in a disused warehouse in Covent Garden in 1981.

In Dursley, Gloucestershire, the practice has been going on for a long time. Disused shops have been repainted and turned into a rotating gallery where more than 20 artists sell their paintings, photographs and ceramics.

The practice is now spreading across England and Wales, where the credit crunch is leaving a strong mark in the high streets.

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