In 2003, I graduated from the Kent Institute of Art and Design (KIAD). This coincided with a period of change across art colleges within the UK. Facilities that were perceived to proportionally take up a lot of space and resource to support different forms of creative practice were being dismantled, in favour of increasing the capacity to receive a higher number of students. At the time, KIAD’s version of this strategy included the dismantling of their bronze casting foundry and casting facility.
I wanted to take a break from education and stay in the area. I had no idea how ‘to be an artist’ beyond art college, but I recognised that if I wanted to continue my practice, which at the time included throwing molten lead in tanks of water, I would indeed need a suitable studio to do this in.
I started a conversation with artist Stephen Melton who had been running the casting studios and bronze foundry within KIAD. The college had recently made his teaching post redundant and was also in the process of renegotiating their business relationship with him. I asked whether he would be interested in relocating his practice outside of the college environment and whether he would be also interested in setting up studios with me. He was interested.
The next couple of years we looked at models of studio provision across the country and considered the relationships between landlords, regeneration strategies, studio provision and artists. We decided very early on, that these neither suited our strategic aims or benefitted artists long term – so instead decided to buy our own light industrial unit and have complete autonomy over our studio property. After a few mortgage applications, business plans and other related activities of which I had no experience in, we finally moved into St Lawrence Industrial Estate, in Ramsgate, and began renovating an industrial printers workshop with our friends and family.
As artists, we not only wanted to continue our own creative practice but to help others in any way we could, from fabrication expertise through to reasonable autonomous space provision. As a recent graduate, I also wanted to specifically help others like myself, who were making that transition from college into the ‘real world’. Therefore, in 2005 we began to offer small, light industrial art studios to creative practitioners at an early stage in their career. In 2007 we were able to move the studios into The Studio Block – a separate unit on the industrial estate.
Over the last decade our practice has grown, and so have our networks. In 2014, as we became increasingly busier, we recognised that we were responding to demand, rather than being strategic. We decided to take a step back to take some time to reflect on what exactly we were doing, why we were doing it, and how. From this period of reflection we have recognised that our original intentions are still important to us – to continue our personal creative practices, and to help others through artwork realisation, space provision, education and research.
However, it is now also extremely important to us to do this within a framework of practice that is as environmentally, fiscally and socially sustainable as possible. Furthermore, so that we don’t forget where we came from, and those that helped us on the way, we now formally offer The SPACER Studio Prize. An annual award, that provides a recent graduate with a subsidised studio space, with the hope it helps at this important stage of their career.