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Exploring Wimbledon’s Unique Artistic Community: Q&A with Emma Campbell, Artistic Coordinator

Interview by Bethany Rex

Wimbledon Art Studios is the largest, single site art studio complex in the UK; we caught up with their Artistic Coordinator, Emma Campbell.

To start off, could you tell us a little bit about Wimbledon Art Studios? How did it all begin?
Wimbledon Art Studios was established in 1993 within a working paper warehouse. An agreement between the owner of the paper business (a former artist himself) and an artist friend, agreed to allow the friend free use of a space for a year if he could find 6 other artists who wished to rent space alongside him. Over 40 artists applied for the six spaces! Thus the studios opened with just 6 artists renting spaces alongside the paper business. Now, the original warehouse consists of over 100 studio spaces with another 60 in a purpose built art complex that opened on the same site in 2007. Wimbledon Art Studios now currently houses over 200 artists and by the end of the year will have increased again as another section of the original warehouse is converted into studio space. It is in actual fact the largest single site art studio complex in Britain and as far as we currently know, in the world!

With the less than favourable climate in the art world at the moment, the expansion of Wimbledon Art Studios is impressive. How is this helping to foster a thriving economy for artists and makers?
Art Studios have traditionally been established in rundown buildings awaiting either demolition or redevelopment. Landlords have exploited this temporary opportunity to offer artists a work space for a few months or in luckier cases, a year or so. The property market is slowly making a recovery and as a result we are receiving lots of enquiries from artists who are losing their current rented studio space. Wimbledon Art Studios offers a purpose built art studio complex that provides them with a stable, secure environment and the appropriate amenities to work in without the fear of disruption to their livelihood. Although we are in a financial recession and experiencing huge funding cuts in the arts sector it doesn’t stop people being creative or from people appreciating art! In some cases because of job losses people have re evaluated their life and chosen to take the opportunity to pursue their dreams. Subsequently we have had an even greater demand for studio space than ever before and the expansion of our site is a natural progression of accommodating that demand. Our twice yearly open studios art shows provide an opportunity for all our artists to sell their work without having to pay the higher costs of participating in exhibitions, which can exclude many emerging artists. Hopefully if we can continue to support the amazing talent that there is in this country by providing them with space to be creative and opportunities to exhibit and sell their work then we can continue to have a thriving arts community despite government decisions.

We’re all too familiar with the type of artwork that hangs in the majority of living rooms in the UK, how do you think artists can encourage buyers to spend a little bit more to get something unique and original?
The decreasing size of actual living space in the average home these days means that we are ever more restricted on what we can hang or display on our walls. There is no ‘one size fits all’ anymore in the world of reproduced commercial art and this is where artists really have the advantage over the mass produced high street printed canvases or framed poster prints. An artist can create for you something that is not only a unique and original piece of work but can tailor it to fit that unusually odd shaped & sized wall space (like the eaves of a loft conversion). They can put in tones and colours that suit your tastes rather than your tastes being dictated by the current fashion or home decorating programme. They can create something for you that you will love rather than are just ‘OK’ with. Lets face it once we are home we are surrounded by walls and subsequently spend an awful lot of time looking at them, so you might as well spend it looking at something that makes you feel pleasure rather than spending years thinking ‘‘you know what that has never looked right!’ The value from that, I would say, far exceeds any initial extra financial expense incurred!

You’ve got the Open Studio arts shows coming up in May – have you thought about extending this idea to an exhibitions programme?
I would actually say that the Open Studios Art Shows already provides a similar experience to an exhibition programme perhaps with the exception of the length of time that the work is on display for. The great thing about Open Studios is that visitors get to actually meet and chat with the artists and can ask them questions about their reasons and motivation for the work they produce. There is a level of engagement and experience of the work that you do not have when you either visit a gallery or go to an exhibition. Our Open Studios Art Show occurs twice a year in May & November and have become a well loved and well attended event in the yearly art calendar (approx 5000 visitors per show). Visitors love the fact that they can get a first look at an artists new portfolio of work before it goes to be exhibited at the well known major art fairs. For the artists, it allows them to meet and develop relationships with their clients, which in some cases can last for years.

What’s coming up at Wimbledon Arts Studios? What can visitors expect?
Well, the development and conversion of adjacent warehouse space to accommodate a further 50 studios is incredibly exciting and although it won’t be ready for the Summer Open Studios Art Show in May, we hope it will be for the Winter show in November. Visitors can then expect to see even more innovative and fabulous work from the country’s creative talent. For the upcoming Summer Open Studios Art Show (12 – 15 May) visitors can expect to see behind the doors of approximately 130 artists representing all creative disciplines from painting, photography, ceramics, textiles, jewellery and sculpture and buy directly from them. In addition there will be a café, entertainment for children on the Sunday, free parking and disabled access. Perhaps even more importantly in light of the current financial situation we are all experiencing, it is free entry so you can come along as many times as you like!

What are your aims for Wimbledon Arts Studios for the future?
Wimbledon Art Studios tries to be the best in what it offers. It is incredibly important to us that artists who give so much energy & commitment have outstanding facilities & support within a highly creative & friendly environment. Our desire is to help every artist & maker, at our studio achieve their goals, whether that is being a full time professional artist or providing a creative outlet outside of a day job. Our aim is to keep providing this support and growing with the creative community. With size, comes greater impact for our artists. The media, galleries and the public become more aware of us and that means more exposure and success for our artists.

Why not visit Wimbledon Art Studios for yourself? Their Summer Open Studios run from 12 May – 15 May. For more information please visit www.wimbledonartstudios.co.uk

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