Second Floor Studios & Arts (SFSA) provides high-quality affordable studios and facilities for visual and fine artists, crafts makers and designers, an increasingly scarce resource in London. Matthew Wood and Nichole Herbert Wood, who run the organisation, are also avid advocates for the provision of affordable studio spaces in London, taking part in many focus and steering groups including GLA’s Artist Workspace Taskforce.
In addition to leasing workspace, SFSA operates as a membership organisation providing commercial opportunities for its members to help them sell their art, organising monthly industry-led talks on relevant topics; and holds social events for artists to expand their networks. It also runs a public programme for people from the local community where they can learn about different art forms and develop new creative skills.
SFSA has been based in Greenwich since 1997. In 2009 it moved to the Mellish Industrial Estate in the borough where it acted as intermediary between the site’s freehold owner and individual studio tenants. Although the site became the UK’s largest (and affordable) single studio space site for artists and makers, it did not offer a sustainable operational model for the organisation itself. Despite consistent revenue growth, changes in the arrangements made with the landlord meant that SFSA could not be confident in its future in the long-term.
Having recently left Greenwich after seven years, it is now in a transitionary phase, developing a new long leasehold site in an Anthology housing development in neighbouring Lewisham, the Deptford Foundry, where it hopes to relocate in the beginning of 2018. The new site is critical to SFSA’s establishment of a sustainable, autonomous business model, and requires funding in order to acquire a long lease on the site, and fit it out. This process will take place over the next 12-18 months and in the interim working capital is also required so that the project can be managed and fundraising can take place.
SFSA approached the Arts Impact Fund for an unsecured loan of £280,000 towards both the fit-out costs and working capital, with the balance of funding being raised largely from an art-auction fundraising campaign, a mortgage and other social lenders. Although operating on a lean business model, SFSA has generated substantial market demand and the 68 studios that will be created at the Foundry are oversubscribed, with agreements with the future tenants already in place.
From the perspective of social impact, having a long-term lease means that SFSA can provide much needed security for artists, who are often driven out of the inner city as the spaces they occupy get redeveloped or their short-term leases need to be renewed, which typically results in unaffordable rent increases. The accelerating pace at which this happens makes maintaining a vital arts infrastructure even more precarious. A sobering estimate from a recent survey by GLA in 2014 suggests over 30% of London’s studio spaces will disappear within 5 years, causing a supply crisis in a market with growing demand.
Of at least equal importance to the fund team were the members’ and public programmes which mark SFSA out as significantly more than just a studio provider, planning to provide instead a true artistic and community hub. The Arts Impact Fund saw this as an opportunity for the organisation to re-evaluate the way it engages with the local communities and continue its commitment to an inclusive practice, using its new premises to articulate the specific social outcomes it aims to achieve for both artists and community members. In particular, the Arts Impact Fund is keen for SFSA to continue its engagement with the National Citizen Service programme, which gives young people aged 15-17 the chance to visit artists in their workspaces and learn more about the arts, craft and design sectors and the creative opportunities that are available to them. It will track the progress made in this respect through quarterly reports on agreed KPIs around both social and artistic impact.
In its support for the project, the Arts Impact Fund was driven by the multifaceted role SFSA plays for its communities as well as understanding the depth and complexity of the issues around affordable studio space provision, which has a great impact on the vitality of the arts ecology and is directly implicated in delivering London’s vibrant artistic output. We look forward towards seeing SFSA flourish at its new site and using its social investment from the Arts Impact Fund to maximise its potential for bringing positive social change.
Photo: Warren King Photography