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17.12.2019

Icon member Tiago Oliveira: Finding a workshop space in London

When Icon member conservator-restorer Tiago Oliveira in 2015 decided to start his own conservation business, the biggest challenge was finding a workshop space in London. By identifying his conservation practice as a creative industry, Tiago was able to secure a studio appropriate to the unique requirements of object conservation at a reasonable rent. Tiago shares his story below: 

For a conservator-restorer, London is an ideal location to establish a business with its established art market, world-renowned museums and exhibitions, collectors and enthusiasts and collections in need of conservation care and attention. However, the rental costs of London’s commercial spaces are often unviable and the premises themselves rarely small enough for an emerging professional looking to establish their practice in a metropolitan city. My first workshop was consequently in my flat, in a spare bedroom in the attic. The top-floor location, lack of proper fume extraction and the width of the doors all limited the size and type of objects he could work on, affected my ability to meet my clients’ needs.

So began my quest for a new workspace! Soon enough, I discovered that there were many artists’ studios in London, located in old post office buildings, warehouses, properties awaiting planning permission, purpose-built buildings and in areas with established arts communities. The spaces were appealing as they were run by charities that offered the studios at an affordable rent within a like-minded community. However, these artists’ studios were fully occupied, and in some cases, even double-booked. Furthermore, the charitable organisations running the studios only funded fine art artists and craft makers. While objects and works of art form the basis of conservation and restoration practice, the charities did not consider conservators as artists or craft makers, thus disqualifying me from applying for the studio spaces.    

My search eventually led me to Second Floor Studios and Arts (SFSA), an arts organisation providing affordable studio space for visual and fine artists' and craft and designer makers. In 2016, SFSA had signed a 250-year leasehold agreement in order to offer affordable purpose-built studio workspaces at Anthology Deptford Foundry. The project was part of a wider initiative to designate Deptford as a Creative Enterprise Zone and formed a cornerstone of Greater London Authority’s application for this status. Consequently, out of the 85 studios at SFSA’s Deptford site, 13 were offered to the creative industries and at a price below commercial rent. SFSA’s leasehold means that the studios are not vulnerable to land and property price increases or pressure from commercial and residential development, as is common for the sector.

Because SFSA is not constituted as a charity, the organisation is able to work with visual arts organisations with a greater degree of freedom and flexibility than some others. SFSA have housed conservators in their Woolwich studios and have always considered conservation an integral part of the wider art ecosystem. I was thus eligible to apply for their new subsidised spaces in Deptford by making the case for conservation as a creative industry. At SFSA’s Deptford site, I have finally been able to not only establish the workshop I needed but also have confidence that the space is secured for my practice for the long run.

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Image: Creative Commons

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