Monday, 2 March 2009

Financial Meltdown and the end of the world - Is it all bad?

I wrote the below a few weeks ago before deciding that perhaps with the news of various small makers having the rug pulled from them by banks I was being bizarrely naive and so didn't post it.


However the DIY squat shop movement seems to be gathering speed, helped this time round by local authorities who, not wanting empty shops on their High Streets are encouraging artists and makers to take over the premises.

Now a network of temporary spaces has been launched to help publicise opportunities and encourage others to utilise this opportunity. Newspapers, radio and TV have been championing this movement as an antidote to empty shops and the clone town feel of many High Streets

Shops that have popped up or are just in the planning stages include:

Not on the list? If you know any empty shop or scheme we haven't listed, please get in touch with the Revolutionary Arts Group who are co-ordinating the network (on a voluntary basis).

(delayed post below!)
The news about the British economy is not good. Unemployment is shooting up, shops are closing and it seems that recession is here for a bit.


It is probably not the best time to seem optimistic then and I may be being bizarrely naive...

The first thing to remember is that just as the sun will rise tomorrow - the economic sun will come up again, perhaps in a year or two but it will come up and when it does designers and artists will begin to thrive again as people will start to spend money.

(Limboarts - Margate)

The second thing is that historically great cultural originality has come during recession. Take for instance the Punk movement, the music seems to have come out of recession but also the associated industries of fashion and writing were able to thrive in a poor economic climate.

There are opportunities created by high street chain stores having difficulties.

For the last two decades to rent a prime shop in a major high street such as London or Manchester or Brighton has been almost impossible for a independent designer unless backed by either daddy or the industry, which doesn't necessarily mean that the best talent gets through. In the 70's and 80's independent talent had an outlet in places such as Kensington Market in London or Afflecks Palace in Manchester, out of these alternative venues developed original and independent designers such as Red or Dead, Sign of the Times, Boy, UK Today, Spirit, Pure Sex, Strip, Sweet Charity, Alphabet, Exotique, Outlaw, Rock Lobster, Review, Red, Wendy's, Flying down to Rio, Planet Alice, LA 1, American Retro etc etc etc

Every high street in the country now has at least one large well positioned shop standing empty (Woolworths) if just a few of these became designer markets , then raw talent can be incubated ready to hit the big time when the recovery starts and people want to start spending money.

With the collapse in the price of commercial property I see opportunities for small independent makers and designers to break the stranglehold of the chainstores on the highstreet and reinvigorate 'clonetowns'.

Likewise graduates are not being recruited by advertising firms or the city and won't be able to settle for well paid corporate life after college. More graduates may well decide to work for themselves doing work they are passionate about but isn't immediately well paid. This talent hitting streets over the next few years will need places to show their work and to work. This could give the makers and artists working today some competition but competition should improve the quality and originality, and create a vibe that will bennefit the whole independent design sector.

In praise of the enterprise allowance.
It has been said before that the 'enterprise allowance scheme' of the eighties - which paid a small wage for 6 months or a year to unemployed people wanting to set up their own business - really to get them off the unemployment figures - helped the boom in creativity during Thatchers recession. It became a sort of gap year for creative people. Makers could make without worrying too much about sales, artists could paint and shops had a safety net to survive the setting up period. Musicians on the enterprise allowance,could play for a year learning their trade before making it big. It would be great if this scheme was reintroduced.

Now is the time for artists and makers to be entrepreneurial, open the galleries the shops and studios, to take risks when the opportunities are there. It would help if the Arts Councils and Local Councils would help - subsidising shop leases perhaps, even reintroducing the enterprise allowance. But if they don't makers and artists such do something anyway, this could be our big chance to buy the big studio or shop in the best bit of the high street before the bland corporate chains decide they want to expand again.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a great idea, it's a bit like when they get people to live in disused buildings for nominal rent, to prevent vandalism and squatting. Great news that councils are getting creative too!