A local artist shared with me recently on how he and others whose studios are housed in state owned and run properties have had to continue to pay rent despite the lockdown as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This while businesses operating in state owned properties have been afforded with a 4-month’s rent reprieve. Rent due were finally waived, but only after these artists had kicked a fuss with the relevant authorities. These artists, described as ‘facilities hirers’, were still however, required to continue to pay their monthly ‘service fee’. This fee covers the cost of maintaining operational costs and property upkeep around the studios. All appears more or less resolved; until this episode once again reminded me of the basic facilities (or lack of) within these repurposed old buildings that has been turned into state sanctioned studio complexes.
For one, any professional in the field of visual arts management would understand the requirements for an artists’ studio, or in this case, a studio complex. For those who are unfamiliar, below is a list of basics that could probably do with further consideration.
In-studio washing point
Artists need this not only to clean their paint brushes and themselves. They need this to facilitate various types and phases in artwork production. It also allows artists to expand their scope of work and material experimentation. Silkscreen printing is one simple example. Water to wash out exposed emulsion from silkscreen frames, to clean squeegees, clean the work area on each step of the process and so on. Pottery is another obvious example.
While air-conditioning is nice to have for hot and humid environments, ample ventilation is necessary at all times. Many materials for sculpting and painting contain harmful toxicants and fumes that when used and exposed to over an extended period, will impact the health of the artist. When I was in art school, I had a tutor who told me that he has to call for an ambulance once every few months. He had apparently developed permanent lung damage and breathing issues after spending several years working unsystematically with materials that produced toxic fumes in a badly ventilated studio while in art college.
Artworks and art materials, due to their sizes, weights and crucial handling cannot always be transported via passenger elevators or laboriously carried by stairways. This could cause damage to the materials, finished artworks as well as the passenger lift carriages themselves. Artworks by professional artists are often packed in bulky wood crates to facilitate their safe journey to collectors, galleries, art centres and museums. Any decent studio complex should cater to these logistical needs in order not to induce unwarranted nightmares for all parties involved as the result of accidents in the transport of an artwork.
For studios located in cities where real estate is extremely precious and costly, storage space is indeed a luxury. Unfortunately, the reality remains that not every artwork produced by an artist, not even the best ones, are acquired immediately by collectors or institutions. Often, we hear of artists having to destroy artworks after an exhibition, or work in really cramped conditions amongst an inventory of fast-growing artworks and art materials. Artworks stored in less than ideal environments also tend to suffer unwelcome degradation such as fungi and rust. The worst is when pests begin to invade and destroy.
Utility facilities and support
Support for an artist do not come only in the form of grants, exhibition opportunities or artwork sales. In a studio complex, shared utility services such as high-speed Wi-Fi (hello, we are already in the year 2020); printing, photocopy and meeting rooms are virtually obligatory. So are professional equipment rental. As the demand for digital and high-quality presentation is becoming even clearer today, professional cameras and equipment, editing suites and software are complementing tools that artists cannot do without even if affordability is an issue. The same is perhaps true with 3D printing facilities.
Length of studio residence
When you are a struggling artist working just to earn enough to get by, buying your own apartment, let alone a studio, is out of the question. Yet, to feel safe and grounded when working in a studio, as with a place for living, is necessary. Unlike artist-in-residence programs, where the studio has a definite clear out date, artists working in their home bases requires a fundamental assurance for security and ownership of place. This allows them to stow away such concerns and create with less than necessary distractions.
Artists who choose to locate and operate independently do so out of choice, perhaps preferring the solitude that also comes the acceptance of their own limited operational set-up. Whereas, a facility sanctioned as dedicated artist studio complex should not be unlike the campus of an art college. As an example, in art colleges, equipment use comes with required training, certification and professional guidance. Today, artists are confronted by and grapple with technologies and equipment whose invention continue to surge ahead at unprecedented speed. Artists also undertake constantly stressful juggling between ideation, production, career professionalisation and the continual learning and adaptation of technologies to engage their public and to make a decent living. And when well-intentioned organisations set out to facilitate the well-being of their ‘clients’ (as they say these days), doing it with knowledge, sensitivity and sincerity would be a job well-done.
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