Oral History Interiview - Joanna Hughes

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Oral History Interiview - Joanna Hughes

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Audio recording of an oral history interview with Joanna Hughes. She discusses the artists community in Hackney Wick, and being an organiser for the Hackney Wicked festival.

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Sweet Patootee

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RR: Ok this is an oral history interview for the Mapping the Change project with Hackney Museum, my name is Rosy Rickett

JH: It's Joanna Hughes and fifteenth of the first, '69.

RR: and where did you grow up?

A: Cheshire.

R: You're an artist, so when did you start or what was your past to becoming an artist?

A: I didn't really sit very well at school and um painting and drawing were just so natural to me and a massive escape so it was just very natural really that I kind of moved into that, it wasn't a big conscious decision, I don't think I ever thought oh I want to be an artist when I grow up, I just think that while I was busy trying to hide from things I would sit in front of the TV and I would just draw and I just had an ability to draw and copy things quite well and paint, and I had good control with the paint brush even when I was quite young so could paint really well and would just spend hours on my homeworks and not any time on any other homework at all and um I had a really good art teachers and I think, I think, I hear that so often that having a really good teacher makes such a difference and yeah she was around for most of my time while I was there until A-level and um then I kind of started to realise that that was what I wanted to do, took me till about 18 though to realise that I was going to do an art degree, or at least try to. –00:02:09.00--

Q: And so eventually you moved to London but before then you did your degree in Oxford?

A: Yes I was at the Ruskin school and at the end of my first year Stephen Farthing came with Maria Cesca as the head of painting and it was his mission to turn it into an art school – 00: 2.39.00- that was as good as anything in London and we certainly felt the pressures of that whi-while we were there, and I stayed in Oxford for another two years, found some teaching work, and I had a studio flat and oh, it was just the absolute perfect scenario- I turned what should have been my living room into my art studio and just covered it all in plastic and just lived this sort of idyllic situation that you can only do when you're really really young is just get really obsessive- and painted all the time and teach art part time during the day, so I did that for a couple of years and as is sort of quite a natural thing, coming out of art school you sort of gravitate to the nearest big city that um, that has artists and an art scene, so even though coming to a city, coming to a big city like London certainly wasn't a choice, it felt like I had to do it, it took me a good while after arriving in London before I made my peace with it- I arrived in '94 and it wasn't till, I think it was another 8 years, 7 or 8 years later, probably half the time I spent in London that I actually started to enjoy it for what it was, before that it had always been a bit of a struggle- a bit of a love hate relationship. 04:18:00.0

Q: So where did you first live when you came to London?

A: Stoke Newington, I had, I knew absolutely nothing about London and I relied on a friend who was also from the North of England, and um, so having a sort of similar sensibilities about um a community, he suggested Stoke Newington and he did eventually move there as well, so I had a friend already and I lived in Stoke Newington the whole time I was in London. I loved it.

Q: And then you moved to Hackney Wick or you found a studio in Hackney Wick or you found a studio in Hackney Wick?

A: Well I had my first studio in Stoke Newington and I had a studio in Brick Lane before it became ‘alternative fashion east’and um so I enjoyed the hay-days of the sort of um, slightly rough round the edges art scene in Brick Lane, I then moved to an art studio in Shoreditch, now at that point it was about 2000 [new tape]

0:00:00.0...everyone was building and lots of lots of artists lost their studios at that time and I didn't lose my studio, I think it's still a studio where I was and but I needed a larger space and I went looking for something and I didn't have any intention of setting any studios up at all, however, I feeling in a bit of a rut at this time and I think feeling in this rut and the external situation with studios and housing and development and all of that, those two things really sort of pushed me on my way but everything I found was either unsafe or extremely short-term contracts with slightly dodgy landlords- or extremely expensive, I mean broken windows, I mean it was just a real range of what not to have in a studio- 0:01:03.2- so I can't believe I'm going to tell this story but I am, even though it's a bit cheesy, while I was busy looking for a studio I had started to think about the idea or trying to- of looking at this situation from a different perspective and I was, I enjoy sort of walking and everything but I don't really do mountains, I'm not a big hill climber, and I was um with a boyfriend in the South of France in the Pyrenees and we just sort of found ourselves half way up the Pyrenees mountains and so we just started walking and with a little bit of pushing and encouragement from him I got myself to the top and um I was looking at the Brechtorolland [sic], it's called, and I was looking, I sat there top, I was shaking a bit because I'd slipped a bit on scree on the way up- and there was birds- and Brechtorolland [sic] is beautiful, it's like a huge giant boulder has just smashed through the top of the mountain and it's a perfect circle and as these birds flying above me, in a sort of- you know- sort of Hitchcock birds, across me, above me and I was feeling the warm air of Spain, because Spain was the other side obviously, and um, the warm air, Southern warm air from Spain- it was freezing on the other side and very craggy, I thought wow I've just done that, that's fantastic, I didn't expect myself to do that, so why don't I set up some art studios, I don't really expect I could do it but why not sort of thing- 0:02:56:00- and that's literally I just suddenly had an inspirational moment of maybe I can do more than I think I can, and as I say I was very, very much in a rut, I find it difficult to put my work out there and, I'm a bit different now, but you know ten years ago, fifteen years ago, I suspect it was difficult sort of post degree to er, to do that, certainly for myself anyway- so that’s what I did, I came back and I started looking for a building, I took myself all round London on buses, I had the most fantastic time and eventually through contacting all the commercial landlords and looking at lots of areas, I found myself in Hackney Wick, 0:03:50:0-- I found this wonderful building, old Victorian building, part of Clarnico which was bought out by Trebor Bassett which erm they had five sites, and er King's Yard is going to be the visitor's centre in the Olympics, and um 92 Whitepost lane, opposite me, where there's loads of artists, that was three, that was- there's three buildings there and then the building that I’m in now was yet another chocolate factory. [laughs] And I found three floors, 15000 square feet, and I think, I think if I, I think I-- I don't know, I just, I was so young and foolish and naiive and optimistic, I can't even believe now that I did it because the amount of money involved and the stress and the strain it was, it nearly broke me- in fact I think I did have a bit of a break down um after setting it up but um, I don't know a few years after that people kept saying to me 'would you do it again?', and I kept saying, 'no way!' but now I do plan to do it again and I would do it with a much wiser head- 0:05:05:2- and now I've become very, much more business orientated so it's a lot easier for me but at the time I was an artist, I'd never run a business I'd never had to really think er in any particular way about er business plans etc. and dealing with workmen, all of that! But yeah so I set up Mother Studios in 2001.

Q: So you negotiated a lease or you bought it or you...

A: 00:05:0.0--Well the area of Hackney Wick at the time you know it's been a an industrial area, as is Fish Island, but as we know about industry in this country, it's been dieing for a long time- so there were an awful lot of empty units, lots of empty spaces and I think the landlord was just dying to actually get some of it off his hands and I went in and I got a very good deal and I got a lease. I think I bought the lease for a pound and it was a 16 year lease going on till 2017 and he gave me a few months sort of rent free and basically I set up the studios that were self-funded um and I did actually phone up the arts council and try and look into funding and I just got brick walls all the time-00.06:00.0 -- had I looked into it more I would have been able to pursue it and actually found out all the different ways that I could have set up the studios but at that time that was the only way that I knew how and now I am a trustee of the National Federation of Artist Studio Providers, NFASP, and you know I am very pleased that I am in a position now where I can talk to somebody who was me nine years ago and I can give them advice and say do you know what there are lots of different options, you can set it up in lots of different ways and you can look at funding in all these different sort of, all these different possibilities, which is fantastic but at the time I didn't have that- so I was out on my own. And um, and it was the time when they were throwing money, just giving money away at banks and um, I don't have rich parents and I didn't own a flat and I'd never earned a penny over 15 grand a year, and um as an artist that's quite common...and um they just lent me some money and thank god they did because I was able to follow that dream that I had. 0:08:00:0- I thought that, the reason, one of the reasons why I set up the studio, wasn't just to provide myself with a studio but also to provide myself with a bit of an income so I didn't wouldn't have to do so many awful jobs that were going nowhere, um, and not really supportive to my career as an artist, and um that didn't turn out very well that plan because um I spent five years paying the loans off and um- 0:08:33.0- and actually I’ve not done an awful lot of work since and lots of people who I know who run studios say the same thing...

Q: So do you spend a lot of time being a landlord and not so much time being an artist?

A: No I would say I'm more of a producer now, and that isn't my long term plan, I think when I set up the studios I was actually grateful for a break from not making any work for a while um and also it was incredibly hard and like I said earlier it almost broke me so literally, literally just couldn't do any work for a while. But was interesting because as i set up um the first Saturday that I had, six weeks after I sort of got the lease, I'd got the stud walling done on one floor, on the second floor I'd literally just spray painted where I was going to do the walls because the windows were going to dictate where the spaces, you know the size of the spaces and um it was like a jumble sale, it was just incredible. 00:09:00.0--My sense of not being able to find a studio was just borne out by the people who were so desperate like really desperate they were just- I’d be talking to somebody in a space and somebody would be yanking on my sleeve saying 'excuse me excuse me, can I talk to you'- 'hang on, just give me a second I'm just going to finished talking here- 'I really want this space'- you know it was like that, it was quite phenomenal and so I realised then that 'wow I really wasn't the only one in this position', and that desperation gave rise the creativity in Hackney Wick as we see it today and boy has it changed in that time. Um there's been artists in hackney Wick for a long time, obviously Space studios were born there by Bridget Riley and um people like Sarah Lucas and Abigail Lane um were there during the 90s, and um. And, so there were always artists out there but pockets, that's all, and then I sort of, Mother Studios right in the middle of Hackney Wick and because all the other art studios are just right on the edges so I was like as far as I was aware really the only sort of studio group right in the centre, and I got filled up immediately and I've never looked back since really- 0:11:16.9- um, it's it was much darker then, the energy was much darker like quite a few girls coming to look at studios would say to me 'mm, how safe will I be?', and I, and it was quite safe because there's no commercial- there’s no commerciality there- so that didn't have people from outside particularly coming into the area so that made a difference, but the real big difference came when the Olympics was announced because they shut that road that was the road between Hackney and Stratford- and in terms of safeness and the sense of community, weirdly, perversely, the um Olympics being, shutting the road there just suddenly stopped any through traffic, stopped anybody who didn't work or live in the area coming to the area...00:12:26.00- so it made it very safe.

A: It's quite ironic in a way-

Q: Isn't it, isn't it. And I think that area will continue to be ironic for a good few years yet, we'll just have to see what happens there.-- 0:12:43.3- but yeah nothing really happened to us, you know it wasn't like it was dangerous but there just wasn't many people around, it was almost like tumbleweed you know blowing through the streets and um, so it was just very quiet and I think for a lot of people not really knowing the area, not sort of being au fait with it that would be a bit unnerving, especially in London but actually it was quite low crime- but it didn't have any sort of sense of community, the artists that were there used to just go, at the end of the night, you know they'd go home, back to the places where they lived, there was live-work there um anyway but you'd never really get to see these people. And there was the residents and there was a sort of area where for- for elderly um bungalows and things like that just on the edge by Gainsborough School, so I think it was an area of sort of disparate parts really and as the artists have sort of come in and- well no actually it's not really the artists- 0:13:57.4- the Olympics, as the Olympics arrived then the community started to pull together um, sort of haphazardly and without delib--there was no deliberation in it, it was just- happened as a result of we found ourselves at similar meetings and then we'd then make the point of communicating with one another and joining up and um so that we had a say in er trying to have a say in sort of what happens to the area as we sort of move towards the Olympics and then very importantly what will be left afterwards. But yeah the um, it was known as a very cheap area and so lots of people did go out there, I think there were quite a lot of squats and things like that in around 2001, and in 2005 I remember being in the Hackney Wick cafe when it was announced and everyone was cheering-- 0:15:07:9--and I was just sitting there thinking oh gosh what does this mean. And I spent a year- I actually found a map, a really early map on the- because obviously it was part of the LDA at the time before it broke free and became its own company- and on the LDA's website I actually found a map with, and my building had been CPOed, and um I was the only, there was two buildings on the other side of the river, because the river is the boundary-I'm that close. Like Mother Studios looks out right over into the Olympic Park so it's been interesting watching the whole things change- um yes because it used to be Carpenter's Road Art Studios which are ACME’s which are obviously a Car park now or a patch of turf- green grass now- but um, yeah so I was in the cafe and we used to go and have our meetings in this cafe and a guy came up to me, a guy came up to me, a Turkish guy came up to me, one of the owners, and said 'excuse me can I ask, what is it that you do?', and um I said 'well we're artists', and he said 'what sort of artists are you?', and he goes, --00:16:40.0--and I said 'well we're a mix, well this person's a fashion designer and de de de'. And he said 'oh right I'm a, I'm a photographer, can I show you my portfolios?', and I was thinking, I said 'yeah sure', and I was thinking oh gosh what's he, you know, this could be a bit boring, and he bought these portfolios out and they were the most iconic war images that you have seen, he's like a really well known war photographer and he’s a Kurdish refugee- and the other guy- his name is Sedat- and the other guy, was a journalist, a war journalist, and the two of them were friends for a long time, both Kurdish refugees and um I don't know if you know that sort of iconic image of Sadam Hussein with the Kalashnikov sort of the picture's been taken from below and you're sort of looking up at Sadam with this great big gun over his shoulder and I think there's a flag behind- he took that- and um we formed a friendship that night and er I remember, he, that's what Hackney Wick is like, you know it's so, -00:18:00.0- it's a place of many parts, many different parts and some people have been there for so long, and they've just been living there very quietly and they've got such interesting stories, and er, yeah it's an area to be treasured it really is. 0:18:15.0

Q: So you said that the Olympics actually brought the artists' community together with other...

A: Perversely yeah it did. Not immediately, I think everybody was just I mean, as so often happens with artists, um they populise an area the development, the builders and developers catch wind of it, they realise that it's you know become, it's become desira--well as soon as you sort of market flats that have been built there and there's an artists' community there, then people will buy them and they sort of that happens over and over again, it happened in Hoxton and um, I genuinely wonder if the developers really meant to lose all the artists and I'm not sure they did. But I think that their lack of understanding about exactly how tight a budget the artists' operate on, how completely you know sort of close to the poverty line artists are for most of their life, I just think they just didn't know this and they thought, we'll move the artists and the rents probably were more than triple and I genuinely thought, I genuinely think they probably thought, you know that the artist's would move back, well of course they couldn't afford it. And so this is such an important message now with the Olympics, exactly what the artists' needs are and exactly how difficult it is but um yeah so I spent um...quite a lot of time sort of worrying about what would happen, and um artists were starting to move in by the bucket load, because of the development, you know because of the buildings, renovating buildings and all that kind of stuff- and um there just being enough art studios and then three years ago now there was several galleries, artist-run galleries- Decima, Residence, Wallace- Elavator- Elevator's within Mother- 0:20:54.6.-- and um and now there's Shwartz, and three of these galleries had ideas, they already called themselves the Wick Art Galleries- The WAGS! [laughs] and um, and, the, we had an article in Time Out and so Hackney Wick was starting to get itself a reputation and these various different people wanted to do different things during the summer, and so we had a meeting and I and um I suggested that we put them together over one weekend, which is how the festival was born- and obviously doing open studios as well as a gallery- but doing the open studios and I thought, well you know what if three galleries are going to do events we may as well get all the artists to open up and participate, 0:21:42.0, and we had 120 artists that first year and then last year we had 500 artists participate and again we had about the same this year, although we doubled our audience this year from last year, so it really, you can just see in that three years, you know, the massive change and obviously the Olympics has, like you say ironically sort of brought a lot of attention to the area so it's actually giving the artist's a platform for the moment, I'm not sure how long that will last but certainly for the moment.

Q: What other ways have you noticed any change since say 2005, particularly, I mean you mentioned one of the galleries over the canal had been demolished...?

A: Well actually where the Wallace gallery was, that was CPOed, compulsory purchase ordered, and that's gone um and that building is the only building on this side of the river that has had a CPO on it. And um that's how close it is to everybody, just that river really is you know, that boundary, it's er too close for comfort. But um yeah I think that it was really just the whole development boom really pushed the artists into Hackney Wick because Acme and Space both had queues, queues and queues of artists, probably like they had never had since they started in the 70s and um literally it was the only area for them to go really, it was like water, you know it just will find somewhere to go- 0:23:38.6- and that's what happened with the artists, the artists just had no choice, they had to move and fortunately there was the, you know the waning industry in the area of Fish Island and Hackney Wick and the artists moved in- at the time the rents were very cheap, they're now not so cheap because the landlords have cottoned on to the fact that now the desire is such that they, you know there are so many artists that want to, or creatives, that want to live in the area that they can sort of put the rents up but at the time they were desperate to get anybody in which is why I got myself quite a good bargain going there. 0:24:10.00- and so that was really what has formed that creative area and obviously the Olympics kind of came along and made everybody worry, nothing really happened um, I could see that the area was changing but creatively not an awful lot was happening, except that there was more and more artists coming into the area despite the fact that the Olympics was happening, just because there was no where else to go, and then since the festival started that's when the changes have really happened and that's partly because now we're getting so close to 2012 but also it's galvanised the community- 0:24:49.8-- And also out of that Hackney Wicked Festival has become, has taken on a sort of adversarial role, and we have sat down with I think, every different organisation and body involved in the Olympics to try and um speak about the needs of the artists and try and build with them the- how that- how the area will be shaped- and we do have some very sympathetic ears but we also know that when it comes down to it, money could just decide everything and people will have lots of goodwill ideas and then because of the overspending with the Olympics maybe all of those ideas will just go out the window as a lot have already, 00:25:49.0- but nevertheless we are champi--championing the artists as much as we can and I think we do have, we do, now we're speaking for 500 artists, now we have a responsibility for those artists as well to try and do what we can for them, speak about their right and speak about their needs. Because once the artists have gone from zone 2, the centre of London- now wouldn't that be a shame, if there was such a lack of sensitivity to development within the city of London- a massive cultural metropolis- and yet no actual artists working--0:26:38-5--making work in the centre of London, I think that would be a crying shame, and possibly one that can't be rectified or gone back on. Once you’ve lost the artists from the centre, I think it would be very difficult to bring them back in. And it would just be awful to have all these artists' studios just sitting on the outskirts of London- so I feel particularly strongly about this, and I keep banging on about that- you know let's not do what we did in Hoxton, and let's you know, let’s remember that this could happen and that we could lose creative, creativity within the centre of London. 0:27:24.0- And also we're realistic, all the artists are realistic and understand that change happens and things will move on but we're very much of the thought of working together and sort of plotting the future together and we just want to make sure we're at the table and our voice is heard really. 0:27:42.4

Q: What kind of things- you mentioned that things had been planned that then didn't go ahead, that maybe would have been positive but then--

A: Oh well, William Chamberlain who's our company secretary, he's actually sponsorship manager for the Olympics, when he approached us to work with the Hackney Wicked, we were obviously very suspicious of him but he actually said that, he said that he'd gone around a lot of local businesses and he'd spoken to them about all the goodwill-creative-cultural um community things that the um, that the Olympics body had intentions of doing, so a lot of people got involved and sponsored the Olympics based on that. 00:28:00.0- And then um very quickly all of those projects sort of went out of the window- and nobody really knows what they were but um- lots of cultural things, lots of um community based things that would have been a real, it would have been wonderful actually to support the whole area [sirens] as well as renovate the area, it would have been such a good thing. And I really hope that, for example, low-cost housing, that they can make the most of that, not back track on that- um and and so he felt so bad that that had been reneged on, that he wanted to get involved in what he thought was really exciting and he could help us with and um so that we are a cultural thing and we're finding it very difficult to get money out of these people, 0:29:27.8--we've actually been supported in the eleventh hour by design for London which obviously is an offshoot of LDA, which has been fantastic and very welcome but um lots of other bodies, even though they are saying they want sort of a cultural legacy when it actually comes down to it we have not been supported and I find that incredibly surprising but also a little bit worrying that, you know how deep does their, how deep is the intention really if they can't support an arts festival that essentially supports 500 artists. Lots of people have given me- the artists have given me feedback that they've got shows, they've got representation, they've got galleries, Nicholas Serota came and you know, if they can't see the benefit in that, then it is quite worrying. 00:30:25.00

Q: Um so how do you think, I mean how do you envisage Hackney Wick changing by 2012, what do you think it will be, it will look like-

A: I don't think there's going to be an awful lot of changes, I think um, only in art terms I think there'll be more artists if they can possibly fit anymore in, there'll be more artists, I'm trying to sort out various groups at the moment and move some art groups into some spaces that I know, and um, so I'm doing my best to bring more artists into the area and I think because of the economic downturn, that really just, that was a massive change I think in everybody's in the commercial business minds, about what would happen in Hackney Wick and Fish Island. And I think they would have just steam-rollered in as they usually do- 0:31:33-9-- and then suddenly that happened. And artists always benefit from an economic downturn and um so they just had to stop, and they're very nervous, and they you know, they don't want to- the banks aren't lending them money now, they can't just say can you lend us you know 60 million we want to put up this block of flats. The banks just won't do that and so, now they're having to sort of cut back massively what they're doing so I can see, and obviously my landlord is a very big landlord and um I and I have now a small relationship with him and so I get to see it from the other side, and they're very hesitant and they won't be doing much, I think what they're looking at now, is that anything they do now wouldn't be completed for 2012 anyway so now they've got to that point, where they’ve crossed over that threshold so all those plans they have to let go, so now, any buildings that they have, they are trying to gain some, they're trying to sort of let them out, which is why the artists can still kind of come in-- 0:32:51-00-- because they're not going to be raised to the ground, so these spaces will be rented on a short term basis and then post-2012, then I think they'll look a the landscape then and see how the situation of the sort of economy sits and then they'll make the decisions from there. Now that is the, that is the point that it could all go wrong because, um, once the Olympics is over with and once the camera crews have gone then obviously there's no responsibility…to the world stage then, it will literally be the people who are going to be bringing in the money, so but, yeah. I think, the area of Fish Island will have the most, the quickest transformation I think, and then it will work its way over to Hackney Wick. 0:33:47-7-- My, in my yard, for example, there is my lovely building which is Victorian, that won't, I don't think that will be knocked down, but it will be turned into gorgeous flats I'm sure, all the other buildings in the yard are not very good, not very nice, so I think they'll be raised to the ground and sort of like low rise flats will be put up there. So I imagine they'll be a lots of putting up of flats. Um, we hear talk of large companies coming out, we heard about Adidas maybe coming to the area and various um, there was rumours of Tesco town but I think that was just rumours, I don't think that's happening...but it will be, it will be a mix, optimistically speaking I'm hoping that it will feel--0:34:46.6--very much that the artists are still present and they'll be businesses there that aren't too just the boring global brands that are everywhere on every high street, I'm hoping that it'll be a little bit more interesting than that. I think Hackney in particular, Hackney Council do have that vision, or at least certainly some people within Hackney do have that vision that they will try and keep that sense of community and small businesses and local businesses and things like that going on there. 0:35:20.0

Q: So do you envisage being able, so you imagine your building being turned into flats, so you think after 2017 you wouldn't be able to keep it?

A: I don’t think so no, I don't know, it's really difficult, the Landlord came to see me about two years ago now, I didn't know who, you know how high up he was then but he was just somebody who just came to see me from the landlords and said, they had plans because obviously there was still that possibility of all that ‘regen’, quick housing development, 00:35:58.0--before the um the downturn really kicked in so maybe it was a bit longer than two years ago but they wanted to know what my plans were, how long I was going to stay, and I basically just said um, 'Look I've put a lot into this and I would like some return for all my hard work and I won't be volunteering to leave and I'm not saying that I won't sit down and talk to you about options, you know if you want to try and move me somewhere, but I have to let you know it would be difficult to find somewhere that works as well as this does, um because the art scene supports my business here in Hackney Wick’. And um he went away and I didn't hear anything more from him for a long time. 0:36:54:00- but I know it’s just too nice a building, it's one of the nicest in the area, so I think, I think it's going to be, a multi-usage area, I think there's going to be some offices, some practical things um, recycling plant maybe, all sorts of things that I hear rumours of, maybe they'll be some huge global brands, they'll be media companies like new media type stuff, hopefully not too like Soho. Yeah. 0:37:31.1

Q: Um so you’ve never lived in Hackney Wick you've just worked there...

A: Never, no. I've just been there for nine years.

Q: But you've obviously got a lot of kind of attachment to the area.

A: Yeah, yeah, especially, because my job at the Hackney Wicked, I do internal communications, so I basically manage all the artists and sort of sign them all up and sort of get them you know on board for the festival and so now I know artists in pretty much all of the buildings in Hackney Wick and Fish area so I've got some strong sort of ties that way and it's just wonderful,--00:38:27.0-- it's such an interesting area, because most of the time you wouldn't really know that this thriving cultural bed is happening behind the scenes. Because there's just these sort of industrial looking buildings and the only time you'll kind of think to yourself, 'oh hang on are there artists here?' is when you see someone walking past in a pair of really tight jeans and sort of a mad hair cut and then you'll go 'oh hang on a minute he looks a bit creative', or 'she looks a bit creative', and but other than that it's only through the festival that people start to see exactly what goes on—00:39:06.0- which is why it works so well because I think it's a, so wonderfully hidden but I know that the festival has really galvanised the community massively and whereas I think everybody knew somebody in another building in Hackney Wick and Fish Island but I don't think they had quite the understanding of just how many buildings had artists in and now they do, you know now it's all mapped. MUFTA did a survey and they found that um the area has more artists per capita than anywhere else on the planet...and that's a great statistic, it's completely mad, and now everyone just feels quite supported by the community. That there's a lot of people, that's why it's so valuable because--0:40:00.7- being an artist is quite a solitary business and you need your peers, it's not like you go into the office at work and you can speak to the people around about the issues you have with your job or forming friendships at work and sort of you know that sort of ladder of working your way up. You need your peers, you need your peers to support you in what you do so you don't go mad, you've got somebody to talk to, who understands what it is that you're about, but also to learn those very crucial skills to survive being an artist and I think for the festival does that very much so because it shows all those young girly career artists how to put themselves out there and what it means to do that about getting lists together and organising artists, which is never easy, and promoting oneself and all of that and learning those skills, and I think it's learning those skills that actually enable somebody who's very good at art to kind of actually stay at it for the rest of their lives, being creative if they want to, by having that outside framework that can support their practise. 0:41:22.7

A: So did, say in your building are there artists, do the people who rent the spaces, do they stay for a long time?

Q: Yeah, they do quite. It's um, there's about 50 artists and um, I think quite a few of them have, because I, when I set up the studios I was really sort of conscious that I didn't want them to be too prison like because I'd been in so many art studios, and you didn't see anybody and the, the communal space, well the corridors were just so prison like. So I was a bit conscious that I wanted Mother Studios to be a friendly community based- community oriented, when I say community, there was nothing forced at all it was just that I supported, encouraged people to talk to one another. 00:42:15.0--and I would always, whenever I was showing somebody around, whoever was around on the floor I would sort of introduce them to them, and so anybody who moved in so they didn't have to make that first step of asking everybody and then we would have--you know we'd meet, when we still had a pub in Hackney Wick we used to go to the pub and things like that. And now obviously we've got the festival which kind of galvanises sort of people, and there's actually quite, you know I have designers and makers and fine artists at Mother and I believe that as long as you have the intention of being creative and the creativity being at the forefront of your decision making and not commerciality then that is good enough for me, and then within the last few years I had a space that was difficult to turn into studios- so rather than force studios into that somehow I just, we had it as a project space, and eventually that became the Elevator Gallery which is now sort of run on a full time basis and has some fantastic shows, the show that they've got on at the moment, for tomorrow's people which is basically again, that kind of supporting of the early career artist, sort of finding people who have got lots and lots of promise and um celebrating them, um so yeah. 0:43:56.2

Q: Um Rebecca have you got any um
R: No I think maybe just to sort of recap over what you feel about the changes that are taking place.

A: Mmm [pause] yeah I'm wary, I'm very wary of the changes actually because history tells us that British history tells us that, the artists aren't given much of a priority in our culture and [clears throat] and that even though we're sitting down at the table and we've been invited to the table, um people are interested in what we do and um certainly as I said Hackney are particularly interested in supporting the artists um but I know that money cuts over all of that and certainly does in our culture, so all of these you know sort of good will, the thoughts, the plans, that could all go out of the window so, I'm very cautious about that but I think that shouldn't make one defensive and I'll always sort of advocate in a sort of positive, let's sit down, let's you know um communicate and see what we can shape together and like I say I think often that ignorance forms a lot of decisions um and so the more sit-downs that we can have with 'Low Cog' and Thames Gateway and LDA and the plethora of organisations and also developers, like I said to you, I was sitting down with my landlord Pearl and Coutts and speaking to him and advocating for the artists on their behalf to him. 00:45:02.00- The more sort of personal you make it, I think the better chance that you have, I think taking yourself outside and just sort of acting in a defensive way really doesn't work, I think conversation and the spirit of cooperation is the future and I think um that's very much the perspective that I kind of come through. So yeah I'm always hopeful, um but also you know I'm keeping my eyes open and I'll just try and um sort of do what I can to, and get as many people on board to try and sort of create—00:46:40.0- let's you know, what I really want, what I keep saying all the time, let's break the cycle, be the first development of an area, that's, it's never happened before, so let's be the very-very first to create something that's actually, has the artist at the heart of the development of an area, I think planning has taken a bit of a, a sort of a....a bit of a development in the way that they see, sort of er town planning, that developing commercial spaces, and filling retail units have been seen in the past as 'yes that's the way to make an area work', and actually I think they're now starting to reflect on that sort of development, possibly since the '80s and sort of have come out with the sense that actually we might be able to fill any building that we can with residents but the commercial units are always going to be empty and the last to go and that brings the area down if sort of the local young people sort of um throw stones at the shop units that are empty--0:48:07.2-- or squatters can move in, and I think that's been something which they have found um sort of one thing that's difficult to resolve and I think that's where we kind of come in, and I think we present with ideas and reasons to kind of look at it in a different way and there are some really good models just starting to come out and Bow Arts and Acme have both worked with developers, so instead of having commercial units in um in sort of housing developments, they have artists' studios maybe on the ground floor, so the artists kind of come in from outside, so they're bringing themselves in to support the local economy- maybe just the local shop, maybe it's just the local pub but nevertheless they're there in the day when a lot of the residents living are going out to work and so now they're starting to say 'OK this could work', so those are the, that, those are the thing, if we keep sort of reiterating and showing models and making it concrete and showing them something that has happened and has worked in other countries. I know there's stuff in Toronto that's worked--0:49:25-2--and a couple of other places, but obviously you know the support of the government is key and quite often I think that, in, in all the, I would say out of most of the European countries, our, considering how wealthy we are as a country, our government supports artists the least, in Norway they gave artists £14,000 a year to be an artist! And a Dutch group came over to see me a few weeks ago and they had, they had been given- on a very-very sort of long term plan, I think it was a hundred years or something- and area for them all to just live and they didn't have any rent to pay um but what they did have to do is look after the place and basically keep it, follow the, you know support the upkeep of it and our government would never do anything like that because it would always be- well we need some money out of it, we need to, they don't have to pay any business rates over there! 00:50: 30.0- So yeah it is a bit of an uphill struggle so yes it does all worry me but you know, we are moving into a slightly different age you know um and I do think people are sort of, it's very different to the '80s where people just did exactly what they wanted and there was no looking back at their conscious and sort of seeing that actually, that was a really selfish thing to do- I think that people might still do quite selfish things but I think that the consciences are nagging at them a bit more these days—00:51:01.00- and I just think it does give us an opportunity that it could be very different but you know watch this space we'll just see- it could end up being empty and soulless and attracting undesirables to the area because it's kind of empty and a bit va--you know a bit sort of um, has be, you know if artists have moved out really quickly and new buildings go up then obviously that creates a vacuum and obviously if that has happened then what it will attract will be not stuff that will sustain the community in any long-term, and hopefully they've been learning that--0:51:49.7--in the last 20 years, so we'll see.

Q: It's seems like the whole experience has, you know, you sound very confident and you sound like your horrific setting up of the studios gave you, in a way it seems like you've been there at certain pivotal moments and um, yes it's quite um--

A: Oh man, I've been on a journey, you know my journey it sort of reflects the journey of the area- you know, the area, has I haven't really talked about the changes a lot, those changes are quite hard to pin, 00:52:43.00-it was, now the environment feels quite safe and quite creative, even though you can't see an awful lot of it before people would hang out vans on the way past and yell things at you because being a woman in the area, there wasn't too many women and I've really noticed that doesn't exist, and it literally dropped off the second they blocked the road off- that kind of 'waoah' white van mentality, yelling 'rahh', being sort a bit sexist at you. And that really brought, that really made the area feel quite uneasy but it's been quite sad I think the area, it's been quite sad, because obviously it was busy, it used to be busy. 00:53:35.00- It's always had an interesting reputation, apparently the first murder on British Railways, happened on the old railway line-railway line that is now the A13- that was a railway line- and um that happened sort of by Bow or Hackney- sort of on that stretch, and the body was taken off the train and put in the top of the morning pub, which is by, on Cadogan Terrace which is between the A13 and the Victoria Park--0:54:08-00--so that body was sort of put there, so it was always...and I think Charles Booth the sort of, he, when he was documenting, he said of the area that it was full of noxious um smells and, I read somewhere in somebody's blog a couple of years ago- they'd said that they were going to this sort of dark area of Hackney Wick and a lot of the reputation that it has is that it's quite dark and ugly and I think actually when we've had these visitors kind of come, because they're interested in seeing the Olympic site and they'll come to the festival as well, obviously not necessarily in that order- [laughs]- but you know one or two or both of those things will bring them into to the area from the outside and so we have people coming from all over London, instead of from just the Hackney Area. And I think they're surprised, I think they're genuinely surprised, they expect it to be scary, and rough, full of vandals and actually we've got one of the few legal graffiti walls in the whole of London and they're very organised these boys, really organised, and all very upstanding as well, the ones that I've met, and um not at all the kind of reputation that graffiti artists seem to have and actually the reality is quite different, it's actually very supportive and it feels like a really strong community, feels really community and all the wonderful things that made me stay in Stoke Newington for so long, that idea of you can go out there and you can you know, you have friends there, and there's parties-- 0:56:05-0--and you know secret dinner parties, and dining clubs and all sorts of things you know and now they all feel, you know, I'm sure they're just enjoying this moment, not sure, not knowing how long it's going to last but just revelling in the enjoyment of being in this really exciting area, with all this stuff happening, all the creativity happening, with having so many artists, so many sort of peers around you and being able to kind of go out and hang out and really just enjoy the area um and you know straight over the footbridge you've got that wonderful park and you've got the marshes so in a sense you've got everything that you need. 0:57:00.7-- And now there's a couple of little creative businesses, they've set up cafes, you know wonderful lovely little cafes, the sort of cafes that everybody loves, a bit arty and good coffee and nice little sandwich and all that kind of stuff and it's actually a great little area, I'm quite attached to it, even though I don't live in London anymore.

Q: OK I think we've covered everything really unless you had anything burning that you felt you hadn't said.

A: No...









Associated place

Hackney Wick

Object number

2010.133

On display?

No

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