(Photo by Dimitri Djurec)
A small group of people seeking to takeover ‘meanwhile’ spaces, of which there are many in London and give them back to the community. Their idea is to open up the spaces to people local to the area rather than supplanting enclaves of artistic practice into communities with minimal integration. The idea behind having creative spaces that are accessible to all is something that (I believe) is welcome in the arts world as there has been a culture of cerebral exclusivity regarding access for practitioners and enthusiasts to somehow cross over into this hallowed kingdom. The one gatekept by financial interest, recycling of tropes and works that while may be evocative, they lack value. There is no message to communicate, function to fulfil other than a philanthropic bung to satisfy a tax bracket.
The meaning of true art can only be discerned through practice and if there is no access, there is no practice and therefore no meaning. A cautionary yet circular conundrum to confuse most, certainly myself. I feel that in the search for framework of facilitation things are getting murkier if you are committed to process rather than product (you need somewhere to do your thing but you aren’t entirely sure what that thing is until you start doing it). So where does that leave us? Confused (still) yet more likely to not be making rather than making.
Thankfully we are able to explore creativity in new and interesting places that have otherwise been forgotten about for daily use as they await development or gather dust. This is where ‘Make your own shift’ comes in, headed up by Bethany & Monika, who are committed to give people access to ‘meanwhile spaces’. By doing so they are redefining the community centre. The idea behind it all is to design and build agile community spaces that fit into London’s precarious society that is created by high rents and constant redevelopment. As everything is community led it remains inclusive rather than what is more often seen in the guise of some live/work communities and workspaces popping up without integration into their local surrounds.
(Photo by Dimitri Djurec)
Make your own shift’s first premises is at The Castle Climbing Centre near Manor house tube station and on my first visit is tucked away behind the main building. The space is a fairly large warehouse style building with plenty of space and facility for creative pursuits. I thought this was great because (to me) it highlighted how there could be many spaces of this nature dotted around on larger sites waiting to be used. This space is open until June and in part serves as a challenge as to what MYOS can create in the time they are there (approx. four months). They are seeking to engage with members of the community to help form a wider community network that will grow as the project progresses.
There is a trend in London where people are ‘placemaking’ where lots of local shops, bars, cafes and such erupt yet not many of the local residents would see benefit from it. One of the side-effects of this is an increase in rent prices, development and people are pushed out further as it is no longer affordable or accessible. While this is happening there are so many empty spaces, it is frustrating that no one is truly benefitting from the abundance of spaces and the rise of placemaking. A lot of interesting and seemingly artsy places are appearing but not many are able to afford to access the benefits and they do not directly improve the quality of life for those people living nearby. With that in mind their door is open for anyone wishing to engage, create, exhibit works and be part of what is happening.
This is something that was important in the inspiration behind MYOS’s journey to realisation. What struck me on visiting and talking with everyone is that this group is seeking to redefine the community centre. The space was more than just a place to be creative, it was somewhere for people to come and meet each other and I was introduced to the concept of ‘time banking’ where you can share skills, ideas and more purely based on what time both parties have available. This removes a massive barrier to socially focused initiatives: funding. Both for the project and the end user. Something that was also suggested is to have a library of tools and useful items that people can borrow for DIY, again something that appears as a small, simple act actually holds deep significance as a statement toward an intent of unity and inclusion. It’s not that offering an exchange of time is an original idea however the practice of doing so in this manner, with the space, resources and positive intentions, that is what makes the difference.
(Photo by Dimitri Djurec)
Featured image by Dimitri Djurec
Al Ballentyne is head of editorial at Threads Radio and a freelancer working in entertainment, broadcasting and education. He performs regularly a ‘Barry Bungalow’, a surrealist cabaret entertainer & storyteller. He co-runs ‘Canned Aid’ – a social initiative aimed at taking direct action against food poverty. He works as ‘The Guerrilla Mystic’ which is a project aimed at demystifying spiritualist ideas and practice so more people can access and benefit from connecting with the energetic flow of the universe. He hosts ‘Barry Bungalow’s Extreme Fetish Club’ & ‘The Guerrilla Mystic’ shows on Threads. Al works as a guitar-for-hire, general disco menace and moonlights as a lecturer/educational consultant. You can connect with him on Twitter & Instagram: @alballentyne