ANNE: It’s primarily a workspace, of course, but a key part of the studios is the social / meeting space. What prompted you to include that and how do you see it functioning in future — for meetings and co-working between studioholders alone, or might you think about events too?
Albion Row Studios: Our aim is to primarily give people space to do their work, to develop their practice, and to socialise with other members to converge a diversity of perspectives and ideas across artistic fields. Having a shared space within the studio is essential to building a strong community. It is also needed in practical terms — somewhere to make coffee and eat your lunch!
As a group we are interested in the way we can create ‘a venue’, to engage with the public and provide an opportunity to discuss complex and challenging themes.
We have just hosted our first opening event and have begun to discuss future events and use of the communal space. There is definitely a wish to engage the public, through events and possibly exhibitions, but also the need to respect studio members and recognise that this is their workspace. We don’t want to interrupt that.
ANNE: When you were planning the studios, were there particular exemplars around the North East or further afield that you looked to as a model for the sort of structure – physical and organisational – you’d like to adopt?
Albion Row Studios: All of us were members of different art organisations in the past. The initial modelling was inspired by the first NewBridge Project and The Northern Charter [a studios and project space which existed until 2021 at Commercial Union House in Newcastle city centre] and our experiences of being members of those projects. We believe firmly in collaboration and value co-operative governing principles of shared responsibility, transparency and care.
There is a longstanding tradition of self-organisation in Newcastle and we were inspired and also supported by these organisations as we first got started. We tried to gather as much information as possible and spoke with Rebecca Huggan at The NewBridge Project and Sam at The Lubber Fiend and looked at the organisational framework of The Northern Charter. We also spoke with Serf in Leeds and received very valuable advice on how to constitute ourselves. We are immensely grateful for everyone’s generosity of time and knowledge.
In more practical terms we also were so grateful to receive advice from architects Nicola Hem and Ian Mellish as well as Joseph Sallis who oversaw the studio build with our members.
We are still learning as things go, we haven’t even been open a year yet, so meeting with studio members and hearing from them about how they would like things to operate feels important. We are very open to change and experimenting with organisational structures, but return to those core collective principles.
ANNE: What are your hopes for the future? What would you like to see the studios become?
Albion Row Studios: We hope to remain consistent with the ethos of artist-led spaces, operating within an appropriate scale. In terms of experimenting with what this venue can be, we would like to follow an organic process. It would be interesting to look for affinity between practices of the members and to consider how we build the studios together.
At the moment we believe that offering workspaces and immediate community is the most radical and necessary thing we can do now to face an uncertain future. We are committed to providing comfortable and affordable studio spaces with longevity. We value the connected nature of the artist network in Newcastle and want to find ways to bolster this.
ANNE: It’s impressive that you’re meeting that uncertain future with so bold and principled a vision, and is exciting to have a new artist-led studios space in the region. Thank you for talking with us, and good luck with the next year as you live with and consolidate your new space.