This is the story (so far) of ‘Department A’.
Back in 2017, I met an artist friend while I was out on my lunch break. Bridgeton Cross is not the place I’d expect to meet someone I knew and it turned out their new studio was in the area. So after work, I visited the new studio of the Notorious Gasoline Company.
Nice building, nice studio. But wait, mon see this. And Marcus takes me across the hall to another room on the top floor. At this point in time there were only 3 tenants in the building. Marcus, Tom the framer and a Russian fight academy, all the other rooms were empty.
So this was a substantial room, the Upholstery room in its former incarnation as part of Glasgow City College up until the early 2000’s. And by the looks of it enough space to do something exciting in. I was instantly 100% all in, because I’m crazy like that. The quest was on to find a way that this room could become an art studio and what that would look like, who would join me on this concept!
In the years running up to this, I’d met a lot more artists in Glasgow and I had staged a few exhibitions myself and participated in others exhibition projects. The idea of clearing spaces and building spaces was not out of the ordinary. So the idea of building a studio was not of reach, on paper… I’d just never done it before at this scale. And taking space as a collective and one person creating a space to rent to others are quite different things. You have the pressure and responsibility of X number of people being based in your studio. Perhaps the studio is under some kind of manifesto.
A big factor in all this was I had found that when I undertook organising a big exhibition I was left physically spent afterward. The event would last its days or month and then it was over. I wanted some kind of permanence instead of sporadic events that took far too much energy to haul into existence. By having a more permanent base meant I could build something worthwhile, with the time to allow that to happen and grow, and my energy and efforts would build into something more tangible. After all the exhibitions Id also set myself certain deal-breakers in looking at space. And one of the main ones was that space had to be accessible by wheelchair. This building has an outside front door ramp and an internal big glass lift to the top floor. I had done shows where someone asked about the accessibility and I had to tell them they couldn’t come. That was the last time I wanted that to happen. This building ticked all the boxes, and most imporantly had potential.
How to divide a space? I’d come from a room where 6 were sharing. The room was split into areas priced by the area size in relation to the room rent. I wanted to perhaps move away from this idea, whereby space was more shared, which I hoped could allow for more space to communally use.
So with time short I was faced with a choice of sign a lease or forget it. I couldn’t persuade the people I shared with to move so I made a FB post explaining the vision and if anyone was interested to meet me at the studio on an autumnal Thursday evening.
That got shared a LOT! And thankfully 8 folk showed up, liked the plan and I had the team to take the room on. I designed walls to divide the room into sections at different price bands creating a set of self-contained spaces and larger spaces that were to be shared. I had 7 days before September started and everyone was to move in.
In 7 days I had built 5 walls. Everyone moved in and so it began. That was September 2017.
Fast Forward 3yrs and it’s 2020…..
The room has changed somewhat, in fact it constantly changes. And to survive it had to be able to do that. My idea or vision had to be fluid enough to move with changes. It’s taken me 3yrs working on that, as good as I am at this type of thing I was moving into unexplored territory big time. Working with other artists, what I want, what they want, how I work, and how they work. Today the original 9 has become 17 of which only 2 of the original team remain.
It’s mainly painters just now. I took in 5 Greys Graduates who were moving to Glasgow after graduation just over a year ago. There are a few GSA grads. A costume & set designer. A fashion student, I myself as a GSA student. Some with no Degree. I’m not posting direct photographs of the space as that’s people’s personal workspaces and ideas, so the shots are few here. I know it would be cool to include all that yum stuff for the likes, but you are always welcome to actually visit and give it a real-life like.
It would be more traditional to start with a team set. To put X number of unconnected artists together is quite a different thing. And it’s taken some time to shape, it’s one of the fluid trajectories that’s not been without its ups and downs. Currently, it’s on an up.
I can only present the space as it is, what I have planned, and if they like that and I like them, you are in. I didn’t even look at people’s art, I took that if someone is motivated to have a studio then they are motivated in their own art, and that’s all that matters. You should be able to gauge someone’s motivation over a cup of tea. That’s sufficient for me anyways.
What started as a sketch in my notebook (10+ref points), is this evening a bustling art studio. I can hear someone hammering something, I can hear a spray can being shaken. It’s a functional hive of artists. 17 of them. Painting, making things. Making notes. Doing art.
And lots of plants.
I am working on the idea that within this room each artist doesn’t need an individual hammer, we have 1 for the room. (we have a lot more than 1 hammer btw) There is a wall of tools to use. Graduating artists don’t come with all the tools, they haven’t had time yet to put that together. It certainly took me a long time to put my kit together. So my idea was to make the rental of a studio in this room to come with access to the rooms’ facilities. Drills, saws, tools & equipment. And as I add to the room the better the facilities we can have And if you want to know how to use a saw yourself I’ll teach you. Equipment which individually are a lot more difficult to get. And with better access to the tools required an artist can better realize the vision of a project. They can progress better than if they are restricted by not having the tools or the skills to complete something.
Instead of trying to work within a space priced per meter, I’m working on the setup that yes you have a ‘booth’ situation but the greater room space is kept open to collective use. Space for easels. Space for a full-size workbench. Light tables. Computer area with printing and the programs an artist can use/learn to use. Hanging photography wall. That’s what you are renting.
And to achieve all these components the room fundamentally has to be a certain size, and with that space how you lay this all out. I started this one way and for the time it’s bound to this setup, but the beauty is everything is modular, any wall could come down quickly. So this room in its current form has the comfort to grow from where it is quite happily (all going well), or it could radically change and become something else with a different purpose. I like how it is now. And it’s taken 3 yrs to get there. There are a few modifications to some of the guys’ spaces to get done, but the constant building has finally stopped and I feel the studio as a ship is sailing well. It’s all under constant tweekery as there is, usually, always a better layout. I like moving things. But the main components are in place and there is the things that will progress with time & finance.
The entire venture was absolutely unviable. I had no history of running a space. I didn’t have a team, I thought there was demand but that was just my hope. The location was not good, it was hard to get past the east ends reputation for a lot of people and it was a major concern that would be a big enough barrier to stop the whole thing. I know it’s fine, I’ve been working in this area for over 5yrs but a lot of folks write off the east end. The rise of Duke St in the last 2yrs shows how it is changing, the stigma isn’t a problem anymore, to be quite honest it wasn’t really a problem to anyone from outside of Glasgow. Once you realise how close you are to the city it’s like right there. I like the Calton Bridgeton area, there are clearly problems but its changed a lot from when I was around here back in 1998. The building, yes a framer and 1 other artist were here, but those rooms could have turned into any business entirely un-art related. I hoped if I took a room then other artists would follow. We managed to pull that off, I wouldn’t say I was directly responsible for that but I certainly got a word with anyone I saw viewing a room. The bigger plan that can happen is as much as Department A studio room can be an umbrella for the artists here, if the whole building becomes artists you have a much bigger umbrella. And that’s what happened.
The Russian fight school is still here, but the rest is creative in a wide range of practices. I think between the rooms and minds based here we could make anything. That’s pretty cool. So that element is in its infancy, people settling into their spaces and for roots to grow takes a couple of years I think. So it’s over the next 3 years that us as an art studio and the bigger picture arts hub of everyone else now based here has all the possibilities to turn into something uniquely special.