I’m Thinking of Getting a Studio


What is a Studio?
A studio can be defined as a room where an artist works. It can be as big as a warehouse or as small as a kitchen table. When a studio is highly structured it becomes an atelier or workshop; but this can also happen on the screen of a laptop computer, depending on what is being made. When assessing what kind of studio is required you first have to consider the practice or the type of work that might happen there. Big messy sculpture is difficult to successfully produce in a small apartment. Equally, it might seem futile for a net.art artist to rent a warehouse space. Having said that, I know artists who do just this – sometimes there is an inverse size requirement to the size of the work made. The key point in understanding what studio is required is also figuring out what kind of space will be comfortable to work in. This is not always obvious. As your practice develops, your needs will change. Often, however, there is little choice available but it is worth considering some options before deciding what kind of studio to go for. There are exceptions to every rule and so bear with me while I attempt to cover the issues involved.

What Does the Studio Represent for Artists?
Ideally a studio is a place where art is made. Within the complexity of current art processes this can range from the place where the paint hits the canvas, blowtorch melts the metal or darkroom where prints are developed. It can also be the place where only the ideas happen, with the artwork realised elsewhere or fabricated by someone else. It can function as a small office set-up, where the administration and market dealings are confined to, i.e. not brought home. For most though, it is the place where work is produced, or at least somewhere to experiment with ideas and materials.

Very few artists are able to devote their energies full-time to their practice and often hold down a part-time job or two. Even artists who have reasonable sales need to do some part-time work elsewhere if only to provide a regular income, which is pretty impossible to depend on otherwise. As a result many view their studios as a kind of refuge from the outside world, and from distractions from others. The eureka moments can happen anywhere but the production or making tends to require a certain amount of space, both mental and physical. And even in these times of much hyped ‘post-production’ and socially engaged practice, I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of ‘very’ contemporary artists who still feel the need for a studio space. It is a busy world and finding a quiet place to think can be crucial.

What Can a Studio Comprise of?
There are a wide range of sizes and types of studios in operation. Unlike the industrial sector, artists rarely go it alone and rent a small industrial unit to work in. For many artists their income from art is irregular and not sizable enough to allow them to set up on their own. There are a few artists lucky enough to have the land and money to build their own studio but this is rare enough. Most studios are group or collective models where facilities and financial responsibilities can be shared. These often originate with a few friends, possibly after graduation from art college, who are all looking for a space to work in. There are several of these types of studios dotted around Dublin city and many have been quietly functioning away for many decades. With the ever changing property market however, many of these buildings are available to artists at low rents only while the owner/landlord waits for financing, development schemes or planning permission to use the building or site more lucratively. With Ireland being the most expensive property market in Europe however, this has become more rare. For this reason there are some great studio spaces outside of Dublin and several artists who have sold their Dublin homes and moved West have been able to build their own studios, which would be inconceivable in Dublin.

Urban regeneration can also have a significant effect on studios, in terms of both quality and quantity. When, for example, Temple Bar was being redeveloped as a ‘cultural quarter’ in the early 1990’s, some of the existing studios were significantly renovated. However, other spaces were lost and some were nearly lost – artists using the spaces had to fight to retain rights to the building they were working in, as was the case with the studio building on Eustace Street. Tragically or typically, with many regeneration schemes, it is the artists who made a run-down area ‘funky’ and ripe for redevelopment who are often the first ones to be displaced to make way for apartments, restaurants and shops. Nevertheless, apart from that, landlords change significantly during times of regeneration, hopefully for the better. The speculative landowner, who let the place run down, thus making rents affordable to artists, does not generally provide essential basic services in their rental agreements. A property development or property management company, however, should be able to provide all the necessary services, albeit with a considerable increase in costs and red tape.

Publicly Funded Studios
The publicly funded studio complexes receive funding from the Arts Council or local authority, which contributes towards the running costs, thus lowering the rent for the artists. Public funding may have only been provided to cover capital costs however – for example, renovating an existing building for use as a studio. Additional income from public sources means that these types of studios are generally better equipped but not always necessarily cheaper to rent. The more established studios get more funding, thus helping sustain them further. Younger studios, while possibly more flexible to work with, run the risk of a short life span with inadequate, if any, public funding to sustain and encourage growth. The funding therefore determines how the studios operate and to what extent they can support their artists.

Artist-led Studios
Many artists opt for low cost, low red tape situations, as places are limited in the publicly funded or more established studios. Artist-led spaces may be easier to get into but they tend to be dictated by precarious financial circumstances. While this enables you to just move in and get going as quickly as possible, the downside is that you may be surrendering important rights in the process.

With any rental situation it is vital that a lease or rental agreement document exists. Despite the ease of word of mouth or casual arrangements, you need to know that your tenure is secure for a particular period of time and that the landlord is not going to ‘skip’ your studio once there is a better offer or if redevelopment opportunities arise. With most group or communal studios leases are the norm. It is the renewal of the lease that differs between places as some institutions have a limited time period for individual artists. This mainly happens with institutions that receive major Arts Council funding, as certain operational objectives have to be enacted, the main one being a three-year limit on each artist’s studio, so as to allow others the opportunity to avail of the services offered. Again, this is not always the case as funding is different for every space (because they are all quite different) and at present it is not possible to expect compliance when there is not a level playing field. Funding and politics are closely connected in the studios sector as a result.

There are many different models in operation across the country. For the most part they all charge rent and even if they don’t there can be hidden costs, like having to re-locate to a particular place to take up a studio award or residency opportunity. Equally, some private spaces can offer low cost rents but very little long-term security or even basic insurance. A typical scenario is when artists rent a building that is shortly to be redeveloped. The owner is happy to have someone occupy the space for security reasons rather than renting at full commercial value, which would be impossible anyway because of the state of disrepair. This can yield fantastic spaces that can range from fine Georgian houses to modern office spaces stuck in a real estate limbo. Again, the downside is that they are generally very short-term and often very cold in the winter.

Commercial Studios
Some group studios are commercial endeavours and therefore profit making businesses. There have been and continue to be some fairly unscrupulous studio managers/landlords who provide the minimum services and facilities, with no security, insurance or support, for the same going rate as other better managed places. With the booming property market in Ireland it is becoming more difficult to find low cost spaces and as a result there are opportunities for artists to be exploited, especially those who do not have much experience or knowledge of studio practices.

The differences between well run spaces and others comes down to basic issues of security of lease, but also important are working environment concerns like insurance liability and health and safety. Unfortunately, however, the latter two elements are rarely thought of or dealt with in many studios as artists just want to get on with what they do. It is better then to look for a studio set-up that has decent management, at the very least keeping corridors clear, removing rubbish, checking fire extinguishers, providing doors to enclose spaces fully, etc. There are many health and safety regulations ignored in most studio complexes as the funds just do not exist to fit out these places properly. It would be wrong to be alarmist about these places being hazardous in any serious way but with the increasing regulation in this area it is something that needs to be reviewed seriously by the studio community as a whole.

What are the Different Types of Studios?
As I mentioned above, a studio can range from a large warehouse to a small desk. In fact there are some studio complexes like Cell in London that rent desk space rather than an enclosed room. This recent development acknowledges that not all artists need physical space to work in, just somewhere to focus and put the head down.

Communal studios offer many advantages to individual artists. Apart from the shared kitchen or canteen area, equipment and facilities can be bought by the group or simply shared. Examples of this include photographic darkrooms or printing presses. Some studios have developed into or were set up as medium specific spaces, like the Black Church Studios in Temple Bar, which mainly caters to print makers. Similarly, there are other complexes, which have mainly illustrators or animators, others that have metal fabricators and others that only contain painters. When like-minds congregate they obviously can share expertise and contacts also. Networking is too strong a word to use in this instance as it is generally quite casual and social rather than premeditated and aggressive. The beauty of a studio complex is also that you can shut the door and ignore all this if you need to.

Why Might You Want a Studio?
When deciding on getting a studio you need to consider firstly how much time you have to devote to the space or rather how much you need. As a break from the home environment it is sometimes great to remove the clutter of tools and supplies from the spare room or kitchen table. A studio can also be a great central storage area for artworks. Having said that Flax Studios in Belfast was burnt down a few years ago and some artists lost all their work. However, this also happened at MOMART in London, which is a professional authority on the handling of fine arts and antiquities!

Production requirements are different with every artist and sometimes commissions or projects arise that require a bigger space to work in. One temporary solution is facilities like the National Sculpture Factory in Cork, Leitrim Sculpture Centre or the Fire Station Artist’s Studios in Dublin. These facilities offer temporary rental space within a large workshop area which is mainly used by artists working on large public sculpture projects, but also by artists working on individual large-scale projects that cannot fit in their regular studio space. The ongoing rental commitment to a studio complex can become quite a burden if income is not being regularly generated by the art or coming from elsewhere and so it is worth looking into such temporary spaces only if there is a specific project that needs working on.

What Kind of Studio Will Suit Your Practice?
Generally a reasonable sized room is what is on offer in most studios, anywhere from 10 square metres to 50 square metres. As discussed above, certain communal studios have specific facilities. These differ from place to place so some will have great computer equipment, some will have none at all, some will have a darkroom, printmaking equipment, power tools or cutting equipment, ventilation or extraction fans, kilns, etc. It all depends on the material and processes you are using so it is important to check beforehand to see what is available. Obviously there is a greater choice in a larger city but then there is also greater competition in getting a place in any complex.

Some studios also have gallery spaces. This can offer a chance to see and participate in a gallery programme but securing an exhibition space is more difficult and functions under a different range of curatorial parameters. For the most part it is rare that studio artists will automatically get to show in the studio gallery. Typically the gallery is separately managed and funded as is the case with Temple Bar Gallery or spaces in London like Chisenhale or Delfina. These three exhibition spaces started off as studio gallery spaces but over the years developed their programming or expanded their curatorial remit beyond their founders. A recent development in Dublin is the rental gallery with spaces like Monstertruck, La Catedral Back Loft or the Crow Gallery who all charge a rental fee for the use of their exhibition space. While this is the norm in countries like Australia, where the artist gets charged for the use of the gallery for an exhibition, it is not here. Non-private galleries receive public funding that requires them to give the exhibiting artist an honorarium but this is not the case with private spaces. Broadstone XL is a different and more diverse space which is modelled more as a research and development unit. The space hosts exhibitions but the large space is also used for theatrical rehearsals and other mixed uses.

One other type of studio is the residency. These are short-term awards in studio complexes that offer a space to work in a unique location like the Irish Museum of Modern Art, the Tyrone Guthrie Centre or the Fire Station Artist’s Studios. These are competitive or open submission awards, and rental fees are generally well subsidised or even waived in some cases. The main expense can be in re-locating to somewhere else for a short period of time, from a few weeks to a few months, as bills will still have to be paid in your permanent place of residence. There are many residency opportunities outside of Ireland however these require additional travel and subsistence funding as well. Again, there are a few fantastic set ups like IASPIS in Stockholm but it is by invitation only.

When is the Right Time to Get a Studio?
When considering getting a studio you have to have the finances in place to pay the rental on an ongoing basis and have the time to utilise it appropriately. Some artists initially give themselves six months in a studio complex to see if they like it and if it is productive. As long as the studio has 24-hour 7-day access you can fit it in around your daily schedule. If you are a 9 to 5 working artist all the better, but this is rare. Having an upcoming exhibition is obviously a good incentive to get a studio but so is an objective of applying for one. Extracting yourself from the home environment can be the kick you need to formulate a solid body of work for a show or proposal. Again, it does take a certain kind of commitment to develop a routine where you are there, working or thinking, but being productive in some way.

By Alan Phelan
Alan Phelan is an artist from Dublin. He studied Communication Studies at Dublin City University followed by a Masters degree in Imaging Arts (Photography) at Rochester Institute of Technology, New York. He has exhibited widely in Ireland and in the UK, USA, Germany, Denmark and Slovenia. Recent solo exhibitions include The Lab, Dublin and Millennium Court Arts Centre, Portadown (2006). Recent group exhibition include ‘Fresh: reimagining the collection’, LCGA, Limerick and West Cork Arts Centre, Skibbereen; ‘Mother’s Ruin’, Mother’s Tankstation, Dublin; ‘Test Pieces and Blend-in Moments’, SKC Gallery, Belgrade (2006); ‘Strata’, Kells, Ireland and Pontrhydfendigaid, Wales; ‘Felons’, RHA, Dublin (2005); ‘Small: The Object in Film, Video and Slide Installation’, Whitney Museum, New York and ‘No Respect’, Dublin. (2004). He has written several catalogue essays on other artists and has published texts in CIRCA, Contexts and Source. He also had a regular column in the Visual Artists News Sheet and was the curator/editor for Printed Project, issue five, which was launched at the Irish Pavilion for the Venice Biennale (2005). He is represented by Mother’s Tankstation, Dublin.