Running on a donation basis, DIG gives cash-strapped creatives the opportunity to create and display their work at a realistically affordable price
London has always been a powerhouse for creativity. It once was a honeypot for young artists and creatives, seeking to make it somewhere in the rich cultural tapestry of the city. The culture of London was shaped by the initiative of free thinkers and creatives, yet with the predicament that the city is now in, how can young creatives survive with rental prices rising by 80 per cent since 1998 and the saturation of wages? This isn't just a London-centric problem either; New York has long been expensive and Berlin is going through the same throngs. Cities that are of cultural and creative prominence all seem to be facing the same issues – namely, the same lack of funding. The big question is where are the creatives to go?
In late 2013, Adrian Aldihni, Roland Antony Fischer-Vousden and Joshua Field set out to reclaim a disused building in London with the intention of utilising the space as non-profit arts centre. The three set up the artist collective DIG, which would provide a platform for a broad spectrum of artistic discipline, from artists to musicians and writers. The trio grew to a ten-strong collective of multi-disciplined artists, creating something which Fischer-Vousden feels “was lacking in London – from content and atmosphere to price and format”, he wanted to be part of something active and open, “where I could contribute and learn from other people”.
After squatting in a property in Lewisham, the group managed to come to an agreement with the landlord, becoming meantime residents. This allowed them to transform and restore the derelict warehouse into a multi-storey artist space. Creating a sort of ‘artists’ utopia’ amongst the unassuming houses of Old Road, Lewisham a borough which has seen rental prices rocket by 14 per cent in the past year. The collective saw the space as malleable in housing 12 studio artists, a project and rehearsal rooms. Running on a donation basis, the group gives cash-strapped creatives the opportunity to create and display their work at a realistically affordable price. The events that are put on are run primarily on a donation basis, allowing anyone regardless of income to enter. Something which could prove a rarity in the near future if we are to believe the whispers of the privatisation of our national galleries. On the surface the group is an artistic collective however, Fischer-Vousden adds that it is also “inherently political and provides a platform for us to express our political frustrations, we are experimental down to the core, in our ideas and beliefs”.
“In the big plans for London's so called ‘regeneration’ the space for new artists and creatives seems to of been tippexed out, with places for experimental art, that isn't created for a marginal profit, pushed aside”
In the big plans for London's so called ‘regeneration’ the space for new artists and creatives seems to of been tippexed out, with places for experimental art, that isn't created for a marginal profit, pushed aside. As the cuts continue to bite into the arts sector, cultural and creative gain has been castrated in favour of austerity. One of the key ethos of DIG has been to welcome any sort of artistic discipline, the group seeing the project as “malleable in order to foster a sensitivity to new possibilities, the potential for change and to encourage experimentation and cross disciplinary collaboration”. Daniel Gatenio a photographer from the collective feels that DIG is “the sort of place where good things that might not otherwise happen do”. The group firmly standing for the liberation of artistic integrity which is threatened by the privatisation of the creative sector. Lee Claydon, a musician from the collective, “resents the modern idea that London is the only place to be if you want to ‘make it’ as an artist and wishes it could be different”, adding that “we need to seriously think about how we can cast the net wider to take it back to a more level playing field, like before”.
Reaching out to the community they have become a part of, they want to encompass the local vicinity of which they find themselves in including classes, reading groups and weekly discussion classes open for all. The group aimed to stimulate artistic and intellectual innovation to all who wished to be involved. This is perhaps one of the most important aims of the collective, in creating a sense of commandership between artists and the communities they are living in. The community grew to encompass the collective with Lee professing that “We had a lot of support locally and often enjoyed visits from neighbours once they realised that DIG wasn't gonna be the nightmare scenario often reported in the mainstream media, with regards to these types of places”. With the hyper-gentrification of London Burroughs leaving little space for a community ethos, Field adds that the group “indecently and naturally highlights a lack initiative and drive by the state to make disused space available for community projects such as DIG”.
“Because private landlords hold onto vacant properties for a long time, there is an opportunity for people like us to take advantage of the system” – Roland Antony Fischer-Vousden
The collective have firmly put a creative two fingers up to the regeneration carpet rolling out across the city. Yet, the luxury developers have unfortunately caught up with the group who have now been evicted from the site. The white-walled studios are to be replaced with a development of luxury flats, which it has been clarified through the transparent planning application online, none of which will be social housing. There is a sense of positivity that can be found from this however with Fischer-Vousden adding that although “private companies are interested in maximising profit which, did have a negative effect with DIG's eviction, in another sense because private landlords hold onto vacant properties for a long time, there is an opportunity for people like us to take advantage of the system”.
So what next for DIG? This is just the start of the next chapter, the collective is transitional. Gatenio maintains a positive outlook with “the intermingling of different people, practices and ideas, that at least in his experience has always lead to really amazing things”. Its grouping and residency will perhaps always be in a state of evolving and moving on as a mechanism in dealing with the constantly changing issues faced by creatives in the city. The collective as Fischer-Vousden puts it has always “been an organic and continual learning curve”. The next location is currently under wraps but Field feels that the group has “an obligation to utilise the disused space that is throughout London”. It appears that although the group, for the time being, has lost the premises, they have not lost their purpose.