The contemporary art scene in East London has established itself significantly over the past five to ten years. It seems like only yesterday that Art Hipsters (said in the most endearing way) could walk around the East End with little effort and find themselves submersed in a wide variety of new galleries and exciting up-and-coming exhibitions. The atmosphere in the area, once a mecca for creative fringe activities, has mellowed (while rent has risen) and many galleries are taking this as a sign to move to greener pastures.
Vyner Street which was a hub for all things creative and cutting edge has since seen the loss of many of the big names like Kate MacGarry, Nettie Horn and Fred which have all moved out, as reported by David Batty in the Guardian, 6 June. They were the galleries that created this unique draw to the area. A few of them have left Britain all together and have taken up home in Berlin or Copenhagen, which are still more or less catering to creative individuals and small galleries. Another group of them (for what appears to be rather contradicting reasons) are moving to areas like Hoxton, Shoreditch, and Fitzrovia to chase the elusive and essential mega pounds. Many of these galleries are suggesting two major motivations for their desire to leave. The first being the gentrification of the area and the second being the major regenerations in time for the Olympics. The majority of the galleries and spaces that have left Vyner Street and the surrounding areas are moving in search of buyers and dealers who tend to congregate in the city including the redeveloped area of Fitzrovia. It is easy to see that these small companies are looking to follow the money and since the deepening of the recession and the concerns surrounding the future of financial systems in Europe, it is not hard to see why.
That is not to say that the East End art scene is over. There are still a number of galleries that are drawing crowds to the area but mainly for one-off shows or exhibitions. That may in part be due to the fact that the art scene itself is changing. There is a rising trend for exhibitions, particularly in the East End to exist temporarily and support the resurgence of what Allan Kaprow coined ‘happenings’ in the late 1960s. In which exhibitions and shows are held for one evening, for a limited crowd. Many of the galleries that remain in Vyner Street and the areas nearby sustain themselves by renting space to provide for pop-up shows rather than maintaining a permanent site which would require a larger and regular influx of capital.
Hackney Wick, another area in the East End which had once provided large spaces for artists to display their work and a chance for cheap living has seen a great deal of artists and galleries leaving the area because of the pressures to transform the sites in preparation for the Olympic overhaul. The Olympic rebuilds and transformation of reasonable spaces for the arts community to thrive have soured many of the small galleries who can no longer afford the rent when many spaces and accommodations are selling for millions of pounds and the general atmosphere has disintegrated.
A model and fashion student friend, upon hearing that this article was being written said, “good-bye Hackney, hello Peckham”. This seems to be the general feeling amongst the arts community in the area, time to move onto another scene, another place, and away from the Olympics. For many smaller galleries in the East End, this will be a hard transition and many of them, without proper funding from organizations like the Arts Council, will die out. Some will just transition into areas where money and collectors are more plentiful, establishing another quirky shop to add to the Box Park or a new place for trend setters to stock up on the latest Banksy knockoff.
Words by: Portia Pettersen