Where are the spaces in London for those doing the most creative, radical and important work?

Last week Somerset House launched their new Somerset House Studios. I couldn’t go as I’m not in the UK at the moment, but I’m not sure I’d have gone anyway. Even though some of my friends are the first residents in the space, and people whose work I have a great deal of respect for, I can’t get too excited about it. As of yet, is there anything unexpected about Somerset House Studios?

What would have been radical for Somerset House to do, would be to truly demonstrate what a public institution in 2016 could do and could stand for. All Somerset House Studios has done initially is reinforce what a “cool” cultural institution is in 2016. Who is the space serving, who are their audiences, and what is radical about that?

The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan went to speak at the launch. The press angle was that we need more affordable spaces for artists in London and isn’t it great that Somerset House is providing that. It’s not a dissimilar message to the one Ronan Silva was sending out about Second Home last year, as he tried to position himself to take over other spaces in London to make them “affordable” for artists.

Artists need spaces, yet given the state that our country is in and the divisions there are, caused by wealth, privilege, exclusivity etc, surely London as a city should be prioritising affordable spaces for the people that are trying to address the kinds of societal challenges we face. Practically address them, rather than speculatively address them.

It makes me weep that people like the YearHere fellows, or those living in Dot Dot Dot’s accommodation, are given temporary places to live, makeshift work spaces, spare desks in falling down voluntary sector offices, whilst trying to actually do something about inequality, poverty and social injustices. They are out there pouring care into the places that need it the most and we treat them by putting them in the least cared for spaces in the city. As Jack Graham writes in his piece last week, we should “put more firepower behind them.”

For the world to really feel like it is moving on, and for cultural institutions to really connect with everyday people, perhaps in their second call out, Somerset House Studios might look beyond the “artists, makers and thinkers” to the do-er’s and the carers? The people that usually have to put up with crappy design, crappy spaces, crappy pay and non-existent recognition?

If Somerset House want to be radical and actively attract some of these people and communities they could tweet to or get in touch with the following organisations and networks:

The Nesta Radicals

Lankelly Chase Foundation

Year Here

Design Council, Design Challenges

Dot Dot Dot Property Guardians

NEON (a network of people working to replace neoliberalism with an economy and politics based on social and economic justice)

Goldsmiths Social Entrepreneurship Course (though there are other university courses focussed on social impact too)

Public Libraries Network (people bringing innovation to libraries)

New Local Government Network — (people bringing new ideas to local government and public services)

Code For Health community — (people trying to bring new and better ideas to the NHS)