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A hidden economy: a critical review of Meanwhile Use

Date uploaded: March 18, 2013

A hidden economy: a critical review of Meanwhile Use

Sue Ball and Ruth Essex

Commissioned and published by ixia, the public art think tank

The struggle to find affordable, appropriate creative space has meant that artists have always made use of buildings on interim arrangements, striking up deals of varying tenure and taking on spaces that have become redundant. Artistic communities have developed a resourcefulness and opportunism around making use of spaces, usually out of economic necessity. Art squats have provided creative spaces and facilities where buildings are going unused and to waste.

Until quite recently, many landowners have generally declined to enter into more formal agreements, at best tolerating the activity for a short time period. However, over the last 5 years, temporary use agreements, often termed ‘meanwhile use’, have slowly become more mainstream practice leading to new types of opportunities and collaborations between artists, landlords and developers and creating new models for cultural infrastructure and production.

Government guidance and developers are increasingly identifying interim uses as a solution to economic stagnation and the changing nature of urban development and land use. Artists, whether they like it or not, are adopting more overt roles as preventers of decline and agents of regeneration – filling a gap until demand, increased land values and development may or may not return.

But where the benefits have been demonstrated, there needs to be a critical examination of the processes involved and how associated economies work. In this way, we can ensure that some degree of best practice can be maintained. Most importantly, social objectives need to be enshrined. This emerging economy can offer significant commercial benefits for the property sector and, because of this a better deal for artists and other temporary users is being lost through the property sector’s desire to maximise profit or minimise loss.

This article looks at the opportunities and risks of temporary use for the arts through:

  1. analysing the new culture and economy around temporary use;
  2. highlighting new opportunities of the temporary use economy and the need for new processes and approaches, particularly from Local Authorities and developers;
  3. pushing for better practice.

About the authors:
Ruth Essex: Ruth Essex is a cultural regeneration specialist and producer currently based in Bristol with a demonstrated track record of innovative regeneration projects incorporating temporary/meanwhile use, events, public art and animation of public space. She likes to help build processes and broker partnerships which lower the barriers for enterprising, artistic and creative people to take the initiative in their communities and in the public realm.

Ruth worked as Arts and Regeneration officer at Bristol City Council for 6 years and created and implemented a city wide temporary use scheme Capacity Bristol. Examples of some larger-scale projects on interim development sites resulting from this work include The Island, The College Project, and Creative Common. She is currently working as freelance regeneration consultant and arts producer and recent work includes creative and meanwhile use approaches to High Street Regeneration (Swansea and Powys); arts production for Animating the Zone - Bristol Temple Quarter Enterprise Zone; best practice research for Centre for Regeneration Excellence Wales (CREW); curation and production for 'See No Evil Street Art Festival'.

Sue Ball: Sue Ball is a curator/producer and director of Media and Arts Partnership (MAAP) who works in social and public settings. She has a particular interest in working across disciplines, specifically with sound and the social network as a context for cultural activism and professional learning.

She has worked with notable international artists in the fields of public practice and sound including US sound artist Bill Fontana (the transformative nature of sound in regeneration Birmingham University/Arts Council England 2005-07 & Sound Lines, temporary 8 channel sound installation, Leeds, 2006) and Berlin based artist Hans Peter Kuhn (major sound and light installation, Light Neville Street 2006-10 with Bauman Lyons Architects as lead designers and client Leeds City Council/Yorkshire Forward).

Sue is currently working in Birmingham with developer ISIS Waterside Regeneration, and commercial agents Colliers International, on their Warwick Bar site to create the conditions and climate for its sustainable re-use, in part through temporary use license and responsive cultural programming www.warwickbar.co.uk. Sue is also working with Canal Rivers Trust at Daisyfield Mills, Blackburn adopting a comparable methodology to develop thinking and practice of temporary space use.

Sue is an invited Associate of PLaCE, the international research group, initiated by Prof Iain Biggs, University West England.

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