Collaboration, interaction and support are at the heart of Newtown’s artist’s studios, NewARC. We chatted to Anthea and Louise of the non-profit organisation Assemblage to find out more about the space.
Where is your space and how long has it been there?
Assemblage’s Newtown Artist Run Centre (NewARC) is located in Newtown at 41 Gwi Gwi Mwrebi Street. We are right next door CityVarsity/Carfax, with our entrance on the north side of the building (in a boomed off nameless street). The studios opened 1 April 2012.
What about the location appeals to you?
Newtown is an interesting, vibrant and culturally diverse area. It is the last point of the ‘cultural arc’ which stretches from Constitution Hill in Braamfontein, over Nelson Mandela Bridge, and into Newtown’s cultural precinct. It is home to many other art organisations and facilities such as the Artist Proof Studio, Market Photo Workshop, Bag Factory Artists’ Studios, Museum Africa, The Market Theatre and Dance Factory. There seems to be a cultural longevity and sustainability in the area – several of these organisations are celebrating over 20 years of existence. This was very encouraging for us. By locating the NewARC Studios here Assemblage aims to add to and encourage the already existing cultural vibrancy in the area. It also allows for easy collaboration with these organisations and other creatives.
The NewARC is accessible from street level which encourages interaction with the general public. The Studios are situated next to City Varsity (a small creative tertiary institution) and other tenants in and around the building include street artists, sound recording studios and fashion designers – which all lend themselves to a creative atmosphere.
Can you tell us a little about how NewARC came into being?
Assemblage was formed in response to Anthea and Louise’s personal frustration at a lack of support structures and platforms available in Johannesburg for those seeking to become independent artists or arts professionals. We were also tired of the stereotypical notion of the starving artist with his/her head in the clouds. We wanted to be the central hub (through sharing, connecting, participating) for the Johannesburg visual arts community, in promoting professionalism, excellence and innovation.
We started off with an online resource, which then led to peer mentoring sessions, professional practice and advanced art making workshops, as well as the occasional exhibition. During this time, individuals and other art organisations were more than happy to allow us to use their spaces for our activities. However, it finally seemed right to have our own base from which we could run our activities.
We had also realised through discussions and surveys that there were many artists in need of studios. The few studios that were already established were not able to accommodate the demand. Assemblage recognised this gap, took the plunge and opened the NewARC in April 2012.
In April 2013 we expanded the studios and now accommodate 23 artists as well as a printmaking studio which will be opening in July.
What is the philosophy at the heart of the NewARC studios?
Assemblage’s overarching philosophy is to support artists in developing their careers. It connects emerging artists with the visual arts community in an accessible, inclusive and inexpensive way, providing them with professional skills development and networking.
The NewARC is an ‘artist run centre’ – it is a space for artists by artists. Assemblage encourages the artists within the NewARC to pursue art making as a full-time career thereby cultivating entrepreneurs and employment. The NewARC is a physical hub for activity, creation, innovation and discourse that the Johannesburg visual arts community, as well as the general public is invited to access. Most importantly it is about collaboration, sharing and community.
Is ‘space’ important to the creative practice of an artist? How would you see this translating in the NewARC studios?
Spaces such as the NewARC are important to the practice of an artist – it gives artists a sense of community. Assemblage places great value on peer review and not to producing work in isolation (which is reinforced in the peer mentoring activities). Opportunities of learning, sharing, motivating and even collaboration are likely to arise in these communal spaces.
Please tell us a little about the workshops and other things that are held at NewARC, and how these contribute to the general ethos of the space…
The aim of Assemblage’s workshop programme is to offer much needed professional development training to visual artists in order to sustain their careers. The workshops range from “How to write a funding proposal” to “How to document and present your artwork” to “How to write an artist statement”. To date, Assemblage has run 24 workshops, worked with 20 skilled individuals acting as facilitators and reached over 150 artists.
Other events that happen in the space are the peer mentoring sessions where, once a month, artists get advice and feedback from their peers and mentors on their work and ideas. This makes it a space where sharing knowledge and skills are an integral part of the studios. We also have Open Studio and Art Talks at the studio where the general public is invited to view the inside processes of an artist’s studio.
Who is welcome in NewARC?
Assemblage’s primary target market is those who are serious about pursuing careers as artists. Most of our activities are free or inexpensive thereby allowing them to be accessible for artists. In terms of renting space at the NewARC, there is an application process to go through. All our studios are currently full – but we do have an option for artists who want to come in to make art at the studio every now and then. The ‘Rent-a-desk-per-day’ structure allows artists to rent a desk at the NewARC and to be part of the community at a very minimal cost.
For our public events such as Open Studios, absolutely anyone is welcome to attend. We encourage as many new art appreciators as possible and are constantly thinking of exciting ways of attracting new audiences.
Any and all limitations aside, what would you ideally desire for the space?
Assemblage would like the NewARC to be a prominent space in the South African visual arts landscape and to be the desired studio space where artists work. We would like to expand our building so that we can accommodate 50 artists – taking up the whole block!
Our ideal space would include a few international and national residency programmes, a gallery space, a woodworking workshop, a photographic studio, a library (a bigger one than what we have now!) and a computer resource centre.
In the future, we would like to open other Artists Run Centres in Johannesburg and even expand to other parts of the country. The ARCs would have the same ethos of sharing, collaboration and professionalism that the NewARC holds.