Art raises Peckham to new levels


What do the art, culture and leisure spaces of the future look like? At the very least they must be accessible, affordable, inclusive, connecting local artists with the local community. But hopefully they would also show a clever use of colour, firing the imagination?

The newly-launched multi-level art space Peckham Levels in South East London is showing the way forward. The project was created to provide an affordable and inspiring space for independent businesses, artists and local entrepreneurs to operate - acknowledging the creatives' need for a place to work, small businesses' need for a place to grow and communities' need for places to come together.

The New York Times recently reported Peckham Levels as "The Beating Heart of London’s Most Dynamic Art Scene". An excerpt:

“There’s a spirit to Peckham that you won’t find anywhere else in London,” said Luds van de Belt, site director of Peckham Levels, a 10-story car park which has been transformed into a studio block for artists. The enterprise, off the neighbourhood’s main street, Rye Lane, offers some of the least expensive artists' studios in the area — a 12 square feet studio space rents from £260 to £290 (about $340 to $380) per month. Yearly, 10 studios are offered for monthly rents of just £90 to artists with the lowest incomes.

The artist and craft maker Anastasya Martynova, who has a studio at Peckham Levels, sees the area as an integral part of her creative process. “I think art as a whole has a tremendous power to unite people and encourage positivity,” she said, “and Peckham is the creative center of South East London. There is a real feeling of optimism for the future, and lots of raw, creative talent.”

The requirements for Peckham Levels membership reflect the neighbourhood’s deeply-rooted sense of community. You have to be local and 10 percent of membership fees will go back into neighbourhood initiatives. Members also have to commit at least one hour a week to volunteering in local projects.

“Growing up in Peckham as a teenager around 2008 I remember it having such a bad reputation,” the painter Sani Sani said. “Friends that lived in other areas were genuinely scared to come round. There were art galleries like the South London Gallery then, but it seemed exclusive and non-accessible to the locals. I think that the arts scene in Peckham has the power to completely change the perception and the narrative of what Peckham is.”

In an expensive city like London, it’s getting harder for creative types and artists to find the space and support they need. But arts spaces in Peckham have all managed to survive through an agreement with Southwark Council, the borough authority Peckham is in, that keeps their rents at about half the market rate.

For artists like Mr. Sani, who warily eyes the influx of bankers and high earners in the neighborhood, a cap on rents can only be a good thing.

“If we can make it so locals like me can create our art here and be able to afford it,” he said, “maybe Peckham does have a hopeful future ahead.”

Read much more about the story of Peckham Levels, the artists that work there and how they work with the community here.