It’s not as odd as it sounds – the deprived south London area is rebranding itself as the capital’s contemporary art hub, much like the Parisian district during the 19th and 20th centuries By Simon Tait 27 March 2011
Scarred by tragedies like the murder of Damilola Taylor, and laughed at as the home of the Trotter family of TV’s Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em, Peckham, Southwark, is defying its image to become London’s new Montmartre.
Artists are the fulcrum of a ten-to-15-year plan to be launched in May for Peckham’s rebirth as the capital’s cultural heartbeat, perhaps an embodiment of the Big Society in which residents, businesses and the local authority have come together. “Peckham is the place” says gallerist Hannah Barry. “It’s where people are coming to find the best in international contemporary art”. read more
But if Sacre Coeur was the heart of Paris’s artistic quarter, Peckham’s may be a white elephant of a ten-storey car park.
Four years ago Barry held the first Bold Tendencies, a summer-long sculpture exhibition, on the top four floors of the car park, to which she has added Frank’s, a rooftop pop-up restaurant. That first year 300 visitors came to see the specially-commissioned pieces. Last summer there were 45,000, and after the fifth opens in June as many as 100,000 could be coming to sample the aesthetic delights of Del Boy’s home town.
Nearby in the Bussey Building, a former arms factory, 60 artists have created studios at affordable rents, while in another part of the massive Victorian pile one of London’s leading rave venues has been established, with recording studios, editing suites a theatre and community space to be added this year.
One of the oldest Bussey residents is Garudio Studiage, a co-operative of four artists who specialise in screen printing, jewellery and painting, that moved into the Bussey Building in 2003. The jeweller is Laura Cave.
“Peckham febels like it isn’t England, it’s so multi-cultural, and it’s a great inspiration for what we do,” she said, and for Christmas 2009 they were commissioned to mount an exhibition in Arhus, Denmark, called Peckham is a place on earth. “It was a collaboration of all four of us, an installation in which Peckham – complete with features like Khan’s Bargain Store on the High Street – rises on a cloud like a kind of heaven”.
Bussey is part of the seven acre Copeland Industrial Park that had been written off as derelict and on which Transport for London had intended to create a tram depot. Local fury behind a new consortium of local residents, artists and businesses called Peckham Vision insisted the site was perfect for the use of artists and cultural endeavour – “we saw it as Peckham’s Covent Garden” said founder Eileen Conn – and two years ago they triumphed and the tram scheme was scrapped.
Now, with the backing of Southwark Council, funding is being sought to transform it into the Copeland Cultural Quarter, a diverse public space with more art galleries, shops and cafes, an open market and events space and new-built residences, with the railway arches along its northern border converted for retail.
At the other end of Bussey from the artists, Michael Smith’s Chronic Love Foundation, a global health charity, has developed a reputation for its raves of music from dub to djemba. Its development through four floors – funded by music nights like the recent “Strictly Come Skanking” which brought ravers from as far afield as Cornwall and Newcastle – is under way. “The whole point of making a creative centre of arts here is that it allows you to do what you want, for professionals, amateurs, students, kids, without exorbitant charges,” Smith said. “You can have comedy nights, a year of workshops on, say, reggae to drama, TV production. Edutainment, if you like.” Read more