Spike Island has received a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) Sharing Heritage grant for an archival display, a new film, and a discussion event to celebrate the artists’ collective behind Spike Island.
Artspace was founded in the mid-1970s by a group of seven painters, sculptors and printmakers who sought out and administered affordable studio spaces for artists in Bristol. Working co-operatively, the group were able to reduce costs by sharing space and equipment, and securing discounts through bulk purchasing art materials. 2016 marks the 40th anniversary of the initial lease of Artspace’s first home, a disused Victorian warehouse – the McArthur’s Warehouse – on the Harbourside. The Artspace artists converted and occupied this site until 1998 when the organisation moved to its current premises and changed its name to Spike Island. Today, Spike Island is an international art centre and one of Europe’s largest studio complexes with over 50 artists’ studios.
In the two decades following its inception, Artspace continued to expand from an initial membership of 17 artists to 70 by the 1990s, and to diversify into different entities such as Bristol Printmakers’ Workshop and Bristol Sculpture Shed Limited, from 1984. However, due to the threat of increased rents and a proposed re-development of their warehouse site, by the early 1990s Artspace had begun to seek new premises and formed a charitable trust in 1991 to assist with their relocation plan and fundraising. In 1996, Artspace managed to obtain one of the first large grants of just under £1million from the newly formed National Lottery, which enabled them to secure a permanent home within a former Brooke Bond tea packing factory, a short walk from their previous site.
In 2016, this generous grant of £8,800 from HLF enables Spike Island to trace how we got ‘from there to here’, revealing the people, places and wider socio-political situation in which Artspace was founded. It sees an exploration of the heritage of post-war artist-led studios in Britain, and the industrial heritage of the city as epitomised by the sites which Artspace and its successor Spike Island repurposed.
An archival display of materials, including photographs, letters and posters from the Artspace archive is presented at Spike Island from 29 April to 19 June 2016. A newly commissioned film directed by artist Kypros Kyprianou is shown alongside the display and weaves together archival and contemporary footage, from interviews with founding members of Artspace to footage of the redeveloped sites.
Additionally, the HLF Sharing Heritage grant supports Spike Island in creating two volunteer placements to assist staff at the Bristol Record Office, where the archive of this pioneering artist-led cooperative is now housed. Two volunteers will be trained in basic archiving, conservation and record keeping, while larger groups of volunteers will undertake guided tours of the archives to enable their interpretation of the project for visitors to the film and archival display.