A hidden economy: a critical review of Meanwhile Use in the UK

Cultural regeneration specialists Sue Ball and Ruth Essex examine how the struggle to find affordable creative space has lead to artists making use of buildings on interim arrangements, striking up deals of varying tenure and taking on spaces that have become redundant, in this March 2013 essay commissioned and published by public art think tank ixia.

Carny Ville by Invisible Circus: The Island artspace, BristolUntil recently, many landowners have declined to enter into more formal agreements, at best tolerating the activity for a short time period. However, over the last five years, temporary use agreements, have 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.

Click here to download the essay.

Read Lisa Andersen's interview on Empty Spaces with Ruth Essex on cultural regeneration through 'meanwhile' use in Bristol