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Opening a hostel has helped East Street Arts to support artists and generate much-needed income. Nicola Greenan explains how they did it.

Room with bunk beds

For over 20 years East Street Arts has worked across Europe with artists, organisations and arts collectives we admire and feel an affinity with. In the position of ‘guest’, we’ve noticed how differing approaches to hosting, and the places we’ve stayed, have influenced and shaped our experience of new cities.

We are familiar with playing host too, having brought many artists to our headquarters in Leeds. Often the artists’ choice of where to rest their heads has boiled down to checking in to a budget hotel or another kind artist offering their sofa. We were keen to create an environment in the city that hosted people in a different way.

We wanted to make a place where people could stay, make, eat and sleep while being instantly introduced to the underbelly of a city

We wanted to make a place where people could stay, make, eat and sleep while being instantly introduced to the underbelly of a city. No tourist information brochure telling you what chain can offer you 10% off your next meal or what’s on at the major cultural institutions, but what’s happening in the cracks: the hidden, vibrant, independent Leeds.

We spent some time looking at buildings and thinking about the various scales on which an art hostel could work. We started a conversation with Bauman & Lyons architects (who helped us with the development of Patrick Studios in 2004) and we got to work. We found a friendly landlord who owned a property in Kirkgate, one of the oldest streets in Leeds, and he agreed to support us, believing the realisation of this project would be a great catalyst for such a historically significant street.

We agreed a rent-free period and gradual rental scale as the business developed. We began a fundraising campaign, accessing Key Fund, a social lender, which provided part loan and grant to support the capital development. A further £6,000 was raised through a crowdfunding campaign providing funds to commission artists, both to design bespoke rooms and to support a rolling programme of activity in the months ahead of the opening. The campaign ended in 51 people pledging not insignificant sums of money, and the public investment in our hair-brained idea suddenly felt very real.

Social mission

The Art Hostel’s social mission is focused on strengthening the local economy by creating new jobs, increasing income to the area, supporting neighbourhood regeneration and pioneering a new model for artists to interact with the wider community. It provides an infrastructure for collaboration between the arts and other sectors.

As a visual arts charity strongly influenced by the artist-led movement, we really believe in the role that arts and culture play in everyday life. As an organisation, we strive to develop new business models that not only enable us to be more sustainable but support us to develop our audiences and create new spaces for artists to respond to. The aim is that the Art Hostel will generate enough income to afford us the freedom to create new work, commission artists and just do more of what we do.

Change and surprise

The hostel will be one of change and surprise. Anyone is welcome to stay, artists and tourists alike. It is a 30-bed functioning venue (six private bedrooms with the facility of a disabled room on the ground floor, plus two large shared dorms, plus newly fitted shared bathrooms). The project space will host conversations, exhibitions and events.

The leaflets and maps in reception will take you directly to the heart of the creative buzz in Leeds. The people who choose to stay with us are welcome to add to and shape the future dynamic of the hostel as we continue to develop. We want visitors to affect the project and the city while they’re here.

It’s been non-stop since the skirting boards got their last lick of paint. Several artists, 30 international students and a whole band and crew have already tested the rooms for size, and the first reviews are looking promising. Leeds Indie Food Festival is just kicking off, and we will be hosting a bakery in the project space and running family workshops.

It’s been a very long time coming but, with the bookings coming in, we’re looking forward to seeing who, and what, the Art Hostel brings.

Nicola Greenan is External Relations Director at East Street Arts.

Link to Author(s): 
Nicola Greenan