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Survey of artists with affordable rent studios in London finds only one in three make a living from work within the industry.

Artist Grayson Perry, a former ACME tenant, in his studio at Carpenters Road 1994-5.
Artist Grayson Perry, a former ACME tenant, in his studio at Carpenters Road 1994-5

Hugo Glendinning

Many artists with studio spaces in London are doubting their professional futures because they are struggling to earn enough money from their artistic profession, according to new research findings.

Studio provider Acme conducted a survey of the artists tenants it currently leases workspaces to and found only 12% of respondents said they can support themselves solely through their artistic profession.

The charity’s Artists Tenant Survey also found the surveyed artists’ professional practice represented 33% of their overall income with many relying on additional ways to bring in money.


This pressure is leading to some considering careers outside the sector. The survey found 30% of respondents cited financial pressures as the main reason why they may not continue to be an artist in five years’ time.

Meanwhile, 40% said they cannot afford to contribute to savings or a pension.

“In an increasingly difficult and challenging world, to be a practicing artist is to live daily with problems of survival,” said David Panton, Co-Director and Founder of Acme.

“The financial, practical and intellectual challenges artists face mean that they must constantly find solutions - and, increasingly, justification - for a way of life which may seem to run counter to the rest of society.”

Commenting on the survey’s key findings, independent arts researcher Susan Jones said: “Acme’s incisive survey full colour illustrates why remedying the desperately poor odds for visual artists’ survival on equity and inclusion grounds ought to go straight to top of Arts Council England’s agenda.” 

“It's a no brainer. Exacerbated by more than a decade of research and development funding starvation, only a fifth of artists nationally pursue the ‘art for art’s sake’ enabled by reliable studio provision like Acme’s, and that will produce the ‘blockbuster’ shows NPO galleries need to secure their own futures.”

Blended rent models

Emma Mansell, Head of London’s Design District said ACME’s report is “tragic news, but not unexpected for those familiar with the troubles experienced by artists in today’s economy”.

Mansell suggested one way industry could help artists facing financial insecurity is through blended rent models, which sees businesses of all scales paying what they can afford.

“For example, a single artist to take studio space for an accessible price which is underwritten by larger creative businesses within the district” she explained.

The model is operated at Design District, a collection of 16 buildings near North Greenwich Station home to over 160 creative businesses.

“The result is an ecosystem ripe for creativity; a sustainable community of like-minded people supporting and inspiring each other,” Mansell said.

“It’s vital we continue to think outside the box about how we can create different models for supporting the arts.”

Affordable studios

Acme is the largest provider of permanent affordable artist studios in England and its survey found 85% of respondents said their studio was either ‘very important’ or ‘essential’ to achieving their artistic aims.

Furthermore, 78% stated the stability of their Acme studio has positively ‘influenced or impacted’ their artistic practice.

Artist Gayle Chong Kwan, a current resident at Acme’s Warton House, said Acme is an essential part of an ecology in which artists can survive and thrive.

“At different points in my career, I have been able to rely upon a stable, secure, and special space in which to make my work. Low artist pay, the pandemic, Brexit, and government arts policies, make for an unstable and insecure landscape in which artists now try to work and make work. 

“Artists in London face huge challenges in the context of the cost-of-living crisis combining with already high prices in the capital,” she added.

“Having a studio with Acme has meant the world to me as an artist.”