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2 May 2024

Too Far In – a conversation for Curatorial Affairs

Metroland Assistant Curator Christy O’Beirne talks to Director Lois Stonock about art, Brent, and the future of affordable arts infrastructure in London for Curatorial Affairs.

Here’s a little extract:

COB: Metroland Cultures finds its home in a building originally intended for council use as a healthcare centre. There seems to be a kind of continuity in the ethos of care and support fostered in the building now, both within the community of artists and extended to the broader community. How did Metroland originally come to occupy the building and how has its history and legacy influenced intentions for the organisation’s approach?

LS: From 2018-2020, Phil Porter, then Strategic Director for Community and Wellbeing at Brent Council, and Metroland crafted a vision for Brent’s cultural future. We knew that in the short term, at the very least, money isn’t going to suddenly reappear for the arts, so we had to figure out how an arts approach could help achieve other goals across the council. This relationship embedded the ‘arts in policy’ rather than just ‘arts policy’ approach and fostered a shared belief that we should consider culture as fundamental to how people think and behave. .

In 2019, Phil had just come out of a meeting where he agreed a budget of 12,000 a month for a 24/7 security contract on an empty building in Kilburn. During that conversation we got to a point where we agreed Metroland would have a look at the building and if it was suitable the Council would give Metroland the security contract for 10,000 a month, saving the council money already allocated to security.

Yes, the building was an old healthcare centre in the centre of the South Kilburn housing estate. The centre was once a really important community asset but had been standing empty for two years. It had been taken over by squatters and drug dealers, and the community that were around the building were desperate for a solution that would help tackle some of the problems the empty building had created. We took on the building and this collaboration birthed the Metroland Studios, converting an 800 square-metre space into Metroland’s hub, offering free studios to 24 local artists. It also launched a gallery showcasing resident artists and a communal space hosting local organisations like Kilburn Street Kitchen, K2K Radio, and Other Cinemas, all rent-free. It has created a vibrant community asset achieving the goals and is far more than a security contract. We talk a lot about what it means to occupy an old Health Care centre but I think, simply, it’s a daily reminder that our role is to listen, host and steward a resource for the community. Working in a decommissioned health care centre is a stark reminder of what we should be here to do. We took on a new member of the team last year – Izzy Milenkovic – and her Mum brought her here as a baby to get her jabs, so she has a real connection to the building. We still get people coming to the space to try and see the doctors that used to work here!

Read the full article over on Curatorial Affairs.