Vacant properties are blank canvas for creativity

A YORKSHIRE arts organisation is breathing new life into temporarily vacant shops, offices and industrial premises by using the empty space for art-based activities.

East Street Arts, a Leeds-based visual arts charity, is showcasing contemporary art in properties across the city.

Its latest project involves turning the ground floor of the newly-refurbished Dysons Chambers office building into a gallery of emerging artistic talent.

Dysons Chambers, on Lower Briggate, underwent a 1.5m refurbishment in late 2009 to transform the 26,000 sq ft building into high-specification self-contained office space. But like many city centre locations the space, which is marketed by DTZ, has struggled to reach maximum occupancy during the economic downturn.

Jon Wakeman, creative director of East Street Arts, said: "We are constantly looking for economical space for artists to develop their practice and show work. We realised that we are surrounded by empty properties that are being marketed but clearly take a long time to move on. We recognised an opportunity that perhaps we could, in the interim, put this space to good use while creating a positive impression and a public benefit especially in retail with so many empty shops."

Paul Hammond, of specialist property consultancy Hammond & Associates, added: "A chance conversation with a friend of East Street Arts put us on the same track, a meeting of minds and needs and we have a product to offer landlords that sees art charities take over a unit to facilitate their artists and their work."

The arrangement drawn up by H&A allows the landlord to make savings on the costs associated with the upkeep of an empty property. A percentage of those cost savings are shared with the art charity to allow them to operate from the premises, this develops an income stream for the charity in difficult times when their funding budgets are under threat due to national cutbacks to the arts.

Mr Wakeman added: "Closed shop units are ideal for pop-up galleries, office and industrial units are perfect for research & development projects and putting exhibitions together. The artists get to work with their contemporaries and we are seeing some exciting results."

East Street Arts will be launching the 'About Leeds' exhibition at Dysons Chambers this month in partnership with Exposure Leeds. It will feature 10 photographed images on the theme: 21st Century City – Leeds and the built environment.