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In 2003 a formal investigation was undertaken on behalf of Chichester District Council and West Sussex County Council into the state of the arts sector in this district (http://www.chichester.gov.uk/index.cfm?articleid=4974). One of the findings was that aspiring or semi-professional artists in the district found it hard to drop their day jobs and turn their creativity into successful professional careers.

One of the major hurdles identified was lack of access to affordable studio space, which not only hindered the scale and ambition of the work produced, and the visibility of the artists themselves, but encouraged a feeling of creative isolation in those who struggled to make work in their spare bedroom or garage, and was a disincentive for art graduates to stay, live and work in the area.

Another hurdle related to lack of suitable curated Gallery space for local professional artists to show their work. Unity Arts Trust (UAT) has been trying to fill this gap, and have been supported in the process by both the District and County councils and the University of Chichester.

In 2007 planning for the Graylingwell redevelopment in NE Chichester was begun (developers: English Partnerships and Linden Homes). Chichester District Council, the local planning authority, supported UAT in a successful campaign to ensure that Artists’ Studios were included within the ‘Section 106’ planning document; the developer’s masterplan now includes provision for a large (1500 sq meter) studio building with space for thirty-five artists, with print-making and 3D workshops, community education space, gallery and mural wall (see: http://www.chichestercdt.org.uk/community-facilities/the_artists_studios).

It has yet to be designed or built, and all aspects of the operation, including dates, are still to be negotiated with the Chichester Community Development Trust for Graylingwell (Registered Charity No. 1140014) who will own the building. (http://www.charitiesdirect.com/charities/chichester-community-development-trust-1140014.html)

In the lead up to this UAT has set itself the task of growing its vision in a relatively small but focused manner to demonstrate that it is the right organisation to take this project forward, and in order to embed a workable blueprint for studio/gallery operations on the Graylingwell site. In April 2010, thanks to our sponsors, UAT opened UNITY STUDIOS in Chichester, in a building owned by Chichester District Council. Here 10-11 artists have started work. This is acting as a pilot scheme for the much more ambitious scheme planned on the Graylingwell redevelopment.

  • Intended facilities at Graylingwell may include: ‘studio space for artists’ @ 1500 sq meters.
    • 40% space (600 sq meters) for established artists in large market-rent studios around large open courtyard, with large windows enabling potential sales.
    • 60% space (900 sq meters) for:
      • emerging artists working in shared affordable ‘incubator’ studio spaces.
      • Large flexible ‘education space’, ideal for teaching messy activities.
      • Technical Workshops for print-making & 3D equipment, available to rent on timed basis, and to teach classes for the community.
      • Mural wall outside, ideal for engaging young people.
      • Additional Gallery & Café @ 200 sq meters. UAT’s aim for the gallery would be that it be ‘curated’, a place for professional artists from the region to present works to enhance their careers, as well as presenting exhibitions and outcomes from artist-in-residence schemes with a strong educational element.
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