When co-founders of Bon Volks, Ross Walker and Rachel Boot, invited us to tour their creative co-working space in Margate, we jumped at the chance to discover more about the ever-developing, thriving creative community down by the sea.
With varied backgrounds – Rachel is a voice-over artist and Ross is a visual artist and carpenter – we were intrigued to find out more about how Bon Volks came about, and what it offers to the local cultural scene.
Having a connection to American musician and artist, Jeffrey Lewis – he designed the rather awesome Bon Volks merchandise, and providing a creative home to wordsmiths, artists, woodworkers and filmmakers alike, we caught up with Ross and Rachel to offer Creative Boom readers an exclusive peek into the world of Bon Volks.
Tell us a bit about the space
Bon Volks is a non-profit arts organisation, started in Margate in August 2015. The ethos of our organisation is to provide high quality, affordable creative space for artists, who, as members of the organisation, are given the responsibility for the building.
We wanted to challenge the idea that creative spaces were the last resort in terms of a building's use. Historically, there have been too many buildings that were beyond use for any other industry, but felt apparently perfectly acceptable for creative practitioners. We spent too much time with wobbly plasterboard walls in terrible, freezing conditions and wanted to create the antitheses of this.
Here at Bon Volks, we have a tiny budget, but we are proud to have light, well-constructed spaces, with central heating and an alarm system.
We want people to feel safe and warm and provided for. We also strive to keep rent as cheap as humanly possible. It is always the assumption that cheap studio space has to be terrible, we wanted to disprove this.
At Bon Volks, all studio holders become members of the organisation and take on a small role in the building; whether it be cleaning the corridor or taking out the bins. We want these roles to play a part in giving people a stake in the care of the space, and so create an active community.
By fundraising, we help to maintain and safeguard these rents for the future. For our one-year anniversary a few months ago, we asked American musician and artist Jeffrey Lewis to design us a special image that we could use for merchandise. That way, people who believed in our project could support it from afar. We chose Jeffrey, because he embodied the sort of DIY, collaborative atmosphere that we also share. You can see the collaboration here.
Who works there?
We have an incredible variety of practitioners; visual artists, photographers, metalsmiths, carpenters, writers, voice-over artists....! The absolute best spaces I have worked in are the ones that have had a large mix of disciplines. There is nothing more boring than a studio full of painters! Any creative practice cannot work in a bubble, so if we can provide a building where a metalsmith can talk to a novelist or a journalist, then something great might happen.
How does Bon Volks seek to encourage a creative community?
The design of the space seeks to encourage community and a cross-pollination of disciplines. Each space is either in a large shared room or if it is an individual studio, it is purposefully open - we don't have closed doors. We want a member to walk in and see people and see their work, not to be faced by rows of closed doors. The community has grown organically, as we have grown. We select members based on what we feel they can add to our growth.
A really important facet of our community is our Residency programme. A huge part of our plan was to provide studio space for visiting artists, free of charge, and accommodation in Margate. We believe that a constant influx of visiting artists and writers, positively affect the dynamic of the space. This residency programme is paid for by our fundraising, such as the Jeffrey Lewis Merchandise.
Talk us through the inspiration behind the interior design? Is there a story behind any of the pieces?
We are very interested in how the design of a space expresses the regard of the organisation for the individual. If you are given a crap studio that is unsafe and unsound, you will feel as if the organisation has no regard for you.
All our spaces are designed to the highest quality we could possibly afford. They are designed to be open and promote conversation, thus progressing the strength of the community.
The building itself used to be a printing press. Arranged over two floors, the ground floor was a large open space where the presses were kept - this now houses our five large studios. The first floor housed the offices, which is now our desk space, photography studio, sound booth and residency studios. When we moved in there were a lot of old printing blocks and paraphernalia left behind as well as the seventies wood panelling and a couple of big old safes.
We wanted to keep some of these architectural features to provide some visually interesting points and it helps us not to stumble too far into the typical white walls/grey floor of the usual gallery and studio spaces.
Are there any particular standout features?
We love how people have designed their own spaces. My background is in building gallery and studio spaces, so all I did was build large, light, blank spaces and then we just watched as people filled them with incredible things. It still gives me an amazing thrill to walk around the studios and see how people inhabit space. One of my personal favourites is Billie Vigne's metalsmith space, which is like a curiosity shop. And also Rufus Dayglo and Clare de Lune, who moved in and it looked like an incredible cartoon bomb had slowly exploded over the weekend.
Describe the local creative scene.
Margate has undergone swift changes in the last couple of years, our organisation is one of them. Now there are eight studio buildings of various sizes in Margate, which is utterly remarkable for the size of the town.
The Turner Contemporary was a huge signifier for the town and persuaded a lot of projects such as ours that the creative network existed. However, this town has a long history of associations with counter-culture, so maybe there was something in the air.
It will be interesting to see how all these organisations grow and influence the local young people. Open School East has recently relocated to Margate and there has long been talk of art schools here, so it is interesting that the focus could soon move from creation and exhibiting to education.
If you would like to support Bon Volks, please give the shop a visit.
All photography copyright Gabrielle Hall
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