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Creating Community at Artist Studio The Carousel

14 November 20 interview: Rachel Willcocks
photos: Richard Chung, Tom Morley & @mma.photography
illustrations: Grace Barns

Have you spotted the new faces in town? The vibrantly-coloured, imaginatively shaped characters have brightened up the corner of Hockley Street, representing the creative community you can find inside the curved building below. They are the new faces of The Carousel, a multi-disciplinary artist's studio…

 

The hub was once a pram shop, and was more recently owned by Nottingham Writers Studio. But now, The Carousel is a space where architects, illustrators, photographers, filmmakers, writers, ceramists, printmakers, painters and others work away above a hot pink-painted floor. Together they brighten a previously gloomy part of town with an overflowing pot of artistic ideas and a synergy which creates a real 'get stuff done' type of energy.

The Carousel crew's dedication to doing things differently with their do-it-yourself attitude is starting to turn heads (quite literally, with their new mural created by artist and illustrator Super Freak). For example, learning how to do the plumbing themselves, redesigning the building and up-cycling materials that would have otherwise ended up in the landfill. They are building a community along the way too – something we've all lacked in the past few months and that’s becoming increasingly sought after.

The team that set-up the space just under two years ago include the boys behind Dizzy Ink, Benjamin Kay and Craig Proud, who teamed up with Nottingham-based artists Farida Makki and Martin Rayment. I went along to the studio (masked up and socially distanced) to find out more from the boys about how it all started, the studio's new look, the community they have built and their plans to expand.

How did you guys meet and come up with the idea for the space?
M: In 2018, alongside Helen Kennedy, I curated a project at The King Billy called Castle Ruins II, and Craig was one of the artists in that show. We'd known each other's practice for quite a few years, but around this time it came about that we wanted to start a new inclusive studio, with all the good things a studio should be. I then got to know Ben a bit more and also fellow director Farida, who was also an artist in the show and quite keen to join a studio and further her artistic practice. I told her that we had this idea of starting a studio and said to her, "You could join an existing studio or... how about starting a new one?".
C: Lots of things at the time lined up, too. Farida has a background in architecture. Dizzy Ink had to move out of our former studio, and Martin was looking to start a new kind of studio in the city. Together, we had ideas about how things could work and what sort of space it could be. 
B: We spent about a year looking for a space. We looked at old Scout huts, offices, big empty factories and even a former church. We eventually met up with Rob Howie Smith (who has a particular talent for finding creative spaces in Nottingham) and he showed us around three spaces which were better than anything we had seen before, including 25 Hockley Street.
M: From the beginning of the project, we wanted a space that was both social and work-based. So one of the first things we did was build a welcoming kitchen/bar in the centre of the ground floor. I was inspired by travelling to the Netherlands for a residency at an exhibition space called Club Sol in Breda. Throughout my residency, the social parts became really important. You'd have meetings together, coffees and, of course, beers. I recognised how important bringing people together was. Those conversations shared over a brew can really help inspire you. 
C: In all the different art spaces we've worked in, the kitchens tend to be tucked away, whereas having a kitchen/bar in the centre of the building becomes a real focal point. It's kind of like at house parties when everyone always congregates in the kitchen; it's quite a natural place to socialise. 

Tell us about the community The Carousel has built up and what it's meant to artists during this time...
B: We have 29 members and the community is really strong at the minute. What has been great over the past few months is seeing different practitioners collaborating and becoming friends. We have architects, illustrators, photographers, filmmakers, writers, ceramists, printmakers, painters and a seamstress, so it’s becoming this big melting pot of creatives that are able to support each other and use each other's skills. I think during the pandemic especially, it's helped people through by having a space for them to develop their ideas.
M: Yeah, I think it's really helped people's mental health to have an inclusive space – the social aspect, the community, as well as somewhere they can create; it gives people a positive thing in these crazy times.

Tell us about the inspiration behind your new sign... 
C: We picked Super Freak (Dan Whitehouse) because he is just ridiculously talented. A lot of his illustrations are really positive, and they are a great example of what happens in this space. 
M: By commissioning Dan we really wanted to illustrate an element of fun. We thought the street needed something positive and bright – even more so in these times. It's been great, and even while we've been making it people have been commenting on it. We see people looking up, smiling and encouraging us. Just after Super Freak finished the piece and signed his name we had three small groups of people come up to us and say how much they have enjoyed seeing the process and how much they love the result. What more could we want!
B: As a project, it was also a real team endeavour with over ten people helping to paint. There's something incredibly rewarding about working on such a big piece together with lots of people contributing. Once completed, we cracked some prosecco, stood back, looked up and toasted the whole experience!

Any other plans in the pipeline?
B
: We're going to open a Saturday (only) cafe when the restrictions lift some more. It will be very laid back vibes with lots of herbal teas and coffee. There will be affordable food as well as pop-up kitchen takeovers, and we'll be supporting local suppliers. We have also just launched The Carousel co-working membership, so more people can have access to the building to get their work done! 
M: We have a record store opening on the 29 October called Take Away Jazz Records. Plus, in the new year, we're going to be launching The Carousel school of music, a music studio and a place for people to learn instruments. 
C: Dizzy Ink has just launched a screen printing facility for people to use. The Carousel is the first space where we have been able to set this up properly, which is great, so if you want to learn more about screen printing give us a shout!

Get in touch via [email protected]

The Carousel website

The Carousel on Instagram

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