Afternoon with the Old Kent Road Arts Club and F.A.T. Studios
This month we had the pleasure to sit down and chat with Natanya, one of the arms of the lovable beast that is F.A.T. Studio.
How would you describe Fat Studio and Old Kent Roads Art Club?
Natanya: F.A.T. Studio is an artist-led community interest company and design studio, led by six friends with different skills that collaborate and work independently within the company.
The company was finalised in 2019 as a C.I.C. The majority of the founders are all University mates from the Royal College of Art where they met studying Visual Communication.
Having formed an illustrator collective in the university they begun to collaborate as a group of creatives. But it was not until their course got moved to White City that their calling was made clear. Coincidentally, this happened just around the Grenfell Tower Disaster. This small collective of students felt compelled to engage themselves on behalf of the university to help as much as they could with the suffering community. They began a collaboration with the Justice for Grenfell campaign group which opened the doors for the RCA to actively engage with its local community. Together they set out workshops that produced t-shirts and banners for Justice for Grenfell and local families which were dispersed in the district during silent walks.
This engagement shaped F.A.T. Studios and posed the question: How could they lead more projects that could encourage other artists to open their practice to social engagement.
They began by forming a small studio on the outskirts of Burgess Park. Soon they realized what they needed was a face-to-face community engagement via a shop front.
F.A.T. Studios held a residency at the AMP gallery using the reimbursement from RCA fees to hold creative workshops and events for the local community. The space was free and flexible, open to all and encouraging anyone to participate and contribute to the direction of the space.
It was this month of constant and positive community engagement that made it extremely clear that the next step for F.A.T. Studio was to obtain a shop front space accessible to the public.
Through about a year of grant applications and fundraising efforts, the Old Kent Road Arts Club was established in July 2019 thanks to the help of the Make London Mayor's London Fund and the undeniable support of the local community.
F.A.T. Studios was weighing the community's opinion in every step they took towards this space. With extensive surveys, they spent hours communicating with the local public to understand and be able to cater to the specific needs and desires of this community.
So what is this space?
The Old Kent Road Arts Club is a community Art Space that contains three strands of programming.
Rachel manages the community platform. This encourages anyone in the community to pitch creative events, use our space for free and get support while doing so. Depending on the nature of the event they might also get paid to do it as well.
Young Artist Club (YAC for short), Kate runs, a free club for young people in the area age 15-18, meets every other Saturday. The club is currently full but you can join the waiting list by contacting email@example.com.
Second Life Club led by myself encourages anyone to come together and share their knowledge about making, especially regarding upcycling. The Second Life Club is a space for sharing-making skills. It’s an opportunity to learn new skills through collaboration. There are also paid workshops for people to host longer-term specialized workshops. We just launched Second Life School as well. A space for people from second life to put forward projects that they want to work on in a peer support environment. The projects are all self-directed and the course is set for six months (with meets once a month). The Second Life Club is full but you can still join the waitlist by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'm interested to see how it goes, everyone started with small projects but hopefully, soon they will start collaborating and being more experimental.
Have you seen any projects that have created a significant shift in the participants from the beginning to the end?
The first six months of the second life club were such a shock. The WhatsApp group got so big it had to be limited, as everything was getting booked. It quickly formed this nice community that is very supportive. The growth in confidence that people have shown is incredible. People who may not have been that confident when they started, are now putting forward projects for Second Life School. I know that if the Second Life School had been done in the beginning it would have been different energy. So having that build-up via the Second Life Club created a safe space for people to experiment and be confident in their craft.
The best part of the Old Kent Road Arts Club community:
It’s the relationships that have been built that are exciting.
It’s important to remember that this space isn’t to focus on the outcome.
Just come, be yourself, play around, if you don’t like what you made, who cares, you still would have had a nice time and tried something out. It’s more about the connections than showing or making your work stand upon itself.
The word celebration is really important, what we do is have fun and amplify voices to encourage them to know they matter.
What were your expectations of Fat Studios:
It’s grown faster than we expected.
We came at a time when people wanted to reconnect and restart these modes of socializing and behaving after having been so deprived of them during Covid. It was all about having space to do something with our hands and explore different activities.
We were doing a lot of projects before, but Covid allowed us to stop delivering so much and made us rethink what we wanted to do.
I am really glad about how it came out.
It has been about growing our community at F.A.T. Studios. It's become a space where people actively come to have a chat.
What are F.A.T. Studios trying to do for its community in Peckham:
Our ethos is to show the most of what is happening in the area and to influence as much as we can to encourage positive change allowing for the community to have a voice.
What is the most pertinent element of OLD Kent Arts Club that improves community wellbeing?
Some of the main goals are to be accessible and welcoming, we have a sign that says all welcome and that’s a phrase we carry throughout a lot of our marketing. When we first opened we were chatting to people constantly. We put on flea markets so people could come to use the space for free and sell things. Creating a space with a clear opportunity to engage with.
The programming isn’t completely self-directed. We’re interested in listening to you, and seeing how we can build it in, or connect you with other people to collaborate with that would work. There is always room for improvement. But having an attitude of open-mindedness is a great start.
We also have a window gallery that offers space for people to show their work and offer opportunities for more people to feel seen and a part of this project.
How to get engaged?
How can I support F.A.T. Studios?
Into the future, F.A.T. Studios is looking for its next wave of support as the first year of funding ends in July. We want to encourage anyone to come forward if they have any concepts of projects or aspirations, We are always looking for new ideas to bring to life.
Get engaged and keep an eye out for our next Funding campaign.