Artists battle to save Bristol studios in Banksy neighbourhood

<span>Artists says they enjoy the camaraderie of working at Jamaica Street Studios. Painter Elaine Jones in her studio.</span><span>Photograph: Sam Frost/The Guardian</span>
Artists says they enjoy the camaraderie of working at Jamaica Street Studios. Painter Elaine Jones in her studio.Photograph: Sam Frost/The Guardian

For three decades a collective of artists has worked away at Jamaica Street Studios in Stokes Croft, the bohemian Bristol enclave regarded as Banksy’s spiritual home.

But the painters, film-makers, sculptors and illustrators are now battling to save the studios, which stand opposite one of Banksy’s most famous works Mild Mild West, and help preserve the spirit of one of Bristol’s most characterful neighbourhoods.

The studios have been offered the chance to buy the building but the artists are worried that if they don’t raise the funds in time the building could be put on the open market and snapped up by a developer.

“It’s a brilliant place to work,” said one of the artists, the portrait painter Richard Twose. “I painted for 10 years in a barn on a hill in Somerset, totally on my own. I had a huge space but I didn’t have the camaraderie that keeps you going when you’re down and the crits [criticism] when you need it. I think we all do better because we’re here, because we have each other. This is a proper workplace, so supportive and in such a vibrant area.”

The studios have been awarded £500,000 from the UK government’s community ownership fund but must raise another £125,000 to access the pot to buy the building, which is housed in a Grade II-listed early 20th-century former carriage works.

Another artist, Yuko Edwards, a photographer, film-maker, and mixed media artist, works on the top floor. As well as enjoying views of the bustle of Stokes Croft she can gaze across to the hills that Bristol nestles beneath. “It would be a shame to lose this,” she said. “Slowly, places like Stokes Croft are becoming something else, losing some of the essence.”

The studio manager, Rosie Bowery, said: “There’s kind of a spirit of self-organisation here, which is really magnificent. There are more than 35 artists here and some have been here for 20 plus years, which is so lovely and quite unusual.”

Stokes Croft still has the air of a place of independent creativity. But there are strains. Other landmark buildings have been turned into flats and the prospect of gentrification and commercialisation are constant threats.

She said: “Our aim is to keep these studios affordable. It’s really important that people who are from lower socioeconomic backgrounds have the ability to rent a space. Spaces like this shouldn’t be just for artists who can afford to pay large sums. Stokes Croft is special – it has an independent spirit led by interesting creative people. We want it to stay like that.”

Among those who work in the studios is Dave Bain, who was recently commissioned by Bristol-based Aardman to paint a large Wallace and Gromit mural.

Dorcas Casey, who made two life-size fairytale horses crushed beneath Cinderella’s upturned carriage for Banksy’s Dismaland show at Weston-super-Mare, is also based there.

Currently exhibiting on the ground floor of the studios is Chris Wright, who has a huge online following for his witty tongue-in-cheek T-shirts.

Bowery said the studio was launching a crowdfunder to try to raise the money. People who contribute are in line for rewards such as mugs, T-shirts, prints and art tutorials.

The campaign has attracted support from the snooker world champion and music fan Steve Davis, who lives in Bristol and has DJ’ed at the studios. He said: “These studios are vital – it is such a well-known hub of talent. Bristol has got to do everything it can to keep this space for artists to continue to make work and contribute to this incredible buzzing city.”

The community ownership fund is a £150m fund over four years to support community groups across England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland to take ownership of assets that are at risk of being lost to the community.