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Feature: Hamilton Vault Studios

Artist-led spaces across Merseyside have been the central driver for everything we do with Art in Liverpool for as long as we’ve existed, so the last decade of decline in numbers has been difficult. But… The Wirral has massively started to turn things around, with more new studios, developing galleries, and independent artist spaces than we can keep track of.

Hamilton Vault, in the old Lloyds TSB building at 1 Hamilton Square, is a collective of artists, working together, thinking together, and crucially, paying together, to build their own secure maker space.

The security that comes out of this collectivism for the artists isn’t just about bricks and mortar (or the reinforced bank vault that I’ll come onto later). It’s about having a security in your ability to make without interruption, and in the freedom to make decisions about your space.

Speaking to Jennifer Wilcox, Hamilton Vault’s studio manager, I got a sense that there was more than a little bit of luck involved in the way the studio has developed. They’ve got an understanding and flexible landlord, a decent tenancy, and a bank vault that suits the practice of most residents to the ground.

It also offers other revenue sources for the group, which go towards staging exhibitions and events to support other artists from around Merseyside, including an open print exhibition later this month. The vault is rendered in thick concrete, and adorned with a reinforced cage door, making it a unique filming space (music videos, Bollywood films, and fashion lines have been shot in there).

But even if you take away the good fortune of the building itself, there’s a story to be learned from. Studios can make money to stabilise their finances without relying entirely on their artists. There are skills and resources across Merseyside that could (should) be made more of.

Here, they’ve got space to rent out to users beyond visual art, and it supports a tight network of artists to do what they do.

I’m genuinely, passionately, excited about this studio model, which shares its collectivist ethos with most others, while maintaining a genuinely collaborative working space for its artists.

Hamilton Vault is the home of Little Vintage Photography, Dripped Goods, artist Willzy & artist and filmmaker Oliver Bradley-Baker but, for the artists I’ve spoken to who have exhibited there it’s felt like home too, offering some their first exhibition opportunity, and others somewhere to try something new.

Hamilton Vault’s Summer Show is open 15th – 22nd June, 1 Hamilton Square, Birkenhead, CH41 6AU
Words, Patrick Kirk-Smith

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