The Koppel Project x Art of London

Interviews

Tell us about The Koppel Project, and what is your mission?

Established in 2016 The Koppel Project is an arts charity (Charity Registration Number 1171650) based in central London. Our aim is to support early to mid-career artists by offering subsidised, central, communal studio spaces as well as a range of gallery and event spaces – both pop-up sites and longer-term white-wall galleries. In addition to hiring these spaces out, we also run an in-house exhibition programme and provide funding and logistical support for the staging of exhibitions by early career artists and curators.

Our service is grounded in the brokerage of space, usefully filling abandoned buildings and putting them to use in the service of the arts. As such we are a nomadic organisation, moving from site to site as necessary and adapting creatively to each new set of challenges and opportunities. We pride ourselves on the flexibility and creativity of our team and our commitment to collaboration (having worked with London Pride, London Design Festival, Arts Council England, Auction Collective and more) and the strong community we continue to build.

What is the aim and intention of The Koppel Project Exchange in Piccadilly?

We were offered 193 Piccadilly in the summer of 2020, just as London was re-emerging from the shock of the first Lockdown in the Coronavirus Pandemic. During the Spring we had seen and felt the impact of the Pandemic on our creative community and ourselves, with many of our Artists losing income, opportunities and their creative freedom overnight.

As we witnessed what felt like a re-awakening of the city after the initial lockdown this was an incredible opportunity for both ourselves and our community to be able to reach new audiences in a fantastic location in the heart of London.

What was the appeal of the West End, and what have been the benefits of being based in Piccadilly?

The Koppel Project always aims to take on sites within zone 1 of Central London, making us as geographically accessible to both our audiences and artists as possible. We find that being so Central gives our community so many more opportunities to collaborate with new neighbours and to access new and wider demographics.

Piccadilly felt like an amazing opportunity for both us and our collaborators to be able to elevate our projects and really showcase the work that we do to a new audience. Working with The Crown Estate within the historic area of St James’s, as well as being neighbours with some of the world’s finest art galleries (we can see The Royal Academy from our window and are a stone’s throw from the renowned Cork Street) has a real weight of prestige and challenged us and our collaborators to present ourselves in a new way.

It was also a fantastic opportunity for us to subvert some of the historic culture that comes with the area. We purposefully wanted to create a programme that would give a platform to marginalised voices and introduce our audience to a part of London which previously they may not have felt was accessible or approachable for them.

Tell us about how you curated and chose the artists for the exhibitions at The Koppel Project Exchange.

We work in a number of ways with artists and curators in programming The Koppel Project Exchange. We accept proposals for exhibitions from individual artists, collectives or curators and depending on their aims will either work with them collaboratively, sharing the costs and putting a small budget towards their exhibition and having more creative input ourselves, or hiring the space to them at a heavily discounted rate so that they can manage it independently.

When we put together our proposal to take over the space we knew that we wanted to produce a programme that would capture, challenge and inspire the public, addressing social, economic and creative issues and so we held this in mind when entering into conversations with potential collaborators.

So far we have hosted exhibitions curated by all-female teams from South America (Amalgama’s Textural Codes, October 2020), an exhibition exploring the identity and cultural production of African Diaspora artists in the West (Here, There, Nowhere: Dwelling At The Edge of the World, September 2020); the installation of an interactive robot which brought about conversations on the intersections between humanity and technology (Loading…, April 2021); a solo show by a young female artist exploring the effect of the winter Lockdown on us as a society (Rebecca Gilpin: 96 Tears, June 2021) and currently an exhibition exploring the human affect on our planet through sustainable and non-traditional forms of photography (What On Earth, current until 24th July).

There is always work to be done, but given that we only opened our first exhibition in September 2020 and were forced to close for 5 months with COVID restrictions, we are really pleased with the breadth of our programme and the number of projects we have been able to achieve.


Neon Gallery 107


Is the audience of the West End different to the audience that you might tap into at other locations? How have your artists responded to being in the West End/ how have West End audiences responded to your being in the West End?

The different audiences we receive at each location is really interesting. Slightly overlapping with Exchange in Piccadilly we had a site 10mins walk away in Soho (The Koppel Project Central , which closed at the beginning of this year) although there has been an overlap in our collaborations between the two spaces (NEON Gallery took over TKP Exchange throughout May and June of this year after a hugely successful inaugural show at TKP Central the previous Autumn) the visitors have been quite unique to each location, despite both being in the West End. This is in part to do with the glorious diversity of London, in that a new community can be found around every corner!

We have found a more mature audience in Piccadilly, having been able to take advantage of being across the road from the Royal Academy, some of their visitors who might otherwise overlook a small organisation like our own, or not be aware of the emerging artists we work with have delivered some of our warmest feedback!

For our artists and collaborators it has been the opportunity of their careers to date, having access to a white-walled gallery in the West End is quite literally a dream come true, so it has been a privilege to be able to assist them in making this a realisation!

Throughout 2020 and much of 2021, people haven’t had access to galleries and institutions of art. Have you seen a resurgence in terms of interest in art/ have you witnessed a resurgence of the need and appeal of Art in London.

Opening a public space in the middle of a Pandemic has definitely been an interesting experience for everyone! When we first launched Exchange in September we had a really positive response, as it was one of the first opportunities many of our artists and visitors had had to access art since the initial lockdown. Our opening exhibition was showcase of our studio artists base at The Koppel Project Hive, and it was a wonderful experience to be able to provide something so positive after a summer when many in our community had struggled.

We have had the same response, and more, since re-opening in April. There is a definite hunger amongst the public for cultural experiences beyond what many have only been able to access through a screen during this winter. We are receiving more visitors reaching out who might not typically have entered a creative environment previous to the Pandemic and this can only be seen as a positive outcome from a period that has been so difficult for so many. Being confined to their own city many people are looking in new places to explore what London might be able to offer and we hope to be able to continue to provide this for them going forward.

One of your recent exhibitions saw a whole exhibition created by an artist in lockdown. Tell us your thoughts on creativity and art over the past year or so.

The last year has affected everyone in very different ways, often with extreme challenges both financially and in terms of physical and mental well-being. Following a creative career has always been a challenge for artists in the best of times, so we have seen many of our community really struggle throughout the Pandemic. When the UK first went into lockdown in March we were forced to close our studio buildings for the safety of our communities.

We did our best to assist our artists by providing rent-holidays and discounts during this period and following on from this providing them with exhibition opportunities in Exchange.

Since then we have seen varying ways in which our artists have responded to these challenges, with minimised access to their studios many have altered their practices some to great success. Much of the work being produced has become a lot more personal or political. Lockdowns created a prolonged opportunity for introspection and with the usual methods of the processing of these introspections being taken away from us creativity has often flourished in unexpected ways.

One of the most fantastic things about being an artist, or working with them, is the spontaneous and creative responses to any challenge. Trying to take a positive view of going forward we are hoping that we will continue to see a growth in diversity in the way in which artists are able to work, how the public interact with them and the opportunities that may be offered. We hope that The Koppel Projects role in this will be that we will have more access to opportunities like we have had here at Exchange so that we can continue to champion and support our community while growing a diversifying as a charity.


How do people find out more about The Koppel Project?

The best way to keep an eye on what we are up to is by following us on our Instagram @the_koppel_project or by joining our mailing list. We have a busy programme of exhibitions and events coming up over the summer and in between this we aim to advertise and celebrate what our creative community are up to as well!

Do you have any upcoming exhibitions/ projects that people should know about?

We are very excited to have just launched The Koppel Project 540 on Oxford Street, an exciting combination of pop-up event and exhibition spaces and photography studios. We are aiming to reclaim Oxford Street for emerging creatives and to continue championing London as a city of culture!

Update Info

Published

19.08.2021 - 3 months ago
by Emma O'Connor

Category

Interviews