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Artists and Makers in Community

March 23, 2011

An interview with Dan Thompson, founder of Artists and Makers – an initiative which works with local authorities and real estate agents to make empty shop and other spaces available as exhibition and studio spaces for artists across the UK.

Tell me about the project. How did it come about? When did it start?

Revolutionary Arts was formed ten years ago because I was frustrated with the lack of skills amongst artists – and from a need to make things happen, initially in my hometown of Worthing. Early on, one of the artists we were working with revealed she had a past life as an estate agent and with it, an ability to charm the keys out of people so we could use empty shops as exhibition spaces. We continued to use shops and set up the Empty Shops Network as we helped more people learn the same skills as the recession kicked in. With that set up, we were able to influence the government who put their weight behind the work. It’s snowballed since then, and we now transform empty shops into temporary studios, workspaces and community centres.

Why are you so passionate about it?

I’m passionate about people, about art, about buildings and about communities; I’ve found a way to combine all of them in one place. And after ten years of hard work, I feel very privileged that people want me to help them. I get to share my experiences as an artist too, which is great.

Tell me a little about you. Are you an artist yourself?

I’m an artist. I’ve struggled for years to explain exactly what I do – I’ve called myself an alchemist, making gold out of base metals. Somebody has recently introduced the term ‘Social Artist,’ which I like. I also make stuff – collages, strange constructions and sometimes site-specific installations.

Dan’s personal site has further information and images. How do people find out more information about your projects?

We’re big on social media – talk to me directly on Twitter at @artistsmakers

You can find projects across the country and more resources at www.artistsandmakers.com/emptyshops – it’s a ‘Do It Yourself’ approach so everything you need to start a project is there.

You can also get involved in our latest project www.spareplace.com which is mapping empty shops, church halls and other useful spaces for arts and community projects across the country. It’s completely crowd-sourced so we need people to get stuck in and add their own local spaces. Or start your own empty shop project using the Toolkit at www.artistsandmakers.com/emptyshops.

Thanks Dan.

Dan Thompson is a Social Artist, using art skills, ideas and techniques to bring people together to make things happen – often through the reuse of old spaces. He is  the founder of Revolutionary Arts and the Empty Shops Network, working to revive, restore and reinvent Britain’s high streets.

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