The Royal Standard’s Relocation: What Does it Mean for the Artist-Led Space?

Harry Johnson

The Royal Standard is a long-standing artist-led space based in Liverpool. Its history is lengthy—it celebrated its 10th birthday last June. It has seen many artists and curators start and build their career. Notable alumni include artists Kevin Hunt and Fran Disley and Double Negative editor Laura Robertson. It houses Cactus and The Trophy Room, two artist-run galleries, and is running residencies, one established by LJMU for recent graduates and one working alongside The Bluecoat, creating a microcosm of artist-led activity under one umbrella organisation. So with its recent move to the Northern Lights site in Cains Brewery, it was safe to say that there was going to be a certain amount of upheaval and change for the organisation.

The move occurred due to a precarious rolling contract leaving the future of the Vauxhall site uncertain. This is a gloomy foreshadowing of the issues now faced by Crown Building Studios, another artist-led gallery in Liverpool, who have recently been asked to leave their home on Victoria Street. Artist-led spaces are often in unstable situations as this, as cheap rent and flexible use of the building is a must when housing artists, who often drastically alter the spaces they inhabit and are paying rent while working low-paying jobs. The move to Cains, a building which offers cheap rent and flexible use of the building, seems like a sensible one. It gives the benefits of the previous site but with easier access—no more trying to explain where Vauxhall Road is to taxi drivers—in a nurturing creative neighbourhood in the Baltic Triangle. The new space boasts 11,500 square feet of space, the addition of five extra studio spaces, and a project space for residents to utilise. TRS’s neighbours are GoCre8, Hub artist studios, as well as an array of other creative businesses. These all sit under the group Northern Lights, a company set up by the Baltic Creative to house and oversee this creative hub in Cains brewery. It sounds very utopic, this artistic den within Cains.

The move to Cains has changed a lot for the organisation, and brought its own difficulties. Problems with the building delayed the move and then construction of TRS’s studio spaces, and left many studio members without studios until December. While they were able to move in November, continuing construction and disruptions meant that it was an impossible space to work in.

Red Brick TRS

Harry Johnson

Security has demanded more professionalism from the organisation which reduces flexibility of the building. However, studios are still accessible 24 hours to every artist in the studio community, but there’s no ‘popping’ in as a visitor. This should get easier with time, and once the café space, rumoured to be run by the same company that runs Unit51 just around the corner on Jamaica Street, in the entrance is inhabited there will be public access to the building during the cafe’s opening hours. TRS must continue to endeavour to support its artists, who do not have a typical working practice, as well as artists who work late at night, or require privacy for their work. The communal studio spaces are the cheapest spaces at £56 a week, whereas the private studios are a higher cost. In the studios, translucent walls and open ceilings may inhibit artists to whom real isolation in their studio space is key. This is something which, hopefully, can be addressed with time.

Looking forward then, what can we expect from the new Royal Standard? And what will it give its studio members? I had a good long chat with Emma Curd, Director of The Royal Standard since June 2015, and Lucy Bretherton, one of the newest Directors and previous PA to Sally Tallant, intern for the Liverpool Biennial, and Curatorial Intern at Tate Liverpool. Emma’s involvement in The Royal Standard is centred around community outreach and accessibility, and this promises to continue for the rest of her time with TRS. Things to look forward to include the School of the Damned Degree show, a series of workshops taking place on the 3rd Sunday of every month, a crit/meal workshop hosted by TRS’s new studio members Foodsketz, writing residencies with Corridor8, and an exchange program with Newbridge Projects, Newcastle. These are all focused on helping create connections between artists and help develop new skills for studio members and the public. It builds on this new professionalism to build a credible, focused platform for its members to develop their practice and networks to build their career.

Lucy Bretherton aims to further this programme using her connections with Tate Liverpool and the Liverpool Biennial. She is determined to address the gap between artist-led and established arts organisations in Liverpool to build more bridges and allow more opportunities for Liverpool-based artists in these institutions. While the shape this will take is yet to be revealed, this an important task that needs to be addressed in Liverpool and we should definitely watch this space to see how this develops. Top-down approaches like the Liverpool Biennial’s Associate Artist program are a great move in the right direction when it comes to supporting emerging local artists, but there needs to be a more organic, and more achievable entry into the professional art world for the vast numbers of emerging artists in the city. The Royal Standard’s new position, physically and institutionally, gives it the perfect placement to achieve this.

The Royal Standard’s new site at Cains is representative of the organisations new level of responsibility, to its ambitions and duty to its members and the public of Liverpool. Accessibility and good execution is vital now to ensure the scale of the organisation doesn’t overshadow its aims. Its cooperation with other artist-led organisations will need professionalism, mutual benefits, and respect, to ensure that TRS doesn’t lose touch with its grassroots origin or dictate to smaller organisations. The turbulence of the move doesn’t end with the architecture of the building but with the foundations of the organisation itself.

For information on the space, including upcoming shows, visit