“Do good work”
I first came across Morgan Arcade Studios shortly after it opened in 2011. I had visited Cardiff School of Art & Design’s illustration graduate show on the first floor of the Morgan Arcade storerooms.
The space was incredible.
A week or so later, I revisited the space with a friend and talked about the possibility of opening a co working space in the empty unit.
Today that empty unit is a swanky office.
The floor above is empty for the first time since 2011 when Daniel Hamilton and a few others had the same idea as me and my friend. However, unlike me, Dan had the courage and patience to work through the initial financial doubts that dissuaded me from making an appointment with the landlord. No, Dan went on to open Morgan Arcade Studios on the second floor – a space which was somewhat less polished than the already raw floor below that had piqued my own interest.
Not long after the Studio opened, I interviewed Hamilton and took some photos of all the people who worked there: a collaborative studio of no more than 10 people initially, illustrators predominantly although one or two fine artists and a textiles person.
The light through the huge windows in the space was beautiful and made the exposed floor boards glow. It was dusty, it was unfinished but it was the idea which made what Dan built so special.
What he saw was a space that you couldn’t simply buy into. He once showed me the waiting list of people who wanted to take space: it was into the hundreds. What people identified with was creatives who were more concerned about creating than about bells and whistles.
There was no promise of free coffee. There were no hack days. Not a sign of a guest speaker. Someone brought an Xbox to work once – otherwise, no arcade machines to speak of. The furniture was not plush. The light didn’t work in the toilet and in the winter, typing could be quite painful because of the cold.
Still, since March 2013, I have been proud of being a part of the most vibrant creative community outside of the art school.
It is working alongside illustrators, film makers, designers, storytellers, fine artists, editors and those who blurred boundaries on what they did that I learned to be better at being a creative. Working in the room next door to Godmachine taught me that getting your head down and working was better than hustling for funding. Working near Yoke Creative taught me a heap about how to run a business. I learnt from Dan and Nicole many ideas about illustration. Lucy edited some copy I wrote and pointed out the errors – that helped a bunch. Lynton, Cath and Nic entertained my need for conversation and interaction with others on an almost quarter-hourly basis. Emma humoured my fascination with things Semitic. Laura told me a heap about storytelling and gaining new clients. Liam and Chris helped me learn that McCauly Culkin is a legitimate character in the art world. Heloise taught me that working in at a desk is not everything. Rob helped me be a nicer person. Julien, my studio mate, gave me some good lessons on what to charge for work. Recently, Dale and Alice were there to listen to my worries about ageing as a creative.
This was what really mattered about Morgan Arcade Studios.
I have always resented the idea that creativity needs soft furnishing and an institution backing it. Creativity is not driven by figures or goals. Without fail, when a non-creative tries to foster more creativity by injecting cash, creativity itself will suffer.
So, when the news came that the rent was being raised almost 5-fold by the owners of the space – who had already conducted a huge renovation project in order to organise a ‘creative quarter’ as if no-one on the second floor could exist without a polished building – we didn’t worry about having to move out. The space itself was lovely, but it was not the thing that mattered.
A series of unfortunate events led to the eventual demise of Morgan Arcade Studios as I knew it. A new lease on a new space fell through. Other landlords required more evidence of earnings or else a long guarantee of tenancy.
The details matter little. Business is business. It’s not the owner’s fault.
But today, as I sit at home in my study – which is well furnished and bright with glowing pine floors – I feel like I’ve lost more than a studio space. What I’ve lost is the presence of 20+ collaborators whose work I respected and opinions I valued.
The thing that’s really painful, though, is that a space no longer exists in Cardiff where creativity is recognised as the lingua franca in the way that Morgan Arcade Studios recognised it.
In the brutality of the conditions of the space, the company was kind.
Photo: Studio BBQ — @liammarc