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Old Belfast college now pop-up hub for arts as it awaits redevelopment


Adam Turkington

Adam Turkington

The Tower Street building that was formerly part of Belfast Metropolitan College

The Tower Street building that was formerly part of Belfast Metropolitan College


Adam Turkington

It may not quite be a cast of thousands, but dozens of sculptors, actors, writers, puppet makers, circus performers, painters, photographers and even beekeepers are setting up home together in an exciting new pop-up arts space in Belfast.

No fewer than 88 artists from a wide range of creative backgrounds have established the groundbreaking co-operative under one roof in east Belfast.

Calling themselves the Vault Artist Studios, they have moved into the old Belfast Metropolitan College building in Tower Street.

The initiative is a reprise for the group who were formerly known as the Belfast Bankers after they were offered the temporary use of the empty Ulster Bank at the Holywood Arches last year.

The thinking behind the new hub is that it will provide affordable studio space to professional artists and host events for the local community.

The man behind the project knows a thing or two about bringing artists together.

For six years Adam Turkington was the organiser of the hugely successful Belfast Culture Night, which sees tens of thousands of people coming onto the streets for a taster of all sorts of artistic events.

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The arts and events manager explained: "The plans for Tower Street grew from the Ulster Bank initiative, which started after I got a call from a developer who wanted to know if I could make use of the bank for a year. We formed a charity and we had 24 different artists in the space.

"After we moved out, I scrambled around looking for an alternative building and was thrilled to find the old Tower Street college, which is going to be developed by a housing association.

"But I was told I could use it in the meantime, maybe for a year or longer until work is ready to start on the social housing.

"It suits everyone because it means that Tower Street is being utilised every day and being kept safe as a living building.

"We are not looking to set up shop permanently anywhere. We have quadrupled the number of artists who can be housed in the old college."

The Vault Artist Studios haven't sought any public funding and are relying on their 'tenants' to not only pay small rents and a membership fee, but also to use their energies on the upkeep of the building.

"Last weekend there was a three-line whip that everyone had to get in for three hours and clean," added Adam.

Musician Ursula Burns has been waxing lyrical about the Vault Sudios on social media.

"I didn't even notice the pigeon poo or think about hoofing stuff up the stairs," said Ursula, who put out an appeal on Facebook for a baby grand piano.

Singer Gerry Creen answered the call, and four volunteers transferred it from his living room to Ursula's new upstairs space in Tower Street.

"I really cannot wait to begin working in this space and I sense the music is going to pour out here like a tidal wave," she added.

Actress Christina Nelson, who's also been a driving force behind the Vault Studios, got a shock as she took up residency in Tower Street.

Adam explained: "Christina was a drama student at the old college and a VHS was discovered showing her giving a performance."

The footage has been edited into a video, which will be screened at an open day for people visiting the Vault Artist Studios this evening as part of the EastSide Arts Festival.

For more details go to www.eastsidearts.net

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