Comma Five Art Space


Plymouth’s newest artist-led space is breathing new life into a former art studio on the Barbican. With ambitious plans for the future, the Comma Five Collective takes us through their vision for a community arts hub.

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Comma Five Art Space is a community arts hub nestled in the heart of the Barbican. Once the studio of one of Plymouth’s most prolific, celebrated and controversial artists, Robert Lenkiewicz, the Comma Five Collective (artists Liz Barile-Page, Tim Pearse and Philip Bath) are seeking to restore the legacy of art in this historic building.

Their plans are ambitious and include studio spaces for artists, a gallery, a community photographic dark room, a café and bookshop. There’s certainly a demand for this type of space in the city.

Liz Barile-Page, one of the three artists making up the Comma Five Collective, says “Art education in Plymouth is expanding, and practising artists are coming into the city. Where artists congregate, culture, business and prosperity follow; this has been seen in cities all over Europe. Artists need space.”

Comma Five Art Space’s plans resonate with the Plymouth’s need to not only secure more space and facilities for the hundreds of creative artists graduating from Plymouth’s higher education courses every year, but also to preserve and celebrate the rich creative history of the city.

Breathing new life into the former studios of artist Robert Lenkiewicz is a fitting tribute to his legacy – you can still see painted lines on the studios floor where Lenkiewicz marked the feet positions of his models. However, this project is not a straight-forward one.

Comma Five Arts Space need to secure their first year in the building before someone makes an offer the owner can’t refuse. And using a space which has lain vacant since 2002 comes with it’s own problems.

Images: Beth Warne, 16-year-old British boxing champion painted by Dave Crocker; Tim Pearse; In Progress artist event (taken by Scotty Canlon).

Tim states, “We’ve shut out the pigeons, taken down boarding from the rotting windows to let in the light, and cleaned up.”

“It’s a studio space unmatched in the city for spaciousness, quality of light and historic significance. But our use of the space is not secured for the long term. The space lacks heating, lighting, plumbing and electrical wiring. Most leaks in the roof have been patched, but a new roof will eventually be needed.”

It’s a big project for the collective of three to undertake. Philip says, “We are bringing the space back to life, but the studio is only half the building – downstairs is an equal sized space, most recently used as a pannier market. We need to create a funded development programme to revive the whole building, saving it from conversion to flats, a restaurant or nightclub but still making financial sense for the current building owner. We are loving the challenge.”

The Comma Five Collective are working on funding initiatives which include crowdfunders, events and art sales. Visit their Facebook page for more details.