A group of artists today marched down to Glasgow’s Briggait gallery - headquarters of Wasps, Scotland’s largest provider of studios for creatives - to hand over a petition protesting its hiking up of rental prices. 

“There’s a feeling that as Wasps was set up as a charity to support artists, and they don’t seem to be taking on that core mission. There are other routes they could go down, but it seems easier just to raise rents for everyone, rather than trying to support artists in the cost of living crisis,” says one artist at the demonstration, who rents a space within the Briggait. 

The petition has garnered over 1700 signatures and was delivered in advance of a Wasps board meeting taking place this evening, where the group hopes its demands will be heard. Three representatives behind the petition were also invited to a meeting with Wasps’ chair Karen Anderson prior to the evening’s board meeting. 

The opening statement to the petition reads: “We believe that Wasps has completely lost sight of its founding principles to serve and support Scotland’s artist community, and instead risks helping to destroy it.”

The Herald:

Its first demand is for the scrapping of an electricity surcharge put in place in February this year due to rising energy prices, which added 11% on top of rent to artists' monthly payments.

Wasps has previously said the electricity surcharge would be reviewed in September, and the group is hoping this can be scrapped quickly after tonight’s board meeting. One group I meet says this is the most urgent demand and calls for it to be scrapped immediately and addressed this evening. 

Read more: Wasps: Scotland 'on the cliff-edge of a cultural recession'

In response to rent increases of 11-16% which were imposed on Wasps tenancies, another central demand is “fair rent”. Differing prices being paid by different tenants within the same studio is described as “an unfair situation which Wasps had deliberately engineered.”

“It’s a wee bit insulting, the injustice of it,” says one artist who now rents a space in East Campbell Street studios, after moving from their original studio when costs became too high. Another of the five demands - “total transparency” - plays into this, points out the artist's colleague. 

Wasps selling off some of its studio space, including West Park Place, one of the Edinburgh sites, makes up another demand of the petition. The site was bought from Edinburgh City Council in May 2021 for the price of just £1, and some of its tenants have travelled through to Glasgow to personally deliver the petition today. 

The Herald:

The makeup of the board is another contentious issue, and the group wants more artists to have places on it. This is the fifth and final demand - “governance reform”. 

“Letting some artists go on the board is the main thing,” agrees a group from the East Campbell Street studio.

“That used to be the case, there used to be reps from each building on the board. There are a lot of people from the creative industry on the board, but we are different - we are individual artists working on our own, we are not businesses. Some people make money, others don’t - it’s a vocation, it’s our lives.

“When Wasps started all those years ago, it was all artists on the board. Now it has become so huge that it has become an administration running things,” the artists continue.

A common fear amongst the artists is that more and more of their colleagues are going to face no option but to leave Wasps: “Everybody is struggling and there are a lot of artists on the verge of giving up, or who are giving up. Wasps say there hasn’t been a mass exodus, but people don’t just leave on day one - in May the rents went up, but it takes time to make plans and contingency plans. I think unless they do some sort of u-turn, we will see more and more artists leave, as I know some people who have already left,” said one creative.

Wasps’ Marketing & Communications Manager Daniel Pollitt, who was present to receive the petition, said: “We at Wasps fully appreciate the challenges our tenants are facing. As Scotland’s largest provider of creative spaces we have a duty to protect the interests of those who use our services. 

“The current economic climate forces us to increase our costs. While inflation may be reported as between 8% and 11% over the past twelve months, in reality our costs of operating and maintaining the studio network has risen far more. The electricity costs for instance have risen by 400% since the beginning of the year. As a charity, we have to cover our costs and unfortunately that means passing some of the increase to our tenants.

“We seek to resolve the issues that have been raised by the campaign and we will keep all our tenants informed over the coming weeks as to what changes Wasps is able to implement. I would urge our tenants to join Wasps in lobbying for greater support for the cultural sector."