Artwashing London – ‘Artist-led’ Studios, Library Takeovers, GLA Cultural Advisors, Property Developers & Offshore Tax Havens

London is awash with ‘artist-led’ initiatives that use ‘meanwhile’ spaces as temporary galleries, studios and all the usual stuff.  There are many bigger companies doing this too.  Nothing new here.  Sometimes, like in the case of Bow Arts and Balfron Tower, for example, they are rightly called out for artwashing.  There are many more cases of artwashing now than ever before.  More and more people are getting interested in its cynical misrepresentation of arts and culture as a ‘community good’ when really art is used as a front for big businesses, national and local government ‘regeneration’, property investors and a whole host of other people wanting to make a profit from, what is for many people, social cleansing.  Even artists are getting in on the artwashing act.

But why would any arts organisation want to set up its primary base in a tax haven -  particularly one who claim to be all about supporting local people and local economies?  And, why would Arts Council England and the Mayor of London (amongst others) be happy giving funds to a company that’s ultimately based in the Isle of Man?

This is the tale of one such case – V22, an ‘artists-led’ and, indeed, ‘artists owned’ arts organisation with a few different incarnations.  It’s a bit complex, but that seems to be how they like it.  It is one part of a mammoth case of interrelated artwashing that’s going on in London right now.

Special thanks to @cockneyrebelx and @cockneycampaign for helping with this research!

V22 describes itself as ‘an art organisation, with a shared ownership structure, which specialises in the collection of contemporary art, the production of exhibitions, events and educational initiatives, and the provision of artists’ studios and artisans' workshops’.  It is actually a group of companies ultimately.  It’s contemporary art collection is growing, includes some relatively big name artists and is listed on the stock exchange.  The collection is the responsibility of V22 PLC – a public limited company registered in the Isle of Man.  The artists’ studios element is V22 London – a private limited company.  And V22 Foundation is the group’s not-for-profit arm that looks after exhibitions, events and community work.

The group is ultimately based in the Isle of Man, where companies can pay £250 per year then nothing else!  That means that profits made in England are not-taxable.  I (as is often the case) need to be clear that there is nothing illegal going on.  It is more a question of ethics, for me at least.

V22 have seven spaces in London at present in Dalston, Forest Hill, Forest Hill Library, Hackney Wick, Ladywell Bridge, Orpington and Peckham.  Many of the spaces they inhabit are gained from their partnership with the colossal Workspace Group PLC - a real estate investment trust based in London and set-up in 1987 from the privatisation of property assets of the former Greater London Council.  Workspace Group’s property portfolio was valued at £1.4 billion in 2015.

V22 have just been given ‘custodianship’ of the ex-Manor House Library which will be ran by their V22 Foundation – so they can access public funding, I imagine.  They are keeping some of the library open and adding artists’ studios.  They already run Forest Hill Library in a similar way.  They also worked with massive architects’ company HTA Design LLP on redeveloping Louise House in Forest Hill, having been given a £315,000 capital grant by Arts Council England and further funding from the Mayor of London’s High Street Fund.  HTA are the company behind the planned demolition of the Aylesbury Estate!  HTA are also led by RIBA president-elect, Ben Derbyshire.

On the surface, V22 seem concerned about the lack and loss of suitable space for artists in the capital.  They claim:

We believe that the wide provision of affordable artists’ studios in London is one of the reasons this city is the world’s art capital. This not only directly benefits the creative economy, but also the growth of the city itself.

Indeed, V22 are part of the London Cultural Strategy group reporting to the Mayor of London’s office and GLA, active as members of the Artists’ Workspace Advisory Group (along with Bow Arts, ACME and others) which have advised Sadiq Khan on his plans for ‘Studiomakers’ and a Creative Land Trust to ‘protect’ London artists from hyper-gentrification in the city.

V22 claim to be concerned that artists’ studios ‘are under threat in London within rising property prices, and artists are being pushed further and further out of the city.’  They also claim to be ‘one of several organisations in London fighting to keep rental prices low and create spaces for the production of art in the city, long term.’  Whilst I have argued elsewhere that artists are pawns in a game played by the state, local government, property developers, etc., it is also increasingly true that arts organisations, in this case V22, are perhaps using artists in the same way.

Let’s face it, neither HTA Design LLP nor Workspace Group PLC are particularly in the provision of artists’ studios, nor for that matter council or social or even affordable housing!  They’re huge corporate property companies who seek to make profits from the sort of accumulation by dispossession that underpins gentrification.  Artists are expendable, intangible assets – pawns – who serve to artwash their corporate exploitation and the displacement of local people and small businesses.

Surely, people – well connected people like those at V22 – must know that when you work with companies like this (and local governments and city mayors as well) you are being employed for artwashing?  If you work in partnerships, you must know your partners, surely?

So, who are the people behind V22 and are they really fighting for artists’ spaces around the city or are they artwashing on behalf of property developers, financial investors and local government departments?

V22 PLC is Isle of Man registered so, it’s tricky to see exactly who is involved there.  Apparently, 38% of the company’s shareholders are artists but this is difficult to verify.  What we do know is that one of its directors there is Tara Kathleen Cranswick.  Cranswick founded V22 and is also director of V22 London and V22 Foundation.  Another of the Isle of Man registered V22 group is Stephen Paul Corran an ex-PriceWaterhouseCoopers chartered accountant with long list of around 100 other current directorships and partnerships, including as secretary of Bayswater (IoM) Limited – a company implicated in extensive offshore tax operations along with others he works for.

Things get even more interesting. Another V22 London director is Bruce McRobie who is also a surveyor for the London Borough of Lambeth – he’s active in ‘estate regeneration’ there at the moment, looking at estate demolition and CPO (this is no surprise as he did the same thing in Hackney and Tower Hamlets in the past).  He is also director at Shakey Isles Limited – a real estate company he owns the company outright; and Mornington Road Management Company Limited – a property management company.

McRobie also worked with another ex-director V22 London director David Oakley (2006-2015).  Oakley is not only Corporate Affairs Correspondent for the Financial Times, but, more importantly, director of multiple companies including big property developers, hotels, etc.  David Oakley also serves on Guild Acquisitions PLC Advisory Board (now called Kryptonite 1 PLC).

Stephen Paul Corran is a director of Kryptonite 1 PLC and was when the company was called Guild Acquisitions!  Remember Corran has many links but, critical to this case, he is secretary and director of V22 PLC in the Isle of Man.

The property developer connections just keep growing.  So, what are V22 really doing here?  Protecting artists and artists’ spaces, or artwashing for property developers?  Why have so many influential people with backgrounds in property development and financial investment (including offshore financial investments)?  Why partner with big property corporations such as HTA Design and Workspace?  Why advise the Mayor of London on artists’ zones?  Why take over libraries left to rot by Tory cuts?

Well, the answer could lie in another company: V220 Limited.  V220 is a company involved in the construction of commercial buildings & management of real estate on a fee or contract basis. Its directors are Tara Kathleen Cranswick and Bruce McRobie!!! They’re 50/50 shareholders. Lovely Sloane Avenue offices too!!  Remember, Cranswick is on the board of V22 PLC, V22 London and V22 Foundation, whilst McRobie is a property developer who also works for Lambeth council!

It would seem, then, that V22 (in all three guises) is the art front for V220 limited – the property developer.  Same people, different agendas.  Artist Tara Cranswick and developer/ surveyor Bruce McRobie are key figures in V22 (art) and V220 (property).  They have many friends and allies.

They have not broken any laws, but artwashing is such a distasteful business – a practice that exploits people’s trust.  Any company who needs to hide its affairs in the Isle of Man needs to be asked why … but an ‘arts’ and property organisation???

Clearly, V22 have an affinity with artwashing.  Look at this film, Dalston Now (2012) which V22 describe as being produced 'in partnership with London Borough of Hackney, Barratt Homes, Hard Hat,Hackney Archives, Petchey Academy and the Rhodes Estate'.  V22 'mapped' and archived the community, 'Capturing the fine grain of people’s memories and experiences' in 'an area in regeneration'.  Another example of artwashing as story harvesting.  The hypocrisy is astounding.  (Watch from around 16 minutes in, if you haven't time to watch it all...)

There’s a lot more artwashing going on in London.  The case around V22 London’s based in Ashwin Street and the nearby Dalston Eastern Curve Garden – a planned ‘cultural quarter’ is next, so watch out as we explore a trail from V22 to OPEN Dalston, Organisation for Promotion of Environmental Needs Limited, Eye On Dalston, Dalston Community First, Community Land Use Limited, Happiness at Work, Clapton Improvement Trust, Clapton Improvements Limited, Second Home, and even ex-Arts Council England chair Peter Bazalgette.  More soon …