by Eleni Batsoula
One of the biggest struggles of being an artist, and more specifically a newcomer in the arts scene, is trying to establish one’s practice and gain exposure in an effective, impactful way that will help the work and its creator stand out and attract the right amount and kind of attention. It is a fact and a reality that, due to the increasingly growing influx of new artists, many of them recent Art School graduates, the art market is becoming more and more competitive. As a result, demand and need are rising disproportionately, making the situation even more complex. Getting out of education and into the ‘real world’ is always confusing and a little scary. What’s next? An effort to avoid the dreaded dead-end was the founding of artist run spaces and artist led initiatives, a quite recent phenomenon which is steadily growing and expanding, and the city of Edinburgh is no exception, since new, independent art spaces keep popping up. Although the function of supporting young artists still remains and is a major part of their agenda, artist run spaces have become an integral part of the art world, and most of them are neither small nor independent anymore, thus making it even more difficult for emerging artists to find a place to host their first endeavours in the art market. Being a recent graduate myself it is a matter of great interest and relevance to me, and that is why I chose this subject to inaugurate my cooperation with Art + Thought. Through a series of articles, I will attempt to explore smaller, independent art spaces and see what makes each of them unique. First stop, the area of Leith in Edinburgh and the Sketchy Beats art café.
Leith, much like the nature of the spaces around which the discussion is going to revolve, is an area which started rising to prominence only a few years ago and is still making its way to the centre of Edinburgh’s cultural radar. Sketchy Beats was originally a monthly art event held in the basement of a small Polish restaurant on Leith Walk, started by Cosima Canneti, who was looking for an opportunity to redefine the concept of a typical night out and create a relaxed environment open to artistic expression of any kind - from sketching, as the name itself implies, to music, to dancing. After the overwhelming response from the audience in one of their latest events, she decided to venture into opening her own café, a dream she had for quite some time.
The first thought that comes to mind is that it is definitely not a time suited for new business ventures. The need to have a base and a ‘room of one’s own’ is something completely understandable, a human need even, but competition is growing and prices are rising, without the wages following accordingly. However, when there is a will there is a way. And thus, many gumtree searches and a crowdfunding campaign later, Sketchy Beats café opened up at the number 208 of Great Junction Street in the beginning of October. Cosima, originally from London, fell in love with Edinburgh after moving there a few years ago, and more specifically with the area of Leith, and that is why she made the conscious decision of opening her café there. The space itself, formerly part of an old cinema, expands in two floors: On the ground floor, visitors can find the café’s main space, featuring a swapping library where customers can leave books they have already read and get new ones in return, while the basement, which also includes a semi-enclosed area overlooking the beautiful canal of the Water of Leith, is used for hosting the various events that take place frequently, which vary from sketching nights with live music, to art exhibitions and meditation classes. The environment is homey and relaxed. Since the café was built on a very small budget, all of the furniture was bought for little money or acquired for free through various websites and ads. Each piece is different, yet fitting, and all of them together compose a unique atmosphere.
What sets Sketchy Beats apart from other smaller spaces, is that it’s open to everyone and anyone, artist or not. As much as art movements for the public, such as street art, have risen to prominence in the past few years, many fundamental artistic values unfortunately often tend to get lost in a systematised and mediated translation. It’s not always about technique, expertise or skill, but also about inspiration and creativity. As Cosima herself stresses out, their approach is more informal, open to both amateurs and professionals, while she is aspiring for the café to become a cultural and social hub for locals, and not only. And indeed, whether it is its contribution and connection to the cultural life of Leith or its genuinely welcoming and relaxed vibe, Sketchy Beats is all about community, a concept which seems to be deeply rooted into the core of this project. Although the café is a new addition to the neighbourhood, response has already been really positive; when I walked in, Cosima was discussing about an upcoming exhibition with an enthusiastic local, the events held so far in the new space have been increasingly successful, while, within the few hours that I was there, many passer-bys stopped out of sheer curiosity, always being greeted with a warm smile, and in a time when exclusivity is almost inextricably connected to the value and worth of an artwork or an artistic endeavour, an approach like this is more than welcome; it is much needed.