I am on a 3.30pm DLR train from Poplar station and 15 minutes later standing at the end of City Airport runway watching planes land into the sunset. I’ve come to meet with Anjali from Bow Arts at the new RAW studio, café and art space called RAW Lab. I ask her how it’s going, does she get many visitors?
"At the moment it’s about finding out what people want from this space, and so far that’s worked well at getting people to come back. We have a really popular monthly life-drawing class and a weekly yoga class both of which are building a loyal following"
The views are amazing, I’m surrounded by the water of London’s Royal Albert Docks, the world's largest enclosed dock and the freshly built apartments are, not surprisingly, filling up fast.
RAW Lab, where we sit, is a large bright co-working space. It’s welcoming with a double-height ceiling and huge windows. I am reassured by the high quality coffee machine, and Anjali makes us a delicious hot drink.
Is it mostly Bow Artists who have studios here that run the events?
"It’s a mix, for example that’s Sara (she indicates an industrious woman working at tables on the other side of the large, warm and bright industrial space) and she’s a resident artist here running workshops in RAW Lab for local families and Gallion’s Primary School, where most local children go. And this Sunday we are having our first Arts Market in this space with thirteen stall holders from all over London. As it’s Newham Word Festival (6-19 Nov ‘17) we are putting on some performances and a screening too. It should be a great day!"
While we are talking Anjali leaves to join a meeting with Vladimir, an artist from one of the studios next door who is using the large upstairs mezzanine for a meeting. I take the chance to catch up with Sara Heywood, the resident artist.
Are you ready for your workshop on Saturday?
"Yip, just about! I’m going to be showing and making some zoetrope, kaleidoscope and hand-held 3D viewers. It’s all about the art of illusion and I’ll show some Victorian examples alongside the new Google Cardboard, which takes your mobile phone. The free drop-in workshop runs 10-4pm Saturday 11 November."
Sara explains the basics of making your own snaps appear to “pop out” and shows me some photos of boats in the dock outside that she’s made 3D. As usual, when talking to an artist, I'm humbly blown-away by the inquisitive mind; keen to learn more and share with others – all with a joyful excitement. I go on to ask what she’s looking forward to next:
"After this workshop I’ll be focusing on developing ideas for a large scale commission here. It’s very much a work in progress but I am trying out some ideas now [Sara waves her hand towards a wall of sketches and images of beach huts, retro caravans and bird-boxes…]"
Anjali rejoins the conversation;
"Some of the local residents were getting really excited about your picture wall; piecing together your images, they think they might be getting a bird-hide! That’s the lovely thing about Sara having her studio in the middle of this space, everyone gets to see and interact with a real working artist."
And finally I ask Anjali what she hopes to make of this space
"Now we are open on Thursday and Fridays as well, I can get the word out locally about our growing programme. I loved our Asian Feminist film series last month so I hope to do more screenings, and we are combining performance with our life-drawing classes. Vladamir, the artist I just met with, is planning a public exhibition in the upstairs space called “Sub-Structured Loss”. I’ve just confirmed our Feminist Christmas Fair for Saturday 9 December 2017."
As I set off, leaving Anjali handing leaflets out to local residents, I notice a flood of construction workers getting on the DLR and I speak to them on my journey back.
"Pretty soon this train will be full of people living here, when we have finished our work building their houses!"
And for me, it’s exciting to think that artists have been here from the beginning; making, sharing their ideas, as those new families arrive and join the community.