A fiery blaze damaged London’s beloved Battersea Arts Centre, breaking out during a performance of Gecko Theatre’s riveting ‘Missing’ Show in 2015. Although 80 brave firefighters worked for two and a half hours to douse the flames, the damage from the Battersea Arts Centre fire required immense restoration. Therefore, the official autumn 2018 Battersea Arts Centre reopening (with a venue tour and performance of ‘Missing’) inspired much anticipation amongst the local theatregoers.
The Battersea Arts Centre Fire
Three years ago, as flames consumed the building, an employee (equal parts reckless and passionate) stormed back into the burning building after evacuation to retrieve the building plans. The art centre’s building plans were then studied by firefighters to reduce fire damage, and they were later consulted to plan for the London arts centre’s massive renovation. Afterwards, the Battersea Arts Centre reopened to earnest community fanfare, demonstrating what the £13.8 million restoration project accomplished – stopping short of their £18 million budget.
The Battersea Arts Centre Reopening Tour
Many fellow tour-goers greeted the arts venue like an old friend after much time has passed. But strolling through the BAC for the first time, I thought the most striking feature of the Battersea Arts Centre is the planned flexibility of the arts space. The performance spaces within the BAC are meant to be easily adapted and molded by visiting artists and uniquely set shows. Visiting artists can now even make their sets on-site. And when they create a performance for one of the more intimate spaces, they can even re-paint the walls to customise the rooms to their needs. (This is quite cool – and very uncommon! Many arts venues are not so lax and accommodating.) Tour guides explain that they want artists to feel completely free and unrestrained.
However, this ‘blank canvas’ for the sake of creativity does make the space feel unfinished when it is not occupied by a performance group, ready to put on a show. One visitor even commented that the BAC still had a lot to do before their public reopening – but really, the arts centre is finished. The Battersea Arts Centre just needs creatives to come and transform their visions into reality.
In addition to painting rooms, some spaces can be split into multiple sections, up to four or five – and shutters can create an intimate ‘black box’-type performance space. And rooms aren’t the only space in the BAC for performances. The tour guide mentions that staircases can be incorporated, too. (The Battersea Arts Centre has 12 staircases, in case you’re wondering.) He next referenced the Punchdrunk series, which was performed throughout the entire building, and that the central courtyard would make a charming performance space during London’s short summer season.
Not only will artists feel comfortable as they modify their stages and seating areas, they are also able to use a series of three kitchens or spend time decompressing on a beanbag in a specified ‘chill out’ zone. There are eight bedrooms for residences – and an exciting apartment-style hub for social entrepreneurs. There is a fixed fee for desk rental and a social co-working space to exchange ideas.
The tour concluded with a recap of the Battersea Arts Centre’s proud history: a female service worker began a foster care program heres, a black mayor was elected here, and suffragettes left their mark here, too. Fleetwood Mac even performed at this London venue. But most moving was a speech that recapped the kindness of locals who bought flowers and set up a bake sale to raise money to help restore the ravages of the Battersea Arts Centre fire – along with an opening poem by Lakeisha Lynch-Stevens in the Battersea Arts Centre Grand Hall.
The poem shared visitors’ memories of the BAC before the fire, and built upon what the Battersea Arts Centre looks forward to throughout years to come. With a true passion for fostering artists and the support of a resilient community, Londoners have lots to look forward to at this special arts venue.
If You Go to the Battersea Arts Centre:
Address: Battersea Arts Centre, Lavender Hill, London SW11 5TN
Nearest Underground Station(s): Clapham Common, Stockwell – then continue journey on bus
Nearest Train Station(s): Clapham Junction
Phone Number: +44 2072232223
All information correct and up-to-date at time of posting.
Disclosure: Dance Dispatches was invited on a complimentary tour of the Battersea Arts Centre to learn about its recent renovations for this feature.