Necessity Still Breeds Ingenuity - Archive of SQUALL MAGAZINE 1992-2006
CoolTan squat, Brixton, 1995
View from the CoolTan Cafe. Photo: Nick Cobbing

CoolTan Arts - Past, Present, Future

Respect going out to the CoolTan Posse and four years of grass-roots culture. The well-tanned Shane Collins reviews the achievements and looks to a future land.

Squall 11, Autumn 1995, pg. 76.

CoolTan moved out of the Old Dolehouse on 24th September. We had a 'Tenancy at Will' with the Voice newspaper, who bought the building about 18 months ago. They plan to move their offices and operations from next door into the old dolehouse.

In many ways we have run our course. The opportunities of new spaces and new directions lie in front of us. So after a final exhibition and a series of massive parties we moved out.

No-one is an island. In the same way, no group is insulated. Its shape is taken not only from the people involved but also the prevailing opinions and moods of the times, and most obviously its physical space.

For the last four years, and particularly in the last three at the old Dolehouse, CoolTan has been spoilt for space. Originally kicked off in June 1991 in the old CoolTan suntan lotion factory in Effra Road, the factory was squatted until sold in February '92, razed to the ground and left as an empty plot. We moved to offices above Brixton Cycles before moving to the old Dolehouse in September '92. Since then we have squatted the building, been outbid by the voice newspaper in trying to buy the building from the unEmployment disService, and for the last six months have been on a peppercorn rent.

We have been massively lucky in many ways to get the most precious of commodities for nothing. That commodity being land, a floor, a roof. Consequently CoolTan Arts and the many other groups that have existed in the same space, Lambeth Green Party, Reclaim the Streets, London Green Party, Earth First!, Freedom Network, London Friends and Families of Travellers, have all been able to thrive in an arid and oppressive political and economic landscape, and be part of the bubbling and vibrant scene that points to a different value system and the future.

It is fair to say that we have done for the last five years what no other collective or group has been doing at the same time. (Respect to Rainbow, Exodus and Justice? who operate in different areas and with different focuses.) We have trod a new path. We have exposed new art in new circumstances, we have been part of the social changes, the cultural rumblings of the last few years. We have provided music, pictures, parties, politics, poetry, food and shelter for many people who might not have otherwise come across it, or been able to afford it had it not been for us. Maybe, and not just in our wildest dreams, we have offered a new perspective on life for some people and other ways of living it.

All of us at various times and to varying extents have worked our butts off, not for ourselves, but for the crack, for the benefit of all (and therefore us as well), for a common and at times cloudy goal. While it is probably easier for us to remember the mistakes, we have also got to check that we have done good, done something worthwhile. To know this, to take comfort and confidence from this and be able to carry the lessons and experiences through into other things is our reward. We, a bunch of often quite different people on the dole, came together and did it. A totally independent squatted community arts centre. We proved to ourselves and others that it could be done. Nuff respect CoolTanners.

It's not all been plain sailing, there have been problems. Our enthusiasm to take things on has been greater than our ability to get things done. To maintain the levels of commitment and positivity and do the boring dirty jobs when there is little tangible reward can indeed be a tough thing to do. At times CoolTan has been merry chaos, trying to do far too many things, with too few switched on people. There is a feeling that with a change of space there must be a change of structure and focus. Also, if we don't get at least the same sized space we can't do the same things.

CoolTan, as an arts, social, networking, community, DIY, whatever centre is going to change and move on.

CoolTan will continue as an arts group, moving into a railway arch in Brixton, Station Road, while looking for a large space for exhibitions and arts events. Much of the networking, DIY, green side that has existed within the CoolTan buildings will continue in a new centre, alongside artists' studios and a cafe, and trying to run as far as possible on a LETS scheme, called Greenland, currently looking for space in Brixton. Some of the cafe crew are forming a co-op called the Camberwell Carrot, soon to be opening in a cafe in Camberwell.

To all those who have been a part of CoolTan over the last four and a half years and those who have supported us by coming to events and allowing us to be independent, ta, we made ripples, we all did our part, it's been a laugh and we'll be seeing you around Brixton over the years to come. Lots of ripples make a tidal wave.

Related Articles
CoolTan Arts Centre To Close - Brixton hub of activity to close after plan to buy the building is gazumped. Squall 7, Summer 1994.