History of Art


Ana Charriere Alvarez De Ron, Polycentric London: A Map of Not-for-Profit Arts Organisations

A map of London's not for profit art organisations with red pins indicating their locations
Access the map

This map gathers not-for-profit galleries and cultural centres in London which champion innovation and inclusivity in the arts through social-engagement projects. Its mission is to represent and promote cultural vibrancy in other, non-central areas of London, so that you can discover what is happening in this overwhelmingly-big city that we call home. 

The areas highlighted in yellow are boroughs registered in Arts Council’s program ‘Creative People and Places’, which funds projects in areas of the U.K. where creative engagement is low. 

I would love for this map to continue growing. If you know of any other organisations which can be included (especially in ‘Creative People and Places’ boroughs), email me their names at ana.ron.21@ucl.ac.uk.

Central London covers 2.19% of Greater London’s total surface area.1 If, in just that small figure, we find world-leading institutions, such as the National Gallery or the Barbican Centre, think of how much is happening on the other side of that number, in boroughs where a larger and more diverse population lives as well as visits and consumes. Of course, the reason why historical centres occupy a specific area is because they include that city’s most important heritage sites and globally-relevant culture. But with this acclaim and profitability comes the risk of conformity and standardisation, as these central museums, theatres and monuments are unshakingly embedded in their long history, traditional governance, and eclectic, tourist-based audience. Meanwhile, in outer residential boroughs, things are constantly changing due to a higher population mobility and diversity. From 2011 to 2021, Central London counted a 0.30% population change, compared to a 5.60% - 10% change in the other city regions.2 

This is intrinsically linked to the arts and culture. Each and every one of us enjoys making or experiencing art, and thus we need culture in our vicinity. From the late 1960s to the early 2000s, several artists fought the lack of job opportunities in the formal labour market by occupying empty, derelict buildings, with famed examples in South and East London. As well as squatting,3 some creatives took a more organisational approach, securing public funding to convert these properties into affordable studios and workspaces. Fast-forward to today, many of these artist-led initiatives have become not-for-profit institutions which are essential cultural and social engagement spaces in their neighborhoods. Their focus on inclusivity, development, and accessibility for both artists and local audiences is maintained through their status as charities which are publicly funded by Arts Council England. However, Arts Council’s recently-published 2023 – 2026 Investment Programme presents significant cuts,4 adding to the pre-existing precarity of obtaining government subsidies. 

What does this mean for the future of these community-led organisations and how can we offer support? 

This is not to take away from renowned, central institutions, such as the English National Opera, which suffer all the same from these funding cuts and which should be attended and donated to. Notwithstanding, smaller, not-for-profit galleries, studios and cultural centres attract less investment yet form stronger ties with their surrounding communities by promoting direct encounters with artists. The organisations included in the map have diverse purposes, from producing the first solo show for emerging, underrepresented artists to offering creative workshops for young people. They also adopt specific, politically-engaged emphases, in order to encourage conversation and research on excluded voices in the arts. Auto Italia in Bethnal Green works at the intersection between queer studies and social change, whilst Autograph in Shoreditch focuses on photography and film to address issues of race, representation, human rights and social justice. Through these organisations’ dual engagement with their local context and with global, contemporary debates, they promote their neighborhoods as relevant cultural hubs.  

Coming Up – Staying Local

As well as commissioning new art from international artists, several of these organisations are presenting ambitious and inspiring events throughout the next months which explore their boroughs’ history, archives, and the art of local residents. 

•    Peer Gallery’s exhibition ‘we are a group of people composed of who we are’ closed on 9th of September 2023. Displaying both archival material and new commissions, it explores social and cultural work which took place in Hackney between 1971 and 1986. 
•    Studio 3 Arts’ theatre festival ‘Page, Stage, Script’ (29/09 – 01/10) puts on 12 theatre pieces by local artists from underrepresented groups.
•    South London Gallery’s exhibition ‘Lagos, Peckham, Repeat: Pilgrimage to the Lakes’ (05/07 – 29/10) presents artworks by 13 artists which discuss the connections between Lagos and Peckham. The gallery has also created a map for visitors to discover historical spots in the South London area. 
•    Studio Voltaire’s exhibition ‘Unearthed Collective. Where can we be heard?’ (23/09 – 01/10) displays the ongoing research of a group of artists, curators, and neighbors in Clapham on the houses and history of the area. 
•    Drawing Room’s exhibition ‘Drawing in Social Space’ (22/09 – 10/12) will present collaborative work made during lockdown by artists, schools, university students and families. 
•    Learn more about Gasworks’ Participation Residency Artist Programme, which mediates collaboration between artists and migrant communities in Lambeth and Southwark.
•    SPACE Studios regularly organises peer-to-peer feedback sessions for creatives which anyone is free to attend. 
•    At Bernie Grant Arts Centre, discover Elsa James’ installation ‘Ode to David Lammy MP’ which reflects on the Tottenham MP’s speech during the Windrush Scandal of 2018. 


  1. Jack Brown, Sara Gariban, Erica Belcher, and Mario Washington-Ihieme, ‘Core Values: The Future of Central London.’ February 26, 2020, Centre for London, <https://centreforlondon.org/reader/central-london/central-london-today/> [accessed 25 August 2023]. 
  2. ‘London’s geography and population,’ Trust for London, <https://trustforlondon.org.uk/data/geography-population/> [accessed 28 August 2023]. 
  3. Emily Gosling, ‘Turning Back the Clock to London as a Squatters’ Haven,’ 23 February 2021, Elephant, <https://elephant.art/turning-back-the-clock-to-london-as-a-squatters-hav... [accessed 28 August 2023]. 
  4. ‘MU Briefing: What MPs Need to Know About Arts Council England Funding Cuts,’ 18 January 2023, Musicians’ Union, <https://musiciansunion.org.uk/news/mu-briefing-what-mps-need-to-know-abo... [accessed 24 August 2023].