Hackney People: Hadrian Garrard

The director of non-profit agency Create London, works to connect artists with communities

"DID you know that East London has one of the highest concentrations of artists within Europe, but also some of the lowest levels of engagement with art?” The question posed by Hadrian Garrard is one he has dedicated most of his professional life addressing.

The director of non-profit agency Create London, has just been announced as the winner of the 2016 Genesis Prize. The only prize of its kind, it recognises outstanding mentors of artistic talent. It is worth £25,000 but, true to form, Hadrian has already given it away.

“Create London exists to connect artists with communities,” he explains. When he was working on the refurbishment of Hackney Empire, he began to be bothered by the fact that an area could be ‘full of theatre, artists and galleries’, and yet the majority of its population might never benefit from that. 

His preoccupation with the issue came to fruition when he was commissioned by the London 2012 Games organising committee to create public art projects in the Olympic and Paralympic host boroughs. 

“It’s not just about making culture free,” explains Hadrian. Adding: “It’s about making it accessible, putting it in non-traditional contexts and showing people that it can bring real benefits to the communities in which it happens. It’s great for neighbourhoods when artistic communities move in, but only if they interact.”

Accordingly, Create doesn’t commission art for traditional galleries. In and around East London, it has commissioned over 100 artists to do what might well count as some of the most ambitious projects of their careers: building a cinema under a motorway, for example, or creating a soft play centre for children.

“In 2012, the year after the riots, we persuaded the Savoy Hotel to let the artist Ruth Ewan and more than 200 East London teenagers to stage a take over of the Lancaster Ballroom,” laughs Hadrian.

Adding: “That has to be one of the highlights of the last seven years for me. We wanted to allow the young people to see London in a different way, and take ownership of parts of it that seemed totally inaccessible to them. Some of them had never been to central London, or even seen the Thames before, so it was a wonderful experience to be part of.”

Creating opportunities for East London’s young people is a big part of what Hadrian does. In 2012, Create London collaborated with a New Direction to start a project called ‘Create Jobs’ that organises work placements, mentoring, support and ultimately paid employment for 16 to 24-year-old East Londoners in the creative sectors. 

Last year, Create found jobs for over 130 young people in the creative sector and worked with children in more than 25 East London schools. It helped establish Open School East which supports 13 postgraduate art students by giving them free tuition and studio spaces. In exchange, they deliver workshops and events for people living on De Beauvoir Estate.

“At the moment, we’re working with a ceramicist called Aaron Angell, developing a new youth programme,” says Hadrian. From his studio in Hoxton, the artist is working with a group of young adults who are learning the science of glazing, and how to set up and run a workshop. Some will end up in paid employment at the studio, others will leave with new professional skills.

“Young people whose families can’t afford to give them lots of financial support, need other forms of extended support if they are going to break into careers in the arts,” he explains. 

That’s why, having only just received his £25,000 prize from the Genesis Foundation, Hadrian has already invested it in someone else. Accordingly, Sophie Chapman is the first recipient of the Young Curator Award.

“There are grants out there for artists of all kinds, but not to support young curators. We wanted to create a scheme that would support a young curator who had huge potential, but who didn’t have other forms of advantage,” he says.

It looks like Hadrian’s win is everyone’s gain.