Building a Community from scratch with director Tracey Gudonis

Tracey Gudonis and her team’s hard work and vision has culminated in the former 90s document storage facility becoming a haven for artists, small businesses and music and culture lovers.

Tracey shares her thoughts on building a community in STUDIO – the large coworking space that spans the footprint of the building. Alongside established creatives using the space, Tracey also discusses how working with schools and providing affordable spaces is providing locals with a route into the creative industries and the arts.

Kicking off pre-pandemic in 2018, Tracey’s background as a teacher in Art and Design made her the ideal person to curate a coworking space for artists, collectives and creatives alike. Alongside architect friend Simon Cooper they began by mapping out the 1000 sq metre space to create a set of unique modular studios for 100 artists.

“The scale of the space available was pretty daunting but fortunately for me, Simon came up with the genius idea of dividing up the space using shipping pallets. Sustainable, affordable and a really nice aesthetic.”

Planning the internal architecture was key to making the space as inspiring as possible and the vision came to life over a four month period with partitions made from up-cycled pallets, followed by a workshop space, meeting room, phone booth-shed and further seating areas.

Tracey then started reaching out to grassroots groups and independent artists. It wasn’t long before she found her first set of residents and working collaboratively with them she was able to build an inclusive space that would evolve into a positive and supportive community: 

“My first residents lined up in the form of a group of creatives who had previously been part of a non-for-profit organisation who had been pushed out of their previous space by greedy developers. Their suggestions and ideas at that time were invaluable and many of the original people who joined me then are still here now.”

With the first set of residents in place the studio began to fill up via word of mouth and peer-to-peer recommendations:

“The community we’ve created is warm, diverse and so inspiring. In the main studio we have 70 residents, including poets, writers, fine artists, product designers, dressmakers, architects, printers, upholsterers, graffiti artists, PHD students, charities, NGOs, small businesses, garden designers, photographers, we even have a luthier; the list goes on! We now also provide space for a number of tattoo artists, a few clothing brands, web designers and so much more. Personally, I feel like I’m surrounded by incredible people and our social events are so much fun.”

As the city grows and adapts often the first to get priced out are locals and the grassroots creative communities, DOCUMENT are working as a collective to ensure studio members are able to stay afloat, plus working with local communities to provide opportunities. 

“We’re committed to keeping the space competitively priced in order for it to be accessible to people from all walks of life. We offer free and discounted spaces to young people who would otherwise not be able to access suitable space for their practice and have offered use of the space to local community groups and organisations. Our relationship with the primary school across the road from us saw us becoming pen pals for a short period last year where a number of our residents exchanged letters with children at the school in exchange for a contribution towards their school leavers celebration… Inside the space we share funding and exhibition opportunities with one another as well as job opportunities and social events. Many people eat together in the communal kitchen space and we have a ‘free shop’ where people donate useful art materials, supplies and equipment.”

As many businesses continue to endure the rise in inflation, rates and economic fluctuations venues that cater for the arts and music are often some of the hardest hit, Tracey explains; 

“Our main challenges have been business rates, plus heating and energy costs. Bristol Council are supportive but business rates are increasing again in April 2023 and the energy crisis is incredibly challenging. We will continue to do all we can to keep prices down but this year is certainly going to be a struggle. Our priority is to keep the space open and available for everyone who needs it.”