Arts Lab

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The Arts Lab was an alternative arts centre, founded in 1967 by Jim Haynes at 182 Drury Lane. Although only active for two years, it was influential in inspiring many similar centres in the UK and continental Europe, including the expanded Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London, the Milky Way/Melkweg in Amsterdam (where Jack Henry Moore was one of the founders) and the Entrepôt in Paris.

Drury Lane Arts Lab[edit]

The Lab contained a 'soft floor' cinema in the basement designed and run by David Curtis. In the entrance there was a gallery space co-curated by Biddy Peppin (Curtis's partner) and Pamela Zoline. In a separate (but connected) warehouse was the theatre, designed by Jack Henry Moore, who initially co-directed the activities there. Both the cinema and theatre were constructed by David Jeffrey, whose partner, Philippa James, was closely involved in the Lab's day-to-day running. Upstairs, the space in front initially housed a film workshop put together by Malcolm Le Grice and students from St. Martin's School of Art and the London School of Film Technique, and subsequently a restaurant run by Susan Miles.[1] Haynes lived in the back above the storage and dressing rooms. A number of other people lived in various corners of the building, and the all-night cinema was often seen as a cheap crash-pad.[2] Such amenities made it perfect for live events and "happenings" and helped establish it as the quintessential drop-in/drop-out centre of the London counterculture.

Yoko Ono and John Lennon's first joint artwork "Build Around" was exhibited at the Arts Lab in May 1968.[3]

Arts Lab Movement[edit]

One of the most significant features of the Arts Lab was that it encouraged similar establishments to create other independent centres, many of which outlived Haynes' original, which closed in the autumn of 1969. On 18 December 1968 the Alchemical Wedding benefit for the Arts Lab and BIT alternative information centre took place at the Albert Hall, and following it, on 25–26 January 1969, the Arts Lab Conference in Cambridge emphasized the strength of the Arts Lab movement, listing 50 such centres across the whole country, including the Birmingham Arts Lab, Brighton Combination[4] and centres in Exeter, Farnham, Guildford, Huddersfield, Loughborough, Manchester, Southampton and Swindon.[5] David Bowie, who used to rehearse (and perform mime) at the Drury Lane Arts Lab, co-founded a Beckenham Arts Lab, which organised a one-day free festival, but was disillusioned by the lack of interest of other performers/artists taking an active role in the continuation of the centre.[6] Dave Cousins of The Strawbs organized the Hounslow Arts Lab.[7] The Havering Arts Lab run by future Stuckism founder Charles Thomson, then aged 16, resulted in the headline "Sex Orgy Tale—Group Banned" in the local newspaper.[8]

An Arts Lab Newsletter was produced by Nicholas Albery of BIT in 1968 and updated in various editions of Bitman in later years.

In London, a New Arts Lab (also titled 'Institute for Research in Art and Technology') was founded by a breakaway group of original members and others, including the London Film-Makers' Co-op. Housed (1969-1971) in a short-life factory building in Robert Street, London NW1, it contained a cinema run by David Curtis, theatre and gallery spaces, the London Film Makers' Co-op workshop, John Hopkins' TVX and a printing workshop run by John Collins. The full-width opening doors at ground floor level enabled J.G. Ballard's 'Crashed Cars' exhibition to be held there. ].[9]


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