Queen Street Studios (QSS) provide 48 self-contained studios for rent to professional artists. The studios are a mix of sizes (147 sq. ft. to 744 sq. ft.) rendering them suitable for artists on different incomes (in line with QSS’s affordable ethos). In addition to the provision of studios, QSS runs two fully accessible gallery spaces, Gallery 1 & Gallery 2, which showcases work by studio members and artists selected through open submission. 1
‘Like many arts organisations throughout Belfast, Queen Street Studios (QSS) has a story that mirrors the city itself. Back in the early 80’s there was no studio provision or art suppliers in Belfast, no real gallery accessibility for non-established artists and little support for graduates. QSS emerged in 1984 as a direct response to these challenges, starting on the top floor of a former printers on Queen Street [up 91 steps!]; with 11 founding members and a grant of £3,000 from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. As relayed by founding member Damien Coyle, “I think it was actually a big sea-change for the visual arts in Northern Ireland. It showed that artists could take control, they could do something for themselves.”
By 1994, membership had increased to 24 (spread across 22 studios) and 68 artists had passed through its doors, two of whom are still studio holders today – Gerry Devlin and Terry McAllister. The passing 10 years saw the establishment of a number of new studio groups in the city including Flax Artist Studios (1989 – then located on the Crumlin Road), Orchid Studios (1990), Catalyst Arts and PS2 (both set up in 1993). Over the years many Belfast-based artists have moved between these spaces (and more) as their individual needs have changed.
In 2001 QSS launched a new gallery space to showcase work by (mostly) emerging artists. Further expansion included the ‘digital studios’ in 2003, which spun off in time to become the Digital Art Studios (DAS). Despite this progression it became more difficult to operate at Queen St year on year. The flat roof was not insulated, there was no internal heating system and the fabric of the building itself was rapidly deteriorating. The studios suffered unpredictable flooding and falling debris during bad weather and suffocating heat in the summer months. Thus began a search for a new home in 2009, which ended in relocation to Bedford St in 2013. Here, QSS established a more professional and outward facing facility with a street-facing gallery on the ground floor and 23 bright and airy studios spread across three floors. Satellite studios for recent graduates were added four years later at Norwich Union House. All was well until 2018 – our annus horribilis – which saw the announcement of Bedford St redevelopment, a 100% funding cut [later re-instated] and the Primark fire in Belfast city centre which forced the closure of Norwich Union House!
So in 2019, after 35 years of city centre residence, QSS moved to what was once the Bloomfield Bakery in the heart of East Belfast. This relocation has worked well, with forty artists now occupying thirty-seven self-contained studios and a 354 sq. m refitted exhibition space. 61% of our studio-holders are professionally active for more than 10 years, with a further 25% of studios ring-fenced for early career artists. Relocation has provided a fresh perspective and new possibilities; and we now look forward to the next chapter in our unfolding story.’2