Former Arts Lab building in Birmingham
Birmingham Arts Lab (1968-1982) - Motacilla, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Alternative Arts and Performing Arts Venue

The Arts Lab

The Arts Lab, also known as the Drury Lane Arts Lab, was a venue for alternative arts exhibitions and performances situated at 182 Drury Lane, London. Founded by American theatre producer Jim Haynes (1933-2021), who was its chief custodian-in-residence, it operated for only a couple of years from 1967 until the Autumn of 1969 before closing down. Its closure occurred soon after it was reported that it had fallen into rental arrears and that the landlord had begun to threaten it with eviction.

The facilities were extensive, including a gallery space, a cinema, a theatre, and initially also a film workshop. Several of these areas had their own dedicated directors.

The cinema, overseen by David Curtis, was noted for running films all through the night, and passing visitors would sometimes sleep there to save money on hotel facilities.

A printed newsletter was produced in connection with the Arts Lab from 1968, initially by British social reformer Nicholas Albery (1948-2001).

Among the famous artists and performers whose work appeared at the Arts Lab were David Bowie, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and the American filmmaker Wheeler Winston Dixon (born 1950), who was just eighteen when he spent the summer there in 1968.

Following the closure of the Arts Lab, a London New Arts Laboratory (also known as the Institute for Research in Art & Technology, the New London Arts Lab, or just the New Arts Lab) was formed by some of its founding members together with new associates. This was situated at 1, Robert Street, London, from 1969 to 1971.

Around the UK, dozens of other approximate copies or derivatives were spawned. The following are among those documented as having come into being or as being in the advanced stages of planning by October 1969 or soon afterwards[1]:

  • the Arts Umbrella, Coventry
  • the Bangor Arts Lab Project
  • the Basildon Arts Lab
  • the Bath Arts Workshop (founded in 1969)
  • the Beaford Centre in Devon
  • the Beckenham Arts Lab (co-founded and personally directed by the young David Bowie in 1969)
  • the Birmingham Arts Lab (founded in 1968 and remaining active until 1982)
  • the Bishop Stortford Arts Lab Project, in Hertfordshire
  • the Bradford Arts Lab (in planning, 1969)
  • the Bristol Arts Lab
  • the Camberley Arts Lab Project
  • the Cambridge Arts Lab
  • the Cheltenham Arts Lab
  • the Croydon Arts Lab
  • the Epsom Arts Lab Project, Surrey
  • the Exeter Arts Lab
  • the Farnham Arts Lab, Hampshire
  • the Free Arts Centre, Woking
  • the Guildford Arts Lab Project
  • the Havering Arts Lab
  • the Hounslow Arts Lab
  • the Leeds Arts Lab
  • the Leicester Arts Lab
  • the Liverpool Great Georges Project
  • the Living Arts Workshop at Redhill
  • the Magic Village, Manchester
  • the Matrix Arts Workshop at Crawley
  • the Northampton Arts Lab
  • the Norwich Arts Lab
  • the Notting Hill Arts & Community Centre
  • the Oxford Resurrected Arts Lab Project
  • the Richmond Arts Workshop
  • M.I.L.E., Loughborough, Leicestershire
  • the St. Ives Arts Centre Group
  • the Sheffield Arts Lab Project
  • the South Gloucestershire Lab
  • the South Wales Arts Lab at Cardiff
  • the Stoke Arts Lab Project, Staffordshire
  • Studio Detra Lab, Corporation Street, Manchester (closed down by August 1969)
  • the Swindon Arts Lab
  • the Torbay Arts Lab
  • the Waltham Forest Arts Group
  • the Weybridge Arts Lab Project
  • the Worthing Workshop (founded in 1968)
  • the Yarmouth Arts Lab.

Haynes personally also founded the Arts Labs in Great Britain Trust in June 1969, under the auspices of the Community Development Trust, itself a registered charity.

It is documented that there was a convention of arts labs held on July 27th, 1969, at which they were organised along regional lines into eight groups:

  • East Anglian Region Arts Co-Op
  • London Region Arts Lab Co-Operative
  • Midlands Region Arts Lab Co-Op
  • North West Region Arts Lab Co-Op
  • The South-East Arts Lab Co-Op
  • The South-West Arts Lab Co-Op
  • The Yorkshire Open Workshop (Circuit)
  • Wales

[1] See International Times 66, October 10-23, 1969

James Haynes on the TV discussion programme After Dark in 1988, with Andrea Dworkin and host Anthony Clare

Open Media Ltd, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Jim Haynes

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