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London: Squatter artists enjoy million-dollar vacated properties

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Courtesy of the Oubliette

(Read caption) Oubliette artist squatters at the Odeon Cinema in Leicester Square, London.

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 A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Rarely have fringe artists resided in such upmarket locations. From embassy-strewn Mayfair to the shopaholic’s paradise of Oxford Street, from the popular tourist spot of Waterloo to the center for movie premières at Leicester Square, members of the Oubliette Arthouse collective are taking over vacated properties in London’s prime spots.

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“We want to transform London’s derelict spaces into platforms to promote emerging artists,” says Oliver Krug, one of Oubliette’s founders. “It’s about making significant art projects happen and helping artists develop, gain recognition, and become established.”

The artist squatters, who do not seek funding from the government or the private sector, recently enjoyed unrestricted views from a £20 million ($32 million), 50-room property at Leicester Square as George Clooney and other Hollywood stars walked down the red carpet at the London Film Festival opening gala in October. (They were evicted in November.)

With an emphasis on “the innovative and avant-garde,” Oubliette members have put on exhibitions, plays, slam poetry, and life-drawing classes.

A core group of volunteers live on site and the initiative has already made some inroads when it comes to providing a platform for up-and-coming artists to collaborate and get noticed. 

Since putting on a play at an Oubliette squat, the fringe theatre company, Donkeywork, has been approached by established venues and is developing new work.

While eviction threats are always looming, artists, the press, and the public have been supportive. “A large variety of people come back repeatedly to the different venues to take part in the events and follow the artistic development of the group,” says Mr. Krug.

Vacant lot owners in London might want to invest in extra strong locks because there is no telling which sought-after property the squatters will try to take over next.