“Personally I think developers should keep artists on a payroll – if they need an area gentrified they should just send in a few hundred artists.” Art Map London founder Jenny Judova is only half-joking. After all, the impact artists have had on the changing face of London is clear to see.

“In the first few years the artists clean up the area, make it quirky, creative and cool,” says Judova. “By year-three, fashion designers will start moving in, then the start-ups, and in five years time you get young bankers fighting to move in. We’ve watched this happen in Shoreditch, Dalston, Hackney, Peckham.”

Judova is talking ahead of the launch of Free Spaces – a web directory of unusual venues in and around London where artists can exhibit without a paying a fee. The launch on Friday 30 January coincides with an exhibition of several street artists at Rolling Stock, on Kingsland Road, east London.

Judova explains how it will work: “When you join [subscriptions cost £25 per month, £30 for 6 months, or £40 for 12 months] you get access to the directory of free venues and you book the one you like. Art Map London will handle the booking and all the admin stuff – when do you set up, how long the exhibition will last, when do you want the private view etc. We are trying to streamline a fairly messy process to become as simple as booking a hotel.”

Pop-up exhibitions

The genesis for the initiative came when Judova met Kim Judge, who is taking up the role of artist and venue manager at Free Spaces.

Their discussions about London’s empty spaces – restaurants and hotels with vacant rooms, town halls with sizeable auditoriums, empty commercial spaces in between rents, community gardens, city farms, skate parks and so on – led them to the realisation that neither had ever paid for somewhere to put on a pop-up exhibition or event.

With many of their artist and curator friends frustrated at rental costs for staging an independent exhibition, the pair identified a need for change.

“We are trying to get as many interesting spaces as possible,” Judova explains. “Of course we are also talking with independent businesses and we did find some gems in surprising places. I think Rolling Stock, where the launch will take place, is actually one of my favourites.

“In essence it’s a burger restaurant. However, attached to it is a white cube-style gallery space – just white walls and concrete floor. How crazy is that to find in a burger place?”