Guest Blog: New Diorama

Old Diorama Arts Centre has recently joined ITC as a ‘hub’ member, and we’re looking forward to enabling our creative community to access ITC’s support through it. In recent years we’ve been mostly known as a space for hire, but we’re beginning a journey to make our relationships with the creative sector and community that we support to be more collaborative. We want to be a centre that independent performing arts organisations and freelancers like you ‘call home’. As we reiterate our position as a home for independents, being part of the independent theatre community is key – it has to work both ways.

In the late 70s, a collective of independently-minded artists took over and squatted the empty Victorian Diorama building by Regent’s Park and turned it into one of London’s greatest arts hubs. Several buildings around the Euston area later, in 2013 the current Old Diorama Arts Centre opened on the Regent’s Place campus. After an extended closure during the worst of the pandemic, we’ve begun a journey of refreshing and updating what we are and what we do.

I, Daniel Pitt, started as Creative Director & Chief Executive in April 2022. I’ve always worked in the independent and experimental end of the performing arts, first hearing about the original building, with its huge dome performance space, as being influential in the development of UK contemporary circus – alongside raves and gigs. But more than that, many of the famous names of our theatrical sector worked there, and appear in our archives. Though we’re now at the bottom of a corporate tower block, we want to bring back the essence and the anarchy of our origins, and to be the origin story of new collaborations.

Our centre houses nine performing arts studios, two casting rooms and two office spaces, with a workspace-gallery-foyer, and we’ve also recently taken on temporary management of an ex-cafe, now ODAC Triton Street, that we’re turning into a new workspace. We operate a social enterprise model, earning income from commercial theatre, TV and film sectors, so that we can support both local Camden community groups and other charities (currently more than 30!), and to support independent and innovative practice in the arts. ODAC is a resource, but we’re resourceful too; we’re independent, and we’re for other independents.

Our focus this year, and beyond, is about making these spaces shift from being just spaces for hire to being home to a community that meets and mingles with each other, that grows together and supports each other. We’re aiming to be a creation and collaboration centre, where being based here facilitates more than just your own work. Having spent a lot of last years stabilising our business after the pandemic, we’re now working on plans to begin to rebalance the local Camden community and artist development resources for independents.

To support this, we’ve created the new part-time role of Collaborations Facilitator, focussing on developing collaborative partnerships, projects and programmes, with and between ODAC’s broad community of hirers, community groups, supported artistic groups and creative individuals, responding to what’s needed to create a diverse, nurturing, and interdisciplinary creative ecology here. Long-time team member Miranda Shamiso is taking up this role, and the title is a bit of a statement of intent for ODAC’s future with collaboration at its core.

In the coming months, we’ll be launching new initiatives to widen access to our spaces, to encourage and seed collaborations, free dedicated desk and workspace at ODAC Triton Street (our main ODAC foyer is already free to use), and a year-round residency programme focussing on interdisciplinary practice, at the point where live arts meet other forms. 

All in all, this is an invitation to think of ODAC as a possible home for you and your work, and as a possible partner or collaborator, or a place where you might meet your necessary partners and collaborators.

By Daniel Pitt, Old Diorama