Temporary venues have altered urban lifestyles foreverby Serena Kutchinsky / December 12, 2013 / Leave a comment
Frank’s Cafe, on top of a multi-storey carpark in Peckham
Opinion is divided on the roots of pop-up culture. Was it in the touring cinema tents of 1950s India, the first car boot sales of 1970s Britain, the squatter art events of 1980s East Berlin or the warehouse raves of early 1990s Manchester?
In the past six years, since the financial crisis first hit, the practice of a venue or enterprise opening overnight, to thrive for a few days or months, and then disappear, has spread. It has touched everything from restaurants, to theatre, fashion, art, nightlife and even education. Deliberately temporary, housed in derelict or vacant spaces, and enabled by social technology which lets people know instantly of their arrival, pop-ups are disrupting traditional business structures and revitalising run-down neighbourhoods in London, Manchester, Paris, Berlin and New York City.
It’s this unorthodox edge which has endowed the pop-up industry with elusive cool. Pop-ups also provide a vital testing ground for new business ideas and a platform for emerging talent. “The number of new pop-up businesses opening in 2013 was around 125,000,” says Emma Jones, co-founder of national enterprise campaign StartUp Britain. “I expect a further increase in 2014, because the issue that created them has not been fixed yet—the high cost of business rates. We’re asking for pop-ups to be exempt because they are creating the future.”
The sheer variety is impressive—restaurants on rooftops, cinemas under flyovers, art galleries in railway arches and street food fairs in disused car parks. “A lot of creative allure lies in the challenge of making something happen from scratch,” says the Southbank Centre’s Artistic Director Jude Kelly, who has overseen the introduction of around 40 pop-up events into the centre’s calendar.
But there is a risk—that the novelty which is so successful in drawing a one-off audience to these events will fail to translate into a loyal following. “Pop-ups have hit critical mass, in a similar way to other social media-driven fads,” says Bash Redford who runs “roaming” supper club Forza Win, which serves up feasts in unusual locations. “A pop-up is really a way of testing a concept for minimal cost—it’s grown in popularity as the ability to borrow substantial sums from the banks has dwindled. As the economy recovers, we…