We have been working in East London for over twenty years. The Centre was first established as Rosetta Studio Workshops in 1993 by ex-university lecturer, Yvonne Humble. Yvonne based the Centre in a single classroom at Rosetta Primary School, Canning Town, from which it took its name. She worked with local people in an innovative and somewhat experimental educational context, allowing the students to develop their own syllabus tailored to their personal interests and needs over a period of three years.
Yvonne was able to furnish the initial studio space with incredible resourcefulness, utilising contacts to acquire equipment and materials to set up the provision. Newham Council were particularly helpful in setting up the studio through the efforts of Steve Cameron, whom helped secure the vital studio space for the workshops to take place. The initial studio workshops focused on providing space for creative exploration at the same time as developing entrepreneurial skills through professional development workshops. Sessions were also delivered at Debden House, making use of the beautiful surroundings of the Epping Forest.
The studio aimed to give the chance to do something to those who felt they never had a chance, and this was always met. The studio facilitated their students through their creative explorations and discovery, as well as enabled them to build their confidence. Yvonne has described the atmosphere of those early days as a welcoming and inclusive environment:
“Students also looked after one another, discussing their work and their programmes. No one copied, they were all individuals. This is how I wanted them to become. They were told by me they were all the same status. We were all striving but no one was beneath anyone else.”
The students organised exhibitions to showcase their work, including at Stratford Old Town Hall and the St. Martin’s in the Field Crypt in Central London. Rosetta students were able to sell their work to an international market. The studios received a grant from Day Ellen Youell foundation, as her brother had benefited from the work of Rosetta through workshops at Debden House and made a strong recommendation:
“With one thousand pounds we bought a new machine for dressmaking, a dressmaking dummy and a few other useful items. It was a godsend in those first days. “
Due to the success of the studios in those first two years, the demand for its provisions was beginning to stretch the Centre and as such Yvonne started to look for alternative spaces to expand into. She was able to secure more studio spaces at the Hamilton Road Centre which was at that time also used for performing arts. Rosetta moved to Hamilton Road in 1995 and now had more studio space to offer more classes and workshops, helping even more local people to benefit from engaging in arts and creativity. Many were able to progress on from Rosetta towards higher education and others were able to secure work in facilitating art workshops. The Centre was thriving.
As a result, the Centre was able to showcase more of the students work, organising two exhibitions per year at St Martin’s In The Filed Crypt, as well as at the Quaker Gallery and Gallery 42 opposite the British Museum. They also put on two international exhibitions in Paris, one near the Arc de Triumph and another near the Bastille. The Centre began to run accredited classes with City & Guilds and Yvonne developed a painting syllabus for them that was not at that time in existence.
Life at the Centre was always relaxed. It offered lunchtime yoga classes and the lecturers and students made and shared healthy food on Fridays. Students had begun to take their work to markets and stall and were developing their skills based on their own aims. One of the Centre’s early students was Alexander McQueen. Yvonne remembers when he first came to her:
“Lee, as he wanted to be called, came to me as an evening student when he was learning tailoring in Saville Row. His first words were not just to be an everyday student, but to tell me he wanted to be good, a great designer of clothes.”
Alexander was one of the many people that came to the Centre with their aims and ambitions and was helped to work towards them with encouragement, support and training and Rosetta has kept this ethos of nurturing the creative talent of its students throughout its history.
In 2007 Yvonne made the decision to retire and a new leadership team was created with Sanaz Amidi as the Director and Trisha McCauley as Centre Coordinator. The Centre was renamed as Rosetta Art Centre and over the next five years expanded its provision with a series of new pilot projects to include sessions specifically for children, young people, older people and adults with learning difficulties and/or disabilities. During this time Rosetta embarked on its first piece of international work, delivering the Imagining Identity project for young people in London and Iran.
“When we took over Rosetta, we knew its charm and value was in its ethos in breaking down barriers to nurture individual creative talent and that sense of community was only possible through building relationships. We wanted more people and groups to benefit and so set about widening the creative offer.” – Sanaz Amidi, Director
Building on its existing longstanding relationships, Rosetta was able to develop new partnerships with other arts organsisations such as The British Museum, Tate, The Whitechapel Gallery as well as other local businesses and consortia such as Stratford Rising, to advocate local visual arts and provide new opportunities for the people of East London and beyond.
After twenty years, Rosetta has demonstrated its resilience, adaptability to change and dedication to serving the people of East London. Here’s to the next twenty years…