The House of St Barnabas in London’s Soho is a member’s club with a profound difference. It has a social conscience. It is run as a charity that aims to break the cycle of homelessness for people who have been socially excluded through a number of initiatives, and every penny of the profits it makes goes directly to the cause. Their art collection promotes this core ethos through a shared visual culture that engages, uplifts, invites, and provides. For a member’s club to have such a conscience when it comes to their art collection and programme, the House of St Barnabas are miles ahead – and their newly hung exhibition proves it.
It all began in 1846 when Dr Henry Monro founded a house of charity to help local people of Soho’s slums and in 1862 it moved to its current premises at number 1 Greek Street where they also built a chapel dedicated to Saint Barnabas. In 2005 it was decided that the suit could no longer sustainably run as a hostel, so it was turned in to an integrated employment academy that utilises social enterprise to help homeless people through personal work. The house now runs as a member’s club with numerous restaurants and bars that employ people trying to break the cycle of homelessness. As a hospitality employment academy, the House mentors people for 12 months in both professional and personal fields setting them up for careers to which it provides a foot in the door to people who otherwise would be shut behind.
The House also uses art as a tool for social change. It runs an annual festival called ‘Art Social’ that not only offers the members of the employment academy the opportunity to understand how the visual and creative arts can help engage communities within a hospitality environment, but also adds a further element to the Houses outreach. Past projects help affect positive social change through asking and directing important questions – 2015 saw the artist Hester Reeve work with the Academy’s participants to install a sculpture in Soho Square based around Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to raise awareness for the people who lack the essentials of food and shelter. They also hold regular music events, curated by some the House’s founders including Giles Petersen and Jarvis Cocker. The House preaches that art and culture is for all – which in a London that seems to eschew the opposite view with its myriad of dealerships, private galleries, increasing exhibition ticket price and exploding art school fees creating an air of artistic elitism is a welcome relief.
The House also runs a ‘Collective’, which takes the form of a contemporary arts programme displaying both pieces from their permanent collection and rotating exhibitions. They champion up and coming national and international artists such as Michael Henley and Ki Yoong alongside more established names such as Tracey Emin and David Shrigley, helping foster their spirit of collaboration and commitment to nurturing talent. Every ethos applied to their original hospitality programme has been smoothly transitioned to their arts dedication. It is a breath of inspiring air when considered alongside other London member’s clubs approach to art. Artists, collectors, galleries and curators all lend, or donate works to The House, knowing the good it will do. The head curator even does public tours on the first Monday of every month to highlight the works on display and the power for social change each can bring.
The lastest rehang of the gallery spaces this Spring saw curators including Paul Carey-Kent and Alteria Art work alongside artists such as Shane Bradford, Daniel Lergon and Martine Poppe. Each work in the current show is for sale, with all proceeds being re-injected directly in to the charity. The work is at the cutting edge of contemporary, ranging from photography to abstract painting and highlights some of the names from the established to the up and coming.
The art helps The House be a meeting place for creatives, who in turn can incubate the seeds of ideas that can in the future grow in to amazing schemes. It’s an awe inspiring way to utilise art and blows the cobwebs from the old member’s club model. All over the world non-profits are being set up to promote the power of art for healing, justice, compassion and prosperity. But you don’t need to venture out of Soho to see this in action.
By Harry Seymour
The House of St Barnabas, 1 Greek Street, Soho, W1D 4NQ.