From student dream to multi-million £ arts complex

Jennifer Jayarakah and Leigh Mason hatched a plan as art school students to develop an international arts complex in Devon. Just three years later they have seen their dream grow bigger and bolder than they could have imagined. This week the £4.2 million Ocean Studios launched, bringing together the best of UK and international contemporary art with affordable space and facilities for artists and makers.

After incorporating Ocean Studios in 2008, Jennifer embarked on a Masters course in Entrepreneurship for Creative Practice, meeting Leigh Mason in the process. During the course Leigh and Jennifer collaborated to raise the seed funds for Ocean Studios. Things really started to move forward after they held an auction of artwork in November 2011, raising £30,000.

Jennifer’s artistic practice has consistently featured an exploration of minority/gender issues, perceptions and participation. Those themes remain central to Ocean Studios. The opening exhibition – called A Taste of Things to Come – will highlight key themes including feminism, diversity, radicalism and social engagement. Alongside Grayson Perry, the exhibition features Mary Kelly, dubbed the mother of feminist artists, and Gillian Wearing.

Why the focus on these issues and female participation in particular? Since they began the project, it has been a real eye-opener for Leigh and Jennifer to discover just how male-dominated the arts world really is. Certainly eyebrows were raised when they began the project. Jennifer recalls “Some people certainly do seem anxious about two women being in charge of a project like this. It has taken time for people to trust us.” This clearly hasn’t deterred the two entrepreneurs who have taken on the sole responsibility of renovating these historically important buildings.

Ocean Studios
Ocean Studios

Leigh is the Business Development Director of Ocean Studios. She has been an essential asset to Ocean Studios, helping to secure over £4 million to fund the project. Her previous experience lies within various artistic mediums, such as TV/Film Production Management, Fine Product and Jewellery design. Leigh says:

“Ocean Studios exists to support artists. We are passionate about raising aspirations and nurturing talent by offering a range of opportunities for artists, including space to make, think, talk and exhibit. Our strategy encompasses showing young and experimental artists as part of our commitment to supporting new work being made in our studio spaces as well as work by nationally and internationally established artists. We want to dismiss the notion that art is for an elite and to welcome everyone to Ocean Studios. An ambition for us here in the heart of Plymouth is to have more people feeling that the arts are meaningful to them without the concerns of not understanding. This is a major opportunity for art to become integral to local life with long lasting benefits.”

Ocean Studios is a Community Interest Company whose aim is to provide affordable studios for over 100 artists within the Royal William Yard, Plymouth. By creating specialist provision in the form of a unique managed workspace, Ocean Studios will boost creative enterprise in the city and engage local people with the arts. In addition to individual studios, shared spaces and well-equipped workshops Ocean Studios will also have two education spaces that will host workshops, seminars and conferences as well as an exhibition/retail space that will provide opportunities for our artists to sell their work.

The vibrant creative community built around Ocean Studios will act as a catalyst, revitalising Plymouth as a cultural destination and re-engaging the city with the national arts dialogue.

Sir Nick Serota – Director of the Tate Art Museums and Galleries is a supporter of the initiative. He says:

“In the modern world, the creative industries are an increasingly important part of our economy, growing at 5%, twice as fast as the economy as a whole. In Plymouth, the University and the Art School both play a vital part in the life of the community. The provision of thirty studios and exhibition space at the Royal William Yard will help to ensure that artists are attracted to and stay in the city. This is a critical step in the regeneration of Plymouth.”

To find out more about Ocean Studios see:





1 thought on “From student dream to multi-million £ arts complex”

  1. This is how its done. It all starts with a dream and you just need to follow through it with some execution. There will be many naysayers around you but just ignore them as well as the fear and proceed to the next step to accomplish your goals. Brilliant post, thanks so much for sharing!


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