London members' club The Hospital is more than just a luxurious meeting place for established creatives. It also teaches emerging talents the commercial aspects of their chosen field. Anna Wallace-Thompson meets the club's Creative Director Michael Berg and seven young people who have benefited from the program in recent years.
As any aspiring artist or designer will tell you, the creative sector can be a tough place. For those looking to get their first big project off the ground or find work in their favorite field, a big city like London can be both full of opportunities and a daunting place to find one’s feet.
This is where the Hospital Club in. A private members’ club housed on the site of the former St Paul’s Hospital, with a heritage going back to the Georgian period. Transformed through the vision of Microsoft’s Paul Allen and David Stewart of Eurythmics it’s a place where creative and like-minded people not only meet but also work together to put something back into their industries.
Nestled in the heart of London’s trendy Covent Garden and close to the city’s lively theatre district, the Hospital Club opened its doors in 2004. Like other high-end members’ clubs, it contains numerous lounges and bars, hotel accommodation, a restaurant and a screening room – all luxuriously appointed. But unlike its rivals, it also boasts state-of-the-art music and TV studios, and a gallery space for art exhibitions and events.
“David and Paul always had this vision of a building where creatives could get together not just to socialize but to actually make things happen,” says Michael Berg, the club’s creative director. “They also desired there to always be an element of putting something back into the community.” The club has run an artists-in-residency program since its inception, but six years ago it formalized its philanthropic side with the creation of the h.Club Foundation, which runs various initiatives designed to help young people from diverse backgrounds get into the creative industries.
What the Emerging Creatives Program offers
Applicants to the flagship Emerging Creatives Program must be between the ages of 21 and 35, have at least three years’ experience in one of five fields: film, music, art and design, theatre and performance, and fashion. Those who are successful get a professional life coach, industry mentor, masterclasses, a £3,000 grant towards the production of work and a showcase at the club at the end of the year. They also get a year’s free membership of the club, to help them maintain their momentum and cement that all-important social network.
For Berg, the most rewarding experience to arise from the Emerging Creatives program so far was one of the simplest: “We interviewed a writer who worked in a bookshop during the day to support himself, and then wrote in his spare time,” he recalls. “We asked him what it would mean to him if he got into the program, and he explained that he lived in a flatshare with no communal space and every evening he sat at the end of his bed in his room, writing. That was how simple it was – he needed to go somewhere where he could sit and write. And you know what? That’s better than giving somebody thousands of pounds sometimes – it was that space to create and the connections he made that turned out to be the most valuable for him.”
Meet the Hospital Club’s Emerging Creatives
We talked to seven talents who took part in the Emerging Creatives program in 2016 and 2017, to find out how they benefited from the experience.
Uju Obi, Art and Design Creative 2017
Uju Obi has a background in textiles but now works predominantly in glass. She harnesses its powers of reflection and refraction to play with light, and uses a plethora of techniques to showcase the versatility of the medium, from resin lamination to sandblasting and water-jet cutting, and even painting. “Not having gone down the traditional art college route, I was particularly excited by the opportunity for professional coaching and mentoring,” she says. “Being largely self-taught, and working full time in the legal sector, I didn’t often have the opportunity to meet other creatives, particularly in fields other than my own. I am excited by the possibilities.”
Christopher Smith, Music Creative 2017
With a sound described as akin to Pharrell Williams and Bruno Mars, rapper and songwriter Christopher Smith is better known as BlackSmith. “When I applied for the program, I was at a place in my life where I was almost ready to throw in the towel and walk away from music,” he admits. “They saw the potential in me and my music and chose to support me; it was meant to be.” For Smith, the grant money has allowed him to develop his music properly – he is currently working on his debut EP – while the life coach has helped him learn how to challenge himself and his way of thinking. “It’s been very empowering.”
Francisco Rico, Fashion Creative 2016
As an haute couture milliner, Francisco Rico spent years working in business management before turning his focus to his true passion. It was a move to London in 2012 from his native Spain that prompted him to study millinery. His pieces have been featured in the likes of Vogue magazine as well as London’s famous Fenwick’s department store. “On a personal level, the networking has been the most useful aspect,” says Rico. “I have had the opportunity to meet really interesting people, from many different creative and business fields. My label has developed a foundation that is helping me grow it into a bigger and much more solid brand.”
Mike Vanis & Cindy Strobach, Art and Design Creatives 2016
The duo behind creative partnership Unit Lab, Mike Vanis and Cindy Strobach seek to recalibrate the way in which we look at the natural world around us. Their work ranges from the small (handheld objects) all the way to large installations, working in product and furniture design and drawing on the worlds of design electronics and computer science. “The masterclasses and business support offered to us as Emerging Creatives were just what we needed at the time,” say the pair. The chance to display their work was also invaluable. “We got the amazing opportunity to take over the Club’s window display and this enabled us to get great press coverage and feedback from the public.”
Riffy Ahmed, Film Creative 2016
A London-based visual artist and film director, Riffy Ahmed also runs her own art collective, Specular Collective. As an artist, she focuses on film and video as well as photography, installation and performance. “It’s so rare to find a program that grants you access to a great member’s club as well as a tailor-made mentor and coaching support,” she says. “I felt like Charlie Bucket, finding the golden ticket in the chocolate bar.” Her time included mentoring by Matthias Gruendler of Curious Leaders and Pinky Ghundale, Steve McQueen’s art film producer. “These people made the year for me,” she says, “it was so refreshing to be able to speak openly to two strong professionals about my intentions, fears and goals.”
Andrea Boccadoro, Music Creative 2016
Composer Andrea Boccadoro has had his work screened at locations such as the Barbican Centre, BFI and V&A Museum, among others. He applied to the Emerging Creatives program as a way to take his career to the next level. “I was about to graduate from my masters in Composition for Screen at the Royal College of Music,” he says, “and I was in need of mentoring and advice.” For Boccadoro, it was the sense of community that he found particularly useful, and he enthuses how the “interaction with other creatives and members of the club has boosted my own energy.” In addition, he was recently invited to join the agency of his mentor, Maggie Rodford of Air-Edel.