Somerset House is London’s working arts centre built on historic foundations around one of the most beautiful courtyards in Europe. Situated at the very heart of the capital, we are home to the UK’s largest and most exciting creative community and are overflowing with new ideas, young businesses and fresh perspectives. Dedicated to backing newness, championing openness, nurturing creativity and empowering ideas, our cultural programme is ambitious in scope. We insist on relevance, but aren’t afraid of irreverence, and are as keen on entertainment as enrichment. We embrace the biggest issues of our times (recent exhibitions and installation have addressed climate change and the work of black creative pioneers), but are equally committed to the delicate task of oxygenating new work by emerging artists.
Add in music, movies, mushrooms, London’s most beautiful ice-rink, 87 working artists, each with their own highly subsidized studio space, Makerversity, our Creative Careers Academy, a business community made up of over 200 independent enterprises, and our neighbours, The Courtauld Institute and Kings College, and you start to understand who we are and what we do.
We welcome 3 million annual visitors to share this unique combination of public events, creative enterprise, and artistic practice. It is this mix that informs and powers our programme and makes it singular, compelling and accessible.
Many of our events are free and we encourage visitors to sit and enjoy our courtyard and terraces, without having to buy so much as a cup of coffee, as havens at the centre of London, but set back and away from cars, pollution and the hustle and bustle of street life. We offer free WiFi, are home to five cafes and restaurants, and relish family visits, dogs and children.
Likewise, though we reside in an iconic neo classical building, justly famous as the 18th century architect William Chambers’ seminal masterpiece, we are at our best when navigating the now and powering the new. Nowhere else will you find a major movie star introducing a world film premiere one moment, while experimental dance music fills a cellar the next. And where else can you spend an hour ice-skating while listening to a specially commissioned sound piece by a cutting edge artist?
It is this creative tension—the way we harness our heritage, put the too-often overlooked on our central stage and use our neo-classical backdrop to showcase groundbreaking contemporary culture—that inspires our programme.
Old and new, history and disruption, art and entertainment, high-tech and homemade, combined with the fact that we are home to a constantly shape-shifting working creative community: this is our point of difference.
It is what we are proud of. And it is what makes the experience of visiting or working in Somerset House inspiring and energizing, urgent and exciting.