Studio Upstairs is Founded

With support and advice from Diorama Arts and Camden Voluntary Action, Studio Upstairs was set up as a project and opened in October 1988. The co-founders were Douglas Gill, Claire Manson and Jo Hill. They had a windowless office and above them a splendid semi circular studio with steps up onto the roof of Diorama Arts.

The Studio as an organisation became an associate of Diorama Arts. It opened initially for one day a week, then every 18 months opening an extra day as the group grew until in three years it was open five days a week.

The studio's mission at the time was to create art to be seen in the public arena and not to be viewed as ‘mad art’. The studio artists choose how to describe themselves and their work. Fundamental to the running of the studio is that the working team  and the members exhibited together and discussed their work together at regular reviews.

    First Exhibition ‘Bat out of Belfry’

The first of Studio Upstairs’ annual exhibitions was held in the Diorama Gallery. At the time it took some persuasion to convince the the Diorama curator in the value of the art as presented, however this was all part of the work towards dismantling the stigma around mental illness.

This event kicked off a tradition of combining art, food and live music. Members, partner organisations, artists and health professionals attended the private view.

   Studio Upstairs Move

Studio Upstairs moved with Diorama Arts to Osnaburgh Street, London.

The Studio was now open five days a week and the membership was growing year on year. One day was dedicated to 3D work.

It created an educational programme with visiting artists teachers. The first Visiting Artist was Michael Chalkin who offered workshop on moving sculptures.

 Performance Group

The Studio developed programme of performance workshops using drama therapy. The first public performance from the group was at the third annual exhibition and held within the gallery. Public performances in the Diorama’s theatre became a regular feature of the exhibitions opening nights. Over time, as outreach work, the performance group would visit other organisations.

Charitable Status

Studio Upstairs became a registered Educational Charity. This created a a Board of Trustees and gathered patrons, one of which being the late great Sir Terry Frost.  The Studio produced an award winning annual report.

10th Birthday

Studio Upstairs turns 10! Big celebrations are held including talks, performances and exhibitions.

Exhibitions had become a considered and curated event with work chosen that would carry a cohesive story throughout a show.

Exhibition in St. Petersburg

The exhibition in St. Petersburg, Russia at the State Russian Museum Education Department was part of the HARMONY exchange.

The Studio exhibited the work of ten artists. Six of them made a trip to Russia to see the show.  The exchange came from workshops Claire Manson held in association with The Arts in Health, Education and Medicine conference hosted by one of the first psychotherapy organisations in Russia.

 New Studio Upstairs Site in Bristol

Douglas Gill moved to Bristol and opened a second branch of Studio Upstairs.

Originally based within Spike Island, the studio expanded in 2005 into a spacious industrial warehouse,  situated on the dockside near the SS Great Britain. The studio developed important working partnerships with a number of arts, health and education organisations in the region, including ArnolfiniBristol Museum & Art GalleryPicture ThisCity of Bristol CollegeWeston College and Bristol City Council amongst others.

Exchange visit from Russia

The Studio received a visit from the State Russian Museum. This involved series of workshops including Tea at the Tate held at the Tate Britain Education Department.

Douglas Gill and Claire Manson were appointed as co-directors of Studio Upstairs.

Change in Leadership

Claire Manson steps down as co-director, but returns to the London Studio in 2006/7 as part of the team and later as a trustee in 2009.

Doug Gill becomes Director of the Dalston and Bristol Studios.

20th Anniversary!

In 2008 there were milestone celebrations of twenty years of Studio Upstairs with an exhibition at The Candid Arts Trust, including performances, talks and live music.

Having amassed a wealth of experience in the arts, education and health,Studio Upstairs has inspired similar projects in Britain, Russia and USA, promoting the Studio Upstairs model as an effective alternative to clinical care and prescriptive social rehabilitation.

Successful Fundraising Campaign for Bristol

In February 2009, Studio Upstairs Bristol was forced to launch an urgent ‘Save Our Studio’ campaign in order to keep the vital resource open whilst seeking core funding.

Closing one day a week to save costs, the Studio Upstairs community sprang into action, organising fundraising events demonstrating the creativity and diversity of the team – poetry and music performances, club events and the hugely successful Deliverance exhibition. A massive show of support from organisations such as Aardman, Jamaica Street Studios and Spike Island as well as the Bristol graffiti/street art community, and members, staff and volunteers at Studio Upstairs meant the show was a success.

New Direction

Having dedicated over twenty years of his professional life to the workings of Studio Upstairs, Douglass Gill steps down as Director to focus on lecturing and his private practice.

Zlatinka Hristova was appointed as new Director of all sites.  Zlatinka is a visual artist based in London.  She was also a director in the private sector, teacher and arts manager in the public sector and creative mentor.  She holds two Fine Art degrees, teaching qualification, MA in Arts Policy and Management (Birkbeck) and Diploma in Group Work Practice (IGA). 

The Studio having experienced some difficult times within an environment of funding cuts is now going from strength to strength under her guidance.


What a significant landmark in the Studio history! The anniversary exhibition at the Seven Dials Club, Covent Garden reflected memories, important moments and the relationship members and team have had with the Studio over the years. At the celebration event members, team and guests decorated the long anniversary cake with pictures and messages about the Studio journey over the years!


We have opened our third branch, which will provide access to people across South London. Our new site boasts it’s very own art gallery, whilst adding to the current programme of exhibitions and workshops. We would like to thank all those of you who have supported us along the way, and joined Studio Upstairs for the launch on the 10th of May. ‘…Studio Upstairs provides a huge range of creative support including access to creative therapies in galleries and access to art materials, as well as opportunities to take part in public campaigns and to get involved in the day to day running of the organisation…’ (Luciana Berger, MP)  

30 Years Studio Upstairs

We celebrated three decades of passionate and tireless work at the Studio!

We would like to thank all those of you who have supported us along the way and those who attended the celebration event at Stour Space in December 2018.


20 Years Studio Upstairs Bristol!

In celebration of our 20th anniversary in Bristol, we will be opening the doors of our Bristol studio in May with an exhibition to showcase our artists and to celebrate our 20 year journey in the city.

Friday May 8: 11 -17
Saturday May 9: 11 – 17
Sunday May 10: 11 – 16