History - Camden Art Centre

Camden Art Centre is situated at the corner of Arkwright Road and Finchley Road, NW3 in a Grade II listed premises, constructed as Hampstead Central Library and designed by the architect Arnold Taylor.

The building was opened in 1897 by its benefactor Sir Henry Harben, then Deputy Chairman of the Prudential Assurance Company. The Victorian structure funded by Harben survived World War II, despite hits by enemy incendiary bombs in 1940 and a blast from a V2 rocket in 1945 which destroyed some of the building and a row of houses next door, where the garden is now situated.

The library grew in size and was extended in the 1920s, however by 1964 a new facility opened in Swiss Cottage which was better able to cope with the demands of the modern library service and all stock was transferred to it.

Hampstead Arts Centre (renamed Camden Arts Centre in 1967) was created in 1965 providing the local community with classes in painting, life drawing, pottery, printing and basic design. The building’s integral qualities of simplicity, space and light were ideal for the showing of art and the first exhibition was held a year after the Centre was established. Inevitably, the site soon became a focal point for artists living locally.

Since the sixties, the artistic and education programmes at Camden Art Centre have developed dramatically. Early on it became a space for international as well as local exhibitions, including a number of Arts Council England touring exhibitions and surveys. The programme was further developed under Jenni Lomax OBE, who was Director of Camden Arts Centre from 1990 to 2017 and established the Centre’s internationally acclaimed programme of exhibitions, residencies, artists’ projects and public events and led the organisation through a major building refurbishment scheme that was completed in early 2004 by Tony Fretton Architects.

In 2015/16 Camden Art Centre celebrated its 50th birthday, and in 2017 Martin Clark took over as Director, leading the organisation into a new chapter. In 2020 Clark oversaw a rebrand of the organisation and the ‘s’ was dropped from ‘Arts Centre’, something for which there was already a precedent in the archive during the mid-1970s.

Camden Art Centre continues to be an internationally acclaimed arts organisation, renowned for its excellence in exhibitions and learning, and with a new focus on public programmes, outreach, digital, off-site and community programming. Housed in our Grade II listed building in North London our work reaches out across Camden and beyond, and we are proud to continue to be a place where exceptional art is made as well as seen – through our studio residencies and fellowship programmes, as well as our courses and learning projects for children, young people, schools, families and adults alike.


To learn more about the building’s history from its construction as Hampstead Central Library to today please download our Free Digital Guide.

To download, visit the App Store or Google Play and search Bloomberg ConnectsThe free digital guide gives you access to additional content, audio, video and curator tours – as well as videos of artists talking about their work.