Diversifying operations – studio providers share their ideas, tips & successes.

September 2, 2020

How to remain resilient as we work together to rebuild our creative industries.

Creativity is integral to overcoming the obstacles and hardships that we are facing more acutely as we begin to emerge out of the current global pandemic. In order to further support the industry through creative collaboration and collective support, we asked studio providers to share their ideas, tips and successes in diversifying operations to remain resilient as we work together to rebuild our creative industries.

‘Working Collectively Towards a Secure Future’

Andrew Bick, Director, Tannery Arts

At Tannery Arts our emphasis is on nurturing our community of artists with affordable studios that are also of a high quality. Artists at all stages of their careers have needed our support more than ever due to COVID-19, with rent subsidies for those who’ve lost freelance income and those who have fallen through gaps in support from Government and wider support packages. Our experience has been a wide range of our artists are now in a vulnerable position.

We have been absolutely clear that no one would face eviction during the pandemic and that rather than rent delays or loans, the subsidies to studio rent we’ve given will not have to be paid back. We have emphasised that even though most of our artists are individual studio holders, we/they are working collectively towards securing our future as we emerge from this crisis. Not accruing debt has been the strongest request in feedback gathered from our studio holders and in gaining the support to meet this request we are also thinking deeply about what will make a sustainable business model for our future studio development.

We have worked hard at making our studios Covid secure and communicating with our artists about good working practices to keep them safe. We have experienced a spike in studio demand from those completing Masters courses at The Slade, Chelsea and RCA who have been unable to use college studio space due to Covid-19. This is, for us, a vital connection to new and emerging artists and will be combined with an active strategy of seeking lower rents from our landlords as we look to expand our portfolio of buildings and emerge from the current crisis more resilient and more affordable.

Tannery Arts is investing in a street presence for our busy and socially mixed area in SE17 which is undergoing redevelopment. This will mean a billboard series of artist commissions focusing on the following subject matters: 1) social housing and affordable workspace; 2) race, identity and examining colonial history; 3) cycling, transport and clean air. We are combining collaboration with our partners Drawing Room and their engagement workshops with local stakeholders, with commissioning artists to produce alternate workshops, and artist commissioned images that will reach all those walking, cycling, driving, or using public transport on the busy New Kent Rd junction with our home in Rodney Place.

‘Building Confidence and Community’

Annie Warburton, CEO, Cockpit Arts

We pivoted to deliver our first ever digital Festival instead of our annual Summer Open Studios events. Attracting an audience of 160k, the Festival involved over 80 makers delivering 65 live and on demand events: workshops, studio demonstrations, panel talks and intimate conversations, newly commissioned films and fundraisers for The Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust. The Festival was put together in under a month, with two members of staff and a budget of under £1k. It built the digital skills and confidence of our makers, brought our work to new audiences – including around the globe, and fostered a strong sense of community. It is a strong foundation for future work, blending digital and in person events.

We have moved our business incubation and coaching programme online, providing rapid response advice to our makers to address immediate needs as well as long term planning. This has involved nine workshops to date as well as intensive 1:1 business coaching to enable makers to stay resilient through the crisis.

‘Thinking Beyond’

Kevin Walsh, Executive Director, Graeae Theatre Company

We have taken a lot of delivery of our artistic work online. A showcasing platform for Deaf and disabled writers, became a YouTube series called “Crips Without Constraints”. We had been delivering an accredited training programme for Deaf and disabled students, and moved much of the delivery of that to zoom meetings. There are limitations on how much of that can be achieved online so we are putting together a programme that connects artists with venues and rehearsal spaces across the country, making use of Graeae’s space and their buildings to kickstart projects that have otherwise been postponed or have faced massive financial setbacks. We are calling this programme “Beyond”.

‘Flexible and Responsive Leadership’

Manoj Ambasna, Executive Director, Collage Arts

We see Collage and our artists as a creative catalyst for change. Our motto for responding to covid-19 is to be ‘flexible and responsive’ but we are also offering leadership to our local community, based on what we are learning. We have been consulting on the emerging needs of our creative artistic communities within our studio provision. We have already responded in several ways. We are providing grant and bid writing support, we are providing flexible rent studio payments, we are providing artists with opportunities for work, and helping the artists to share and use spaces in new ways that reduce costs.

We find that too few funding agencies understand the reality of how artists are viable. We estimate 1/3 of our artists incomes come from socially engaged work as the core of their practice. Around 1/3 from commission and the rest from speculative arts sales. We need to understand better how we can stimulate these different markets if we are to support the long-term viability of the sector. We also know that COVID has had a polarising effect – some people, including many artists are teetering on the edge as they lack resilience, others have seen their costs drop and their incomes remain high – there is pent up consumption which we need to unlock in ways that benefit our artists.

We have developed around £50,000 of funds for cross-arts commissioning – mainly for performing artists since the lock-down. We are now seeking investment to support the visual artists ability to find new income strands, and to encourage art purchases and commissions, but also to support the socially engaged artists to play their part in supporting the community to come to terms with the impact of COVID-19 as our studios are on the edge of one of the areas in London with the highest mortality rates.

As an organisation, we have moved to strengthening our funding. We have continue the development of access routes into the creative industries for young people, ethnic minority women, children and families. We have successfully moved many of our operations on-line and we are looking at the benefits this brings. We have found we can access the higher calibre speakers for a 2-hour workshop delivered from their homes. We are seeking investment to help our visual artists and other creatives to grasp new opportunities.

‘Diving into Digital’

Ruby Rees-Sheridan, Curatorial and Archive Coordinator, Four Corners

Four Corners has dived headfirst into digital. We have taken lockdown as an opportunity to rebuild our website, making it easier for freelance photographers and filmmakers to find out about our workspace, production facilities and career development opportunities.

To stay connected with our creative community, we developed new social media content, showcasing the work of our tenants, and sent out a fortnightly ‘isolation inspiration’ email highlighting interesting digital projects and funding opportunities for freelancers. We also programmed a series of online film screenings and Q&A events and created a digital version of our current exhibition, which has attracted a new international audience. We will continue to build upon these digital successes going forward.

‘Making the most of the Market’

Roland Fischer-Vousden, Director, SET

SET’s aim is to provide a high-quality, community-oriented public arts programme and genuinely affordable workspace to artists who become members of SET. In order to further these aims and continue to do this in a self-sustaining way (given the recent strains on public-funding and support), we are looking to take on further short- and long-term sites. Given the anticipated post-pandemic commercial property market, our aim will be to secure new centers at a further reduced rate, thus increasing. Keeping workspace genuinely affordable would mean that our members can realistically continue to pay fees during future crises and for those who cannot, SET will be in a position to be able to support them.

‘Opening up to Inclusion’

David Hevey, CEO, Shape Arts

We are diversifying operations by moving much more online. We are pushing to engage our disabled and diverse talent by supporting them to build online and digital marketing tools, too. We are also supporting our staff to continue remote working post the easing of the lockdown, making sure we do not build a two-tier system of ‘disabled staff remote working’ and ‘non-disabled staff office working’. Finally, we feel that the online arena needs opening up to inclusion through both practical steps, such as accessible versioning of content as standard, to curation of the huge swathes of content into packages our users want and our funders will buy. BUT we are not abandoning real locations and will continue to support groups, such as our live streamer, to use our location free of charge.