Creative Junctions…..

As part of PiCL’s go and see activity I went to see Creative Junction CIC. Founded in 2006/7, they were one of the first de-merged Creative Partnerships offices, with 12 staff at its busiest. 

After the demise of CP, they were also left having to look at how to generate all their income and although were successful in securing a range of funding from different sources it was no where near the same level.  

In the last 2/3 years they have managed to diversify their income stream and receive funding from a range from Local Authority commissions, small grants and corporate programmes and they are managing a relatively equal split between these income streams with commissioning being the slightly larger stream.

The programme I was most interested in and the reason for the visit was their programme with SEGRO, who sponsor a Young Artists programme, now in its third year. The relationship has developed over time and is a large piece of work for the organisation with showcases and exhibitions as well as the artists and work with young people.  The relationship has been built with SEGRO’s marketing department, which for me triggered ideas to consider on how PiCL’s offer to business will support their marketing activity as well as social responsibility strategies. One of my actions following this visit, is to spend time developing the approach we take when approaching companies and further consider how we frame our activity and projects.

I was interested to know if they would be trying to roll out the model, they were hoping to but had reservations about the right organisations to approach and that there was still a large bridge to be built between this type of programme and big corporations, who, despite having a presence in the area were more difficult to contact and work with. They feel that that medium sized locally rooted companies were more likely to engage however there is then the challenge of available funds and budgets.

One other bit of key learning for me was how flexible the organisation needs to be and to that they have become very entrepreneurial themselves and trying something new by approaching an ambitious programme with a social enterprise focus, partnering with organisations to promote and encourage learning and skills development that will aim to develop relationships with larger businesses in the area to deliver on these outcomes.

I felt acutely aware that PiCL have yet to grasp how commissioning could fit into PiCL’s future funding model and that I need to invest some time in building relationships with commissioners so they can see how we are able to deliver the projects and objectives,  things like young people led creative events and consultation. I also need to ensure PICL is in a position to tender or take up those opportunities as they arise.

My biggest reflection was that there wasn’t a magic formula and that PiCL are on the right track, trying to offer a range of ways in which people can engage with, buy from and support PiCL, but what we need as an organisation is more capacity to build relationships, get our offers and name out there further and shout about what we do and then actually ASK for the work and funding.
My next exploration will be into Arts and Business to see how they have supported organisations to develop their Arts based training model, see how those organisations are faring and if that learning can be implemented at PiCL.
Erica Love, Director. 


Total Transparency?
At the last consortium meeting we had a lively discussion about how much transparency we can, and should, display as small arts organisations. This got me thinking - well surely in the era of Freedom of Information and Wikileaks nothing less than total transparency will do.
Well, yes and no. As an organisation, I agree. As a charity and company limited by guarantee our accounts, trustees reports and board meetings are matters of public record. There is very little about the company that isn't either in the public domain or could be put there very easily. Any project that has received public funds in turn makes our reports publicly available (eg via FOI requests).
But I would draw a distinction between information on the company and information on individuals. Our annual accounts show total salary bill, not what each person earns. What we paid each individual artist who worked for the company is likewise aggregated.
And I'm not sure I'd like to see a 'see salaries' button on our website. We support a lot of emerging artists and early career professionals. They go on and use our name, quite rightly, in securing future work. They probably over-achieved and were underpaid in the work they did, I'm certainly happy for them to present what they did for us in the best possible light.
Likewise, I would like to present myself and the work of the company in the best possible light to potential funders and partners. It's part of my job to get doors opened to senior people in the public sector. They are usually paid more than I am, and when they go our website to look at our work I wouldn't like what I earn to be necessarily one of the first things they see.
Trevelyan Wright, Executive Director.


bITjAM - What can we learn from the last 18 years of Lottery Funding in Stoke on Trent?

I thought it would be useful to examine lottery funding data spanning back to the heady days of 1995 to get a sense of the successful grants and also get a sense of the type of work that lottery funding used to support. I'm not quite sure how this data fits into helping Arts Organisations moving forward with seeking new ways of generating funds for projects; I'm open to ideas.

Using the Lottery section of the Culture website and searching for Stoke on Trent reveals around 18 years of data which reveals 1223 projects totalling £117,872,724.

Now I thought it would be best to ask a range of questions against this data including:
  • Which organisations got what amounts?
  • Which types of projects were successful?
  • Who funded the projects?
  • What was the pattern of funding over time?
  • What are the key phrases that repeat in the project descriptions?
The data is not complete as a number of organisations may have selected to keep their funding application confidential so we have to take that into account.

The charts below show some of the data in visual form using Google Charts (it's quick and simple once I completed a little analysis). I also used a few extra tools up my sleeve to link Company names in the list to Companies house to get a sense of the types of company formations involved (Limited by Shares, CiC etc). I've also ran the project descriptions through a little analysis to get a sense of keywords that get repeated in the project titles, I looked for Named Entities rather than the usual word frequency (the type you see in Wordles). This analysis reveals a little more about the meaning of the high frequency words/phrases in the text .

It's up for grabs what we learn from this data, for me the named entities has been insightful however there's more analysis to be done, what can you find? How can we use data like this to move forward?

Here's the link to full data.

Funding over time:

(There were approx 961 awards given to groups with no formal structure recognised in Companies house although company names may have changed, but NOT 961 individual groups, just awards, some groups were awarded more than once. Data to be further analysed)


Restoke – Trepidations

We have now sat round several tables at our fellow arts organisation’s bases, discussing our collective futures and the impact of our development on the wider community of Stoke-on-Trent. This alone is a rare act, and we are both excited and humbled to be in the company of some great creative minds to be addressing the contentious issues of funding, as part of this consortium.

Restoke have been lucky to have been funded over several projects by Arts Council England, matched by support from local authorities and other public funding streams, and now through this Catalyst programme been given this opportunity to ‘Make it Work’ in terms of building our fundraising capacity. This programme coincides of course with huge cuts to subsidised art and a push for us to “hammer home the value of culture to our economy” (Maria Miller, Culture Secretary) But what does this mean for organisations, like Restoke, who work outside of commercially attractive settings?

Restoke are nomads, we are three separate artists, we have our own individual work and agendas, we disperse, we come together, we feel this makes us stronger. We don’t have a base, we don’t have overheads or staff, any time that we invest in Restoke outside of our projects is usually unpaid. But we know why we are here and we look towards a better future for Stoke-on-Trent…. However, we want to be a part of this bright vision and for that we need to be stronger and more resilient to further cuts in government funding.

We usually work site-specifically, in old/redundant/cold/outdoor spaces, we beg borrow and steal (shhh) spaces to rehearse in and often end up hugely indebted to the people and places that help us with this task.

We must admit, looking to diversify funding streams with an emphasis on private giving feels like a giant leap, and we are not without reservations. We struggle to see how our work, which is often socially driven, can become attractive to private investors. We wonder how much time we can give up to the pursuit of this alternative funding. How much time should we be taking away from our artistic practice and development. When do artists get to just BE artists?

Luckily we have been granted this opportunity and time through the Catalyst programme to investigate this. The ‘Go and See’ phase that we are about to embark on will hopefully unearth some current practices and success (or unsuccessful) stories that we can learn from and adapt to our organisation(s).
We do not know what the outcomes of even this first phase will look like, but what we do know if that we’ll be more knowledgeable, and we look forward to sharing that knowledge both within the consortium and beyond, seeking out what could work in our city… This is exciting, but it’s also serious, it’s about survival after all.


Making it Work...for PiCL

Sitting down to contribute to the blog I started to reflect on where PiCL came from, what we've done and where we want to go.

It seems a long time ago that a fresh faced and excited new team took on the task of delivering the Creative Partnerships programme in Stoke on Trent, however it was only 8 years ago.

In 2009 when PiCL was formed, our vision was to carry on delivering the CP programme, but also branch out into other areas, form new and different partnerships that would eventually diversify our funding base.

This challenge was one we didn't quite conquer. Thinking about it, what a task that was always going to be, moving from funder of creative programmes with an income of over £800,000, to an organisation seeking funding. How can you completely transform your offer from giving money to support delivery, into something people would want to buy, or at least to buy into ?

These are the questions PiCL are still facing now and why the Making it Work consortium is so vital to us and the future. Working alongside these exceptional arts organisations, it is exciting to embark on unpicking exactly how you build sustainable organisations, find new and innovative ways of funding them, how do we communicate what we do and more importantly how to we build the capacity of the organisations so they don't just survive, but thrive and grow?

As a consortium of organisations we have all been used to coming up with fresh and exciting projects. How can we, with the time and support that the Catalyst funding provides and using our collective creative heads find new solutions to our funding needs?

Our first task is to 'Go and See', so we will be donning our hats and coats and heading off to check out other people and places that are getting it right, remembering it is important we ask the right questions.

  • What are the similarities, what are the differences?
  • How might this work in our context and specifically Stoke/North Staffs?
  • Is it something we want to do ? 
  • How long did it take ?
  • What resources did they need?
  • What help did they have ?
  • What didn't work, what mistakes can we learn from ? 
As we put our best foot forward at the start of this process,  it feels good to know that although we are looking for what works for each of the organisations, we are on a learning journey together and not just those involved in the consortium but as a wider sector in North Staffordshire. 


Making It Work - Identifying Research Strategies and Sponsorship Funding Possibilities

After a few months of setting the consortium up, getting comfortable with each other, making appointments and filling positions, it felt like at this week's meeting, the Making It Work Consortium got down to the serious business of delving into the vexed area of alternative, non-central arts funding.

Hosted by B-Arts,  under the guidance of our newly appointed facilitator, Helen Jenkins, and with the aid of soup and cake, we explored Phase 1 of the two year programme - The Go and See Visits. Proper and effective research is at the heart of any new learning, and so each of the consortium members laid out their initial thoughts on which area they would like to concentrate the first round of research visits.

As something of a broad church of a consortium, made up of interests ranging from participatory arts, contemporary dance, arts and education, digital arts and conceptual visual arts, inevitably, we came up with a series of places of specific concern to each group. In broader terms though some interesting areas were covered.

  • the worth of visiting organisations operating in similar spheres in order to gain a broader understanding of and to assess the funding situation across the country. 
  • to avoid excluding research in to how much-larger organisations have developed their funding capacities.
  • to research geographically diverse examples
  • but to be aware of the potential irrelevance of some research to our own situation specifically in Stoke-on-Trent.
Narrowing down from this, we also talked about specific funding issues to address. 
  • How to operate without a base building - how does this effect funding capability.
  • Which/Who are the most effective arts organisations at making money.
  • Beyond Ticket Sales, what are the most effective ways for arts organisations of making money
  • how effective are membership schemes
We moved on to look at the rich and powerful in the city to identify possible sponsor-streams. From multi-millionaires such as Bet 365's Coates family, Mobile Phone magnate John Cauldwell and Stoke's Secret Millionaire Mo Chaudrey to the big corporations, employers, charities and organisations.

It led us to a really interesting list of the top 100 companies in Stoke-on-Trent, in terms of turnover and profit. It's fascinating for us to see who's on this list, and a great start to identifying possible sponsors and donors for the city's arts activities. 

Our next step, with the help of our facilitator will be to strategise and target our research visits for maximum individual and group benefit, but maybe also to identify the best methods of approach to some of these companies. Do they fund the arts? If so, how and to what extent? what are the benefits for them in funding the Arts? And. What are the most effective ways for arts organisations to approach such organisations.


AirSpace Gallery - What's Next?

The first stage of the Catalyst process from our point of view is research. Our consortium has an imminent meeting at which we are tasked with identifying the target of some research visits.

We need to find out and understand what the financial and funding situation is with other similar organisations - that is to say artist-led spaces operating on a non-commercial, not-for-profit basis.

We need to ask some basic questions, find some common ground and analyse and test the responses and answers to see if we can apply any new ideas to our model.

  • Who are these organisations?
  • Where are these organisations?
  • How do these organisations operate?
  • How do these organisations fund themselves?
  • What non-centrally funded initiatives have they tried and which have proved successful.?
  • Can financial stability be assured through a formal union of similar spaces?

In recent weeks, the artist-led scene has seen the emergence of a loose form of union. Artist and member of The Royal Standard, Kevin Hunt has produced a list of 100 of the country's artist-led spaces, which is a great place to start for us.

At this stage, we envisage trying to visit each space, either in person or electronically - to get a sense of the spaces, how they work and how they make them pay. This would be produced as an artwork in itself, with the findings disseminated to each organisation on the list. Beyond this, we think there might be a discussion as to whether a more formal collective union might help improve the individual financial plight of each organisation.

Knowledge Shared is Knowledge Doubled.

Five arts organisations based, and working in, Stoke and North Staffordshire: B artsAirSpace Gallery, biTjaMPiCL (Partners In Creative Learning) and Restoke, have received support from Arts Council England’s Catalyst Arts : building fundraising capacity award, to work together over the next eighteen months.

Our aim for Making It Work is to develop the experience, tools and strategies to break the cycle of chasing the same funding streams that we are, in different ways, locked into.
The organisations cover a range of art-forms including; visual art, dance, participatory arts, music, digital and combined arts. We engage with people as artists, participants and audiences locally, nationally and internationally. 

The organisations in the consortium have extensive experience in raising funds from well-trodden routes: lottery distributors, ACE grants, trusts and charities. Some also have experience of generating direct income through ticket sales, tender awards and marketing of goods or services.

Catalyst is a £100 million culture sector wide private giving investment scheme aimed at helping cultural organisations diversify their income streams and access more funding from private sources. The scheme is made up of investment from Arts Council England, Heritage Lottery Fund and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). Catalyst offers organisations the opportunity to move their fundraising and development expertise on to the next level, whatever their current starting point. Through all strands of the Catalyst initiative, we aim to support creative and innovative activity that will test a range of fundraising approaches. The £7 million Catalyst Arts: building fundraising capacity scheme aims to enable arts organisations with an underdeveloped fundraising model to increase capacity and expertise in this area and improve their resilience. In the long-term, organisations will be better able to embed new business models that increase and diversify their income to deliver great art for everyone. We received 164 applications to the scheme and have awarded grants of between £60,000 and £150,000 to 62 consortia. These grants will benefit 217 organisations.
The scheme supports organisations to work together collectively and collaboratively to develop innovative and efficient solutions to addressing fundraising development needs. We believe that learning and skills will be embedded and reach more organisations if collaboration is at the heart of this scheme. The scheme is designed to help organisations with little or no experience of fundraising to:• build capacity to address both shared and individual fundraising development needs of cluster members• identify and develop effective fundraising models that have a long term impact on the business model of each organisation


B arts, a combined and participatory arts organisation based in North Staffordshire for 28 years, were part of the ACE national portfolio until April 2012, and have since delivered an organisational development review funded by Grants for the Arts (G4A). B arts are part of the Appetite consortium.

AirSpace Gallery, is an artist-run contemporary art gallery and residency/project space that exhibits professional and developing artists and their projects. AirSpace's main focus is to provide space and opportunities for artist development and to assist in developing Stoke-on-Trent's cultural outlook. AirSpace received funding from ACE for their gallery Exhibition programme 2009 to 2012 and for Conjunction November 2012

biTjaM, a relatively new arts organisation, specialising in digital arts and innovation through creative technology have received project funding from Grants for the arts in December 2012 for a school’s based digital arts project 

Restoke: Based in Staffordshire, Restoke combine dance, music and visual art to produce works that breathe new life into forgotten spaces.
Restoke's aims are to; create high quality artwork and performance in the public realm; integrate the arts into regeneration by working in partnership with local authorities; empower communities through engaging in high quality arts activities. Restoke received G4A funding in August 2012 for a performance project in March 2013

PiCL; specialises in making creative projects happen; collaborating with artists we design and deliver creative learning programmes for schools, communities and businesses, striving to improve the creative skills and life experiences of the people we work with.

PiCL delivered Arts Council’s Creative Partnerships programme until closure of the scheme in 2011 and have since delivered Animado funded through a G4A in November 2012. PiCL are part of the Appetite consortium


bITjAM Ltd - The art of talking business

Over the coming months we plan to contribute to this blog and share what we have learned so far through the Making it Work project.

Ultimately the making it work project is about exploration and change. These two elements have been key to the development of @bITjAM since 2006. So to add to the knowledge base being generated here I want to write a few words of reflection on our experience so far of turning a digital arts 'hobby' into a limited company that works across many sectors.

Those of you who have known us since the heady days of running regular Geek events/hackspaces/secret laptop have (hopefully) witnessed a change in what we do. We initially set up bITjAM as a space for artists and geeks to play together, nothing much more than that, it was a happy accident that quickly gained a following and a vibe.  Both myself and Ben were already working full time elsewhere and bITjAM was merely a plaything.

It became increasingly apparent that bITjAM had something to offer outside of a live event. The technology, skills, approach and experiences we had enabled us to set up funded projects as well as work in collaboration with other organisations, predominantly in the arts and community setting. However on reflection this is where we (and possibly numerous other arts organisations) began to form a dependence on specific funding streams.

Much of the funding in our early days of being a more serious 'arts organisation' came from streams that required the company to work with 'hard to reach' or somehow disadvantaged groups. We felt this was the right thing to do, I suppose looking back, for me that was because of my experience of working both in the NHS at the time and working in community arts. What we did not do at this time was see what we could offer in the private sector alongside local communities; how our skills with creative technologies could help businesses, instead we became dependent on State funding.

This dependence has been an area we have been focusing on and shifting away from since early 2012. We feel much of the success of shifting to a B2B model is about making the right connections as well as speaking the right language when offering services. Much of the language we were used to was based on the Stoke on Trent equals deprived lexicon, whereas we needed to 'provide creative tech solutions and services' to other sectors.

We have found it useful revisiting many of our funding applications and 'analysing' the content. This can be done simply by reading through, highlighting content or in our case (because of said level of geekiness c/o data tools we use) we have analysed and visualised ourselves to get a view on the language used.

Correlation analysis (original is interactive)

Concept analysis

Word cloud

This view of ourselves has enabled us to change some of our language and approach, while also highlighting some of the skills we tend to overlook. I would hazard a guess many of us forget what we actually can do or what skills we have, only ever writing them down (sometimes with unease) during the writing of funding applications. In business we have to be more bold and upfront with what we can offer.

My advice is revisit all the word docs you have and scan through them, remind yourself what you can do and have done, be proud of it, it's your products, your services that you will offer in the business world if thats the direction you want to take.


AirSpace - what has funding ever done for us?

Over the 6 or so years that I have been involved with AirSpace Gallery, I have seen the organisation operate both with Arts Council funding, and, for a 2 year period, without any funding. The experience of the latter makes the Arts Council's Catalyst programme an invaluable chance to explore non-public sector arts funding.

For its first 4 years, AirSpace was  in receipt of enough funding to provide for a series of high quality visual arts exhibitions, allowing the gallery to commission a number of internationally acclaimed artists. Over this time, the Gallery built a reputation for conceptual contemporary arts which helped to sustain it through what was to come.

AirSpace Gallery - unfunded from 2011-2013
Following a failed Grants For The Arts bid, AirSpace continued to produce high quality arts projects, thanks to the commitment of a small group of non-paid (essentially volunteer) artists, determined to maintain its existence, through a variety of innovative strategic endeavours. Yet, in truth, this was as tough a period of working life as I have known. At times it was demoralising. We had to use all the tricks at our disposal, and put all our energy and creativity into creating a programme out of nothing in oreder to ride out this phase until the next funding bid. 

The existential nature of central funding is crucial to arts organisations such as AirSpace. Outside London, the possibilities for contemporary, conceptual visual arts spaces to make money from their endeavours are slim to non-existent. There simply isn't the commercial tradition of buying art in what was recently described to me as "the regions".
the regions npl. ree-zhuns  arts-coll.  anywhere in the U.K. outside London

So, in order to provide a programme of non-commercial arts, generally exploring the critical, theoretical side of life, organisations such as AirSpace have to rely on external funding, because there isn't a commercial system which would allow for the presence of art which primarily explores ideas.

The Gallery has since received Arts Council funding, and it is as if the sun has emerged from a cloud. Our energy levels have been boosted and we have been able to design an exciting new programme of relevant and critical visual arts for the City.

Yet that experience of being non-funded has been tattooed onto our consciousness. There is a collective acknowledgement, that it is unlikely that we can go through that situation again.

Despite the recent Arts Council evidence, which affirmed the positive contribution of the Arts to the country's coffers, we are all aware that in this age of austerity, and beyond, arts organisations are on the front line. No matter that the proof is that for every £1 of government subsidy, cultural activity provides £7 in return to the nation's GDP. We know that the likelihood is that funding for the arts will be cut sooner, rather than later, and in those cuts, small artist-led organisations such as AirSpace Gallery will be cut first.

So where will our funding come from? We are tasked with exploring alternative financial avenues. Commercial sponsorship, corporate good will,  crowdfunding or, bizarrely, legacy (identifying possible wealthy benefactors capable of and willing to bequeath fortunes to the arts in their wills). These are all prescribed options.

I am approaching this period of research with an open mind. Instinctively, I believe that a rich country such as the UK should have, and maintain, a system of central subsidy for the Arts. I believe that the Arts are a positive contributory sector to political, economic and social society. However, I am not naive. I am aware that funding for the Arts is hardly a sacred cow. And the indelible memories of operating as part of an unfunded organisation, and the accrued mental scars means I'm prepared to put my natural scepticism and cynicism to one side and search for a way to be self reliant and self sustainable.

As conceptual artists, we are well used to practice-based research, and our approach and activities will be built around this process.  We are also committed to an open and discursive process. There should be no secrets. The arts are bigger than the individual. The arts in the city are bigger than the individual organisation.

If we find a way, we'll talk about it and spread the word. If we don't find a way, we'll talk about it as well.

B-arts - What's all this then?

Making it Work is all about making changes.  In autumn of 2012 Arts Council England offered arts companies who had previously received Grants for the Arts funding, to form consortia and bid for support from a fund called Catalyst Arts. The purpose of the fund is to increase the capacity of arts organisations to diversify their funding steams. Well that sound like a proper challenge in Stoke.

We all know how to tell the story of this area, of Stoke and North Staffordshire, and the people with whom we work: the lack of employment, low educational attainment, poor health and life expectancy. Not only are the statistics against us, but the city, Stoke, is a by-word for undesirability- the butt of comic routines, shorthand for where you don't want to find yourself on a Saturday night. The arts organisations have tended to talk about the arts in the area in the same way. We are trained to use the same language and same evidence: emphasising the challenges rather than the opportunities. So how do we shift this? I invited the arts organisations I knew about who I thought might be up for this,and who fitted the criteria, to form the Making it Work consortium to bid for this money....and we got it.

So now we have a job on. It's clear we all need to find new fund raising schemes, new ways of attracting support for our work. We want to challenge ourselves to not repeat the same cynical discussions about arts fundraising. But, this isn't London, it's certainly not Manchester, Leeds or even Sheffield. Really, how many high net value individuals are there in Stoke? How many corporations are headquartered here? Isn’t Stoke where companies come for cheap labour and land to site distribution warehouses and call centres, while their HQs and CSR money are elsewhere? We read the same arts industry articles as everyone else. Individual and corporate support are concentrated in London the SE, and goes to the usual suspects from the RSC to Tate. So we chase grants and short contract public sector work that encourages us to focus on what’s wrong with Stoke. The insecurity of this work leads all to spend as much time as we can chasing the next funding opportunity. A consistent approach to artistic development becomes hostage to wildly varying funding requirements. We work ever-harder to stand where we are.

This is the work cycle we all want to change. Developing a new fundraising model that prioritises individual giving is not only appropriate for us, its essential. This is an adventure we will be sharing, lessons learnt, blind alleys chased, wild geese followed, shining examples captured and brought back to inspire us all. Out of it all we want practical, real differences in how we make work, fund work and how people connect with us and our work.

Ken Campbell, the radical theatre maker, introduced me to the idea of "fields of potentiality". This best describes for me the spaces we will be both exploring and creating through this work. Making it Work isn't only about making sure we all get paid, that the organisations in the consortium survive (if we want to), it's also about making the arts in Stoke sustainable, ingrained, where they should be, at the front, facilitating and modelling a new way of being; making it work for everyone.  Watch out for more.

Meanwhile..........think big, think wide, and then just do something.

- Susan