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.