Getting towards Making It Work together

The six arts organisations in Making It Work (Airspace Gallery, B Arts, Bitjam, picl, Restoke) have been working together for almost eighteen months now, funded by the Arts Council’s Catalyst programme to develop new sources of earned income. We’ve been to look at how other organisations are working together in Sheffield and completed training programmes that have varied from video editing and web design to running a community bakery.

Now it’s decision time. We spent a day working together with Anamaria Wills from Cidaco on what we might actually do together for private sector partners, other public funders - what our value proposition would be as a consortium.

We looked at the Stoke we wanted to see in ten years time, as that’s really what unites us. Our practice varies widely from a contemporary visual art gallery and a site-specific performance company to a digital innovation agency. Our individual organisations have very different missions and work in very different ways. All of us however share a common vision to make where we work, and where our audiences and partners come from, a better place. 

We worked in small groups to look at what the Stoke that everyone wanted to see would look like - which contained everything from trams and cycle lanes to more jobs and a better built environment. Then we all devised three projects that sought to embody some of these ideas at a strategic level using a CO-STAR development model which CIDACO use. The groups came up with a new circular bus route for visitors and residents in the city, which would connect the five towns of the city without needing to go in to the city centre and out again; a Stoke Embassy to London to sell the city’s creative and economic offer; and a transition programme for Stoke town following the withdrawal of council employees from the civic centre.

What, from B Arts’ perspective at least, we moved forwards on, was understanding that if we have a logic model in place for the consortium we can collaborate strategically without necessarily needing to create joint artistic work. We used a logic model (picked up on ACE’s Cultural Commissioning training) that starts by describing the Strategic Outcome the consortium has - an over-arching aim which, much like a mission, can't be measured. Beneath it  are Contributory Outcomes - these are aims that we can measure progress against, and which are achievable through the Outputs: the activities the programme consists of.

By the end of the day we’d even got as far as a Value Proposition. Ok, we had two:

Making a new story for Stoke
Realising the potential of the people and businesses in Stoke

that describe what private sector partners would gain by working with us. It’s taken us some time, but we finally feel that we’ve got a shared sense of purpose that could enable us to properly Make It Work together. Now we have to see if this is attractive to potential partners who would be interested in working with us on making these things happen. If we know what the joint outcomes should be, then what's the joint programme to achieve this?


Making It Work Training - AirSpace Gallery

As part of AirSpace Gallery's training programme for the Catalyst project Making It Work, I took part in a 3-day 1to1 website and web strategy training session with artist Rich White.

The purpose of the training was fairly simple. Rich had been commissioned to redesign and build the Gallery's website. The training was to unpick the build and the strategies behind it, so that we could understand the processes in order to take control of its future working.

As an artist-led space, marketing reach is a thorny problem. The vast percentage of our ACE funding goes on programming, and we fall well below the accepted level of an 18% spend on marketing in order to create audience. So, we have to be creative with our use of  other means to get people through our doors, and to advertise our presence and activity as widely as possible.

Along with traditional hands-on meet and show techniques in our immediate locality, and a concerted use of the "free" resource that social media represents, it has never been more vital to have a functioning, attractive and accessible website for potential visitors to quickly be informed as to an arts organisation's mission and upcoming activity.

The world of websites is constantly shifting and advancing and so, constantly paying an outside source to keep a contemporary relevance can be a drain on financial resources, taking funds away from the more important area of programming. So an ability to understand the processes involved and capability to make the changes ourselves seems an important area in becoming self sufficient in this area.

The sessions with Rich were really instructive. Understanding my rudimentary working knowledge, we went right back to basics, first identifying the core needs that a website needs to fulfil, before building a new website from scratch, explaining code, html language, design and so on.

We talked about simplicity - the need for an audience to quickly understand what the organisation is and what the organisation does. Simplicity, too, in design, so that the site would be easily navigable. The site should be visually attractive, but whistles and bells should be kept to a minimum. We talked about designing the site so that user input was easy too. There is no point in creating a great looking site that takes forever to update, as those man-hours are at a premium with organisations such as ours.

We talked about consistency - a basic design principle which psychologically allows a visitor to the website to quickly understand each subsequent page they visit. It is really important that once a visitor accesses the site, that they are not annoyed by the process of navigating the site to the extent that they quickly leave, so each page should be structured in the same way - individual elements might change - such as different colours to suggest different activity - but largely, each page should look the same - so image size and placement on the page, and similarly text size and position. The fonts used should be kept to as few as possible - preferably a single font - with specific sizes for titles and then for body texts.

We talked about the importance of the home page - website visitors need to be "hooked" as early as possible, so the homepage takes on great importance. For instance, the use of a simple slideshow - of maybe only 4 or 5 linked images can immediately broadcast the breadth of the website - as a trailer - which can encourage the visitor to delve more deeply in to the rest of the website. The information here should be kept to the introductory, with greater depth revealed once the visitor clicks through.

Once designed and mapped, and equipped with the visual content with which to staff the site, comes the build. To be honest, teaching a novice a brand new language - html - in 2 days is an onerous and impossible task, but Rich took me through the basics, pointing me to several online resources for tutorials, or basic commands which I could cut and paste in to our website to play around with - how to change fonts, insert links, change page structures etc. Crucially, though I gained an understanding of the "map" - how each page refers and responds to each other page. Changing one piece of information in the CSS (design) folder will change that information throughout the site unless you know how to define the parameters.

So in the course of the sessions we covered channels and fields, templates, bootstrapping, the importance of closing code through use of brackets and much more. In truth, after the sessions, could I build my own fully functioning website on my own, with no guidance? Probably not. But I gained an invaluable working knowledge of how the website works, and in particular how the AirSpace Gallery website works, and left with a variety of tools, both in terms of function and design, with which to ensure that our organisation can keep our public facing appearance relevant and attractive in the internet age - crucial to our future self-sufficiency.


The Do Lectures

Last weekend I had the privilege to attend 'The Do lectures Wales' (http://www.thedolectures.com/) - an intimate event described as being akin to the perhaps more familiar TED talks. Throughout the weekend there were talks from 20 diverse and engaging speakers but for me, and everyone else I'd spoken to, it was just as much about the conversations between talks amongst the equally inspiring guests.

Responding to their given brief of 'do a talk you've never given before', speakers ranged from Gavin - senior creative producer at Aardman Studios who claimed to have built his career not on experience but on his enthusiasm and lust for life alone; to Massoud who'd designed a cheap wind powered land mine detonation device in response to his father being killed by a land mine; to Nick a 'MuseumHack' tour guide passionate about showing people 'the artifact he'd most like to steal' or leading his group in impromptu physical exercise as a pick me up (look out for his talk if you want to see how to engage an audience!); to Hunter who was in the early stages of gathering records of peoples' dreams through an app to build up a database of global dream patterns, and it was talks such as this one that led to discussion on ethics between guests while tucking into the many amazing, locally sourced and well prepared meals we were fed.

The whole experience was quite emotional at times, not in a 'you're the only barrier to your own success conference' kind of way but through balanced, reasoned and non judgemental discussions between talks and the accumulation of lots of small personal realisations. This is where I found out for example about EMDR (eye movement desensitisation & reprocessing) a method of helping people deal with psychological trauma without having to relive them; and that there's a town in Spain (large enough to have its own health service and education system) that's run as a co-operative and was apparently the only recession immune town in the country!

Being at the event itself certainly left me with a different feeling than than that of watching a TED talk online, in fact one chap I met was doing a PHD on the very subject of 'Do online' vs 'Do in the flesh' (also a common subject in general throughout the weekend) none the less, videos of all the talks throughout the weekend will be posted online within the next few weeks and, at a strict 20 mins each, are ALL well worth watching: http://www.thedolectures.com/

So, what have I taken away from the event? When it comes to raising funds for our organisations, make the process relevant to all involved! And on a personal level: ask for help; listen to advice; go easy on folk; go easy on yourself; you know what you need to do; get on with it!

If anyone wants to find out more about my experiences at the event or you'd like more info on specific points I've talked about, feel free to email me: paul@restoke.org.uk



Don't Dissipate!

We were fortunate recently to spend an hour over lunch in Manchester with Jim Forrester, the Executive Director of Manchester International Festival; chair of the new cinema and theatre capital project HOME; and one of the key individuals behind the success of Imperial War Museum North. We discussed what we were up to as five organisations working together on Making It Work in Stoke, and he reflected on why the Manchester International Festival had enjoyed the success it had over the past decade. 

First a narrow focus, in MIF’s case commissioning new work, created a strong identity that they could develop and trade on. MIF has become a very clear and strong headline brand that crucially stakeholders beyond the arts - the local authority and business, can understand and support.

When he looked at our activities, with B Arts as an example, he observed that we did lots and that some of this dissipated our efforts. Dissipation was a key word. We would find it very helpful to narrow our focus and try and define what it is we do in very clear terms. Building awareness about the organisation’s role over and above the individual festivals as moments in time has been very important.

He was clear that local authority was key to bringing in other supporters such as businesses and individuals. The local authority already had the contacts and the Chief Executive or a similar figure was crucial to making the introductions.

Reporting was crucial to publicising and winning over stakeholders, MIF uses the Cambridge model of economic impact. Investing in marketing has backed up all of the above, and resourcing this properly at between 10 and 20% of turnover has been vital to MIF. 

He urged us to define try and define how Stoke likes to think, what the problems might be and what the Stoke solution might be to these. What can the arts do then? They can transform capacity and aspiration. That’s what we have to sell, in a distinctively Stoke manner that works for us.


Peckham Arts - an AirSpace Gallery Research Visit, Day 1

On the surface, it might seem an odd choice of location for a research visit by an arts organisation in the regions in to how to make the arts and arts organisations pay for its/themselves. We often think of that London as an alien enclave, with invisible insurmountable fortifications and all of the crucial and necessary conditions and opportunities an artist/organisation needs in order to thrive - tellingly at the perceived expense of those of us operating outside.

Yet, on another level, London has its drawbacks. There is the small fish-big pond issue, a surfeit of practitioners and venues, chasing an ever dwindling public pot, and the fact that, when boiled down to its geographical basics, it can be seen as a conglomeration of small, self-governing towns nwhich add together to make a sum as great as its constituent parts. Maybe a gargantuan version of Stoke-on-Trent?

My visit centred on the borough of Southwark and particularly the "town" of Peckham as a case study and initially looked at talking to a variety of practitioners and venues - starting with a fledgling artist run space, a community-facing and previously publicly funded gallery, and an artist - entrepreneur who has operated in Peckham pre and post arts-led gentrification.


The Annual Open at Cafe Gallery

On my way to  visit Vulpes Vulpes (VV), walking through Soutwark Park I happened across 2 of the park's very own gallery - Cafe Gallery and Dilston Grove -  I entered the Cafe Gallery expecting twee
hobby art, but what I found was a professional gallery, undoubtedly community focussed, showing the well respected and renowned Bermondsey Artists Group's (BAG) annual Open.

BAG is an artist-led initiative supporting CGP London and creating opportunities for artists who live, work or study in Southwark.
For £20 you get
Invitations to exhibit in Bermondsey Artists’ Group shows, Participation in an active artist group, The right to vote at the Annual General Meeting, Discounted submission rate at the Annual Open Exhibition, Greatly valued support to CGP London.

Exhibition at Dilston Grove
CGP is an artist led initiative providing exhibitions of contemporary art, at two venues in Southwark Park. Cafe Gallery is a modern purpose- built space comprising three interlinked 'white room' spaces and a patio garden. Dilston Grove is a Grade II Listed building providing a cavernous raw space for large scale installations and performance, a reception area and learning space. Southwark Park is London's oldest Metropolitan park and boasts a lake, bandstand, tennis courts, wildlife walk, bowling green, children's playground and cafe.

Since their foundation by the Bermondsey Artists' Group in 1984, community integration and inclusiveness has been central to the values of CGP London. We believe in the benefit of creative expression and positive contact with the arts. During this time, a fully evolved learning programme has developed, to encompass shifting demographics, the interests of local people and the changing ways that artists work with audiences. The Bermondsey Artists' Group is a registered educational charity (No.1073851).

Learning - 
 - there is a way to self support through well run and attractive membership schemes
 - an open exhibition is a good, but time consuming way, to make money/finance exhibitions
 - both of these offer a way of developing an audience, which may then lead to future private funding possibilities.
- becoming a charity offers specific funding opportunities - particularly , they are often able to raise funds from the public, grant-making trusts and local government more easily than non-charitable bodies;

From Southwark Park I made the short walk to Southwark Park Road and Blue Anchor Lane, the home of Vulpes Vulpes' brand new gallery space. Now safely secured following a successful crowdfunding campaign, the premises offer a street facing traditional, almost corporate gallery space, with the added wonder and awe of a huge railway archway accessed through the rear of the front gallery space - really the best of both worlds.

Vulpes Vulpes started in 2009, by four artists, Carla Wright, Anna Chrystal Stephens, Laurie Storie and Hadiru Mahdi, as an artist collective, studios and project space in East London – hosting exhibitions, performances and educational workshops, after a series of initial varied incarnations, which included squatting a series of different buildings in an attempt to find ways of living and working as artists in London. At this point they were individually renting studio spaces.

In 2009 they pooled their studio rents and rented a warehouse together, offering enough room to live and have a gallery and studios. The 7000 square metres victorian tramshed was rented on a short term lease from a property developer and divided the space into 10 sculpture studios, which covered their rents.

From the initial point of being solely studio providers, they progressed to offering Gallery and exhibition opportunities - looking to produce these shows in a self-sufficient way - lots of recycling materials. A show would often only cost £50 to produce. Artists weren't paid, as the opportunity to exhibit was so attractive.

Learning - exhibitions can happen very cheaply with creative and strategic thinking.

Moving from these premises into slightly smaller, more expensive space, they continued to explore the efficacy of the live/work model, but without the option now of Gallery space, started to work on off-site projects, which would be self-funded through activities such as Open Exhibitions. These would typically see around 250 submissions and charging £7 per submission.

As well as some funds, the opens provided a good training ground through looking at and discussing works, whilst raising their awareness of other artists' works and prevalent trends. It was thought that this might help with future shows in enhancing their network.

Learning - Holding an open can raise funds, and be a fruitful self-sufficient way to operate. It also helps enhance networks and increase visibility and a sense of relevance in an organisation's situation and location.

For a variety of reasons which included, tiring of the caretaking and administering involved in being studio providers, and no longer being able to provide good quality reasonably-priced studios, and not making an art living for themselves, they moved to their present gallery only location. 

Their plans around funding remain focussed on self sufficiency and innovation. They want the space to pay for itself, like the old live-work spaces, so a plan to rent it out, for photoshoots,  film location and music videos. Also, a series of fundraising events, and maybe a shop - but there is an understanding that this won't be straightforward and will have to happen alongside either a series of individual project Arts Council funding bids or a larger program based funding bid. They also wanted to create a situation where each of the four members shares the running of the space equally, and gets paid for their share - at least 1 paid day each per week.

Learning - 
Overall, it seems that through being providers of studios and arts opportunities over a number of years, in a non-funded environment, has created a sort of innovation training, and an expectation that arts activity can happen to a certain extent, in a non centrally funded way. However, it is instructive to understand that ultimately, despite this collective's outstanding abilities and innovative thinking, along with the vast majority of non-commercial arts organisations, it has been necessary to turn to Arts Council bids and crowd-funding as the main income sources.

From here it was on to Peckham High street and Peckham Space, which since the time of my visit has now become Peckham Platform.



Merchandising, is it a dirty word?

making it work Hilary B arts
My "go and see" was, to look at the world of selling art, how do artists,
in the widest sense, do that?
To begin with I thought about the words that are used, and why do they strike terror, disdain, contempt, in some artists?
Don't we want our work to be seen, don't we want to make a living?

Merchandise, merchandising
Engage in the business of a merchant
Selling goods or ideas, especially in a retail situation
A reminder of past events
A small item kept in memory of the person who originally owned it, or gave it.
A thing that is kept as a reminder of a person, a place or event

Oh I see nothing here about quality, changing the world, enriching peoples lives, challenging peoples views. But hang on, we do want people to remember our work, stay connected, especially when as B arts does we create ephemeral work, site specific theatre that only lasts in the memory, digital or real, so if they went away with something, or could buy something later, or in advance, that would seem to be OK?

The benefits of selling art as products are huge as it effectively gets your art out there and increases your potential audience around the world. It only takes one collector who purchased an art tie to go on to purchase a large original at several thousand pounds for the whole project to make sense, and this does happen."

I can see how this applies to 2D art. How could this apply to site specific theatre, well we could work with images/photographs/designs from our shows and put them on ties!?

Some comments from artists who sells stuff.....
The pitfalls only appear if your lose control of the product range. So, for example, if a company produces 50,000 cards (as The Eden Project did of my work) and then fails to sell them, that stock could end up in a bargain bucket, dragging down your market value. To avoid this dead stock situation, most companies are now using the art-ondemand technique. It means less profit per item but no dead stock and therefore better profit  margins.
The cost to us as artists to license using Zazzle is only time. There are no setup or running costs and we are now free to concentrate on developing projects using the technology.
I sell T-shirts and other products through my website and also created an online T-shirt shop (www.art4shirts.com). Over the years I have added more and more designs, and now have several sections to which my painting site links.
I produced my first online T-shirts when I put my Japanese print collection online (www.surimono.com). I was looking for a way to market the site and use the fantastic images I had collected over the years. I opened an account with www.cafepress.com, and they gave me a free online shop where I could add images to their products. It is very simple to open and operate: open a free account, upload an image and then apply it to the Cafépress products. You can print on everything from T-shirts, calendars, postcards, bags, clocks, aprons and button badges to fridge magnets. Cafépress does all the work take the order online, print the item, post the item and put the profit markup into your account.
All this sounds interesting, but it's very clear that it needs a time commitment from someone, either the artist themselves, or perhaps in MIW case a person who could work for a group of artists/companies?
So then I went off on a go and see on the Internet, where else do artists sell their work?

Etsy Tons of independent shops selling, art, craft, vintage. Under the "art" category;
Art Zines, Collage & Mixed Media, Custom Portraits, Decorative Arts, Drawing & Illustration, Figurines & Art Objects, Painting, Photography, Printmaking, Prints & Posters, Sculpture. There are no membership fees with Etsy. It costs $0.20 to list an item for 4 months, or until it sells. Once you sell your item they collect a 3.5% fee on the sale price.
Fees for listings and transactions are accrued on your monthly Etsy bill. At the end of each month they add up all your fees, and email your monthly statement to you. You must pay your bill by the 15th of the next month using either the credit card on file or PayPal.

Etsy has a reputation for being craft orientated, and designer focussed, but has huge numbers of buyers internationally, get ready for knowing about packaging and posting costs, and trips to the post office, or even your own man with a van service, there are planting wanting your business.

I looked next at postcards since it seemed an easy way in to the world of merchandising as pre publicity and cheaper point of sale at an event. There are more sites moo.com I us them as an example. It just needs time and a source of photos and a good eye for what people would buy. And to put the costs into your project budget in advance.

10            £6.59 (£5.49 excl. VAT)       Deluxe £23.99 (£19.99 excl. VAT)
20            £13.18 (£10.98 excl. VAT).               £47.98 (£39.98 excl. VAT)
50            £26.39 (£21.99 excl. VAT).               £95.99  (£79.99 excl. VAT)
100            £43.99. (£36.66 excl. VAT)               £138.00 (£115.00 excl VAT) spec offer in Jan
Can buy short runs, so no dead stock issues, quick turn around, can buy packs of cards with different images.

People who go to music gigs always tel, you that T shirts are a good thing to sell. So I looked at the issue back stock. (If anyone would like a Stoke100 Tshirt B arts has a box of them, orange XLarge, we now give them away!!!)

T shirts  a variety of sites/companies offer this service....
Tshirtdrop's print on demand service, makes T-shirt outsourcing easy.
If you are a new or established T-shirt designer and are looking to outsource your garment printing needs, then our print on demand service is the one for you.
The process is simple :
You sell a T-shirt or garment design through your website, eBay, Zazzle or other site.
Send Tshirtdrop the order information, via our dedicated Print on Demand email address.
Sit back and relax whilst we; Pick the required garment, Print the design, Pack the garment, Post directly to your customer.
You receive an email confirming your order has been completed.
We invoice you our standard flat rate charge per garment.
All orders come through to our print queue and are printed on demand.
So whether you need 1 Print per month or 500 Prints we treat your order with the same importance as any other.
It was quite hard to get to the actual cost for a T shirt without ordering one, anyone got a Making It Work design in they would like to tryout?
Now I went off into to world of merchandising proper, things you can get printed with your design on, typically at the low end of this are pens, that say B arts working for change, office Knicks Knacks that scud around and get given away free as a way of getting your website and logo out there. However there are some other items you get designs rather than promotional stuff printed on, perhaps an image from a show I'm thinking?

Slightly posh version of custom print items and all sorts of things, iPad cases, cards, T-shirts, etc etc
As above, but it's a mixture of Etsy and Zazzle.  

Then I wandered off into the world of 2D art, which could again be images from a show, event.
Is a marketplace for people to discover and buy affordable original art online, from independant galleries and artists.
They market the site via twitter and Facebook and have an iPhone app.
They call themselves a global marketplace, have over 13,000 followers on fbook,
The selling points that you the buyer are supporting the artist and nurturing new talent.
They have a free returns policy, and you can buy gift cards, they divide art up into many, many categories all to enable the buyer to find what they are looking for.
Artists receive up to 70% of the fee for the work.
This is what ArtFinder says....
If you are an artist and want to improve your chances of being accepted by Artfinder, here are three easy recommendations:
1) Your story is almost as important as the quality of your art.  A good story sells, and collectors love to know that the artist is thoughtful, passionate, committed, or maybe crazy, whatever is their preference.
2) You manage your own store on Artfinder, and your storefront is created from the images of your art. By submitting high quality images you show that you care about quality, and are able to put together a quality presentation.
3) Selling online is about showing your best side. All artist produce works in their portfolio from time to time that are less strong. That's okay. But show us that you understand that it's about quality, not quantity. Bad quality work will detract from your good work. Know when an artwork is not ready for prime time.

I find the first recommendation very thought provoking, it is what all good sales gurus tell you, what is your story? It is the hardest thing for a hard working arts company to turn around and tell their own story, well it seems that way from here at B Arts. Which makes me think that we would need to put some time, effort and thought into this, but as they say may reap some dividends.

Then I went off and looked around at what people are doing  here.
I visited the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Newcastle Borough Museum and Art Gallery. They all have shops attached, and my heart sank, the home of heritage tat, but with some hidden art work in there which probably doesn't sell since there is so little of it.
Although to be fair to Newcastle it is the stuff you see first when you go in through the door, and it has a modern feel.
Maybe in funky Birmingham or Manchester  there is something different? Sounds like a shopping opportunity.

Grand Union (Birmingham)
Have an online shop as part of their website, they sell artists multiples, prints, photographs, soundtracks, called Editions.
I have a visit planned! More on that...later.

Here are some images that expand my thinking.

Where to stock your museum, gallery shop.

Those words are what I fear will happen when we sell our work, it just means we have to sell it and not put it in the hands of marketing companies.

Susan always say, take stuff out of your note sketchbooks and sell it.
So how would we do that? Anyone fancy this on their phone cover?

Could this be a card, just needs a cheeky phrase?

This years Christmas card from B arts?

A new tea towel anyone?

New curtain design?

Now I see that this is just the start. There are no hard figures in here,how much do artists make from selling their work, what do you make from T shirts, multiples, cards etc.
Maybe this could be part of our next phase, for MIW consortium to  try some of this?

Some further thoughts on our attitudes to merchandising/marketing....
AUSTERITY, I think it's infectious, it closes down our aspirations, closes down our available resources, cramps our style, things have to go in the face of rising costs and reduced income, the easy option is merchandising/marketing
PERCEIVED POVERTY, I think there is a general assumption that N Staffs is poor, that the middle classes are the people who buy stuff, the middle class in N Staffs is small, so don't bother trying to sell stuff. A vicious closing down of aspirations.
LACK OF RISK TAKING, in a works where everything  is restricted then risk taking is not top dog, yet what have we got to lose?
REDUCTION IN ARTS BUDGETS, companies are attempting to over deliver top quality arts on a reduced budget, so there develops a tendency to ignore areas of the budget which may be perceived as peripherals, marketing, training.
MARKETING BUDGETS, they are easily taken out, and therefore the time is lost to develop this area, leading to a reduction of the possible income form different sources.
DEPENDING ON KNOWN CIRCLES OF AUDIENCES, at times of shortage, of time, people, money, we rely on the known, the people we already know and can easily contact.
A definite recipe for NO GROWTH, no growth in possible audiences for the work and reducing the market for it.
NO ACKNOWLEDGING OF GLOBAL AUDIENCE FOR THE WORK, within the structures of austerity the company may feel that it has no place in a global market, perhaps a false economy.

3 Learning points
Put time into your project plan for identifying, producing, the merchandising in advance
Do the selling yourself, the artist is the best person to do this
Buy in targeted help, eg writing blurb, or something you don't can't do.

Hilary H.


Creative Businesses in Sheffield - some reflections

The Making It Work consortium went on a group visit to the Catalyst consortium in Sheffield in January. There’s a post below that outlines who we met and what happened on the day, so I’m giving a more personal perspective.

The first thing we learnt was that collaboration depends on making time to work together. In meeting two of the partners (Site Gallery and Yorkshire Artspace), one of the things that they were experiencing was the difficulty in carving out time to work on the consortium programme together.

Secondly, that Sheffield has built an infrastructure of spaces, activity and people consistently over several decades. What is now the Cultural Industries Quarter provides new and established organisations with an identity, networks and support as well as being part of a significant economic sector within the city.  In Sheffield the Quarter also has an identity beyond the city, and even has some currency as a visitor attraction in its own right. This has given us much food for thought for our involvement in initiatives around the Stoke Cultural Quarter.

The visit made me aware of how Stoke lacks middle-scale independent organisations such as Site, Music In The Round and Yorkshire Artspace. These, stretched as they are, do have capacity to support emergent artists and organisations. Without similar scale organisations in Stoke (all of the larger organisations are part of the local authority or commercial) it is the networks we are building that can create similar capacity in Stoke.

Art Sheffield was a fascinating model, a consortium project in Sheffield that delivered enough value back to those investing time in developing it – such as listings services and a real focus for the participating organisations in reaching new audiences.

Finally, when faced with agendas that all seem vital – such as setting up membership schemes, crowdfunding, targeting potential patrons, capital projects – the Executive Director of Site Gallery held onto something that resonated with us all:

What is the most important thing to do for this business?

Trevelyan Wright, B-Arts

Bitjam go and see Dec 2013

The Pervasive Media Studios in Bristol.

At bitjam we have been thinking about who we would visit as part of our MIW ‘go and see’s’. We could easily list a plethora of places, companies, start ups, hives of geeks and more that we would want to visit but realised that these visits needed a purpose.

Some of the aims of the go and sees:
  • To gain a better understanding of a company and how it works in the chosen sector.
  • What is it’s business model and how is it working for them. This includes how it might have changed over the life of the company.
  • (if an established organisation) How have they changed and adapted to be ahead of the competition.
  • If part reliant on funding, how has this changed and how have they adapted their business model accordingly.
  • To come away with experience of another organisation in the same sector or field of interest as our own.
  • Feed back to the rest of the MIW consortium the visit, findings and three keys thoughts about the trip.
After narrowing down our selection we approached the pervasive media studio in Bristol.

The PM Studio are part of the exciting Watershed complex that houses cinema, conference spaces, cafe and exhibition spaces.

The Pervasive Media Studio hosts a community of artists, creative companies, technologists and academics exploring experience design and creative technology. It is a collaboration with University of West of England and University of Bristol, managed by Watershed.

They have been on our radar for some time as leaders in this field.  The MIW go and sees have provided us with the opportunity to take some time away from interactive tech and spend the day down there. This is what we discovered……..

The Studios function on a mixture of hot desk spaces and fixed tenures for small or startup business, these can range from companies/individuals being there for anything from one month to three years.

In there you have an eclectic mix of tech startups, from individuals busily hacking and coding to create an interactive apps through to companies building revolutionary spherical midi controlled instruments.
All of these work together in the same space and all practice what they call being ‘professionally interruptible’. Basically, anyone can grab a chat with them, exchange ideas, bounce ideas off each other and chat to visitors.
This was extremely exciting for us and we realised that was something that we practice day to day already. Some of the best ideas come about through being open to interruption.

We chatted to Verity McIntosh who is the PM Studios producer at length about how they operate , function, get funding, IP issues, partnership working and the future.

It’s clear that the have been on a long journey.

One thing that really stood out for us was how they are now a service provider for Bristol University. This has taken some time but the Uni realises the importance of the space within the city and what it provides in the world of tech and tech start ups opportunities.
As a result the Uni contributes towards rent for the space, that equates to so many months a year. This is also the case with the Council.
This is something that is a huge aim for ourselves and our new Innovation centre (bitjam Innovation Qube).

As a result the companies, individuals and teams that populate the PM Studios do not pay for their space. This came as a huge surprise to us. We were planning on developing a model of working in the Innovation Qube where we offer hot desk space for individuals and companies to hire from us. Since visiting the PM studios we have decided against that and go with a curation of the people and the space. This is after seeing the huge benefits to all involved form this model. While we were visited you had magicians working with coders and developers. This possibly wouldn't have happened if the space was commercial.
In this instance Verity acts like a curator or almost a chef, hand picking through lots of applications from people wanting to work in the space and envisaging how they might work and bounce of the others occupying the studios.

We then got the opportunity to chat to half of the teams and groups there, the variety was impressive and not what we expected.

Through these talks we realised that even if people spend months or years working out of the space to then move on and away, they always return when possible and site the PM Studios as their spiritual home. This means that the reach of the studio is far bigger than just it’s City and surroundings. When you consider that on average 140+ people come through the doors to work each year, this advertising and spreading of their message is vast.

As our visit came to an end we made our way to a lovely gastro pub to eat pulled pork, drink mulled cider and try to process what we saw/liked/will take away from this.

The three key points for us were:
  • Being professionally interruptible. We need to be more interruptible. Come and pop your head in, say hello and lets bounce ideas.
  • Offer free workspace. There’s space within a business model to allow this and the benefits can outweigh the monetary value in many ways.
  • Curate. Select and choose who works in the space, encourage interesting partnerships, take risks and watch the results.  

I would personally like to thank Verity and all the staff and people we spoke to during our visit to the Pervasive Media Studio. It was close (very close) to Christmas and amongst the decorations going up and secret santas, the took the time to take us round and allow us to interrupt.

Ben and Carl
Bitjam ltd.


Helen Jenkins, Facilitator – Go and See trip to Sheffield 7 January 2014

The first week back to work after the Christmas holidays can be a real drag.  All that time overindulging on food, family and friends is swapped for the hard reality of work plans and the daily commute.  Usually I find it hard to get myself motivated at this time of year.  But this year was different – my first day back at work was spent sharing knowledge and information with some of the most generous people and organisations possible; and it has made me vow to make sure that I share as much as I can this year with others too.

A big part of my role as facilitator for Making it Work was organising a ‘Go and See’ trip.  The purpose of ‘Go and See’ was to get together with organisations who could both challenge our thinking about fundraising and income generation for the arts and also to share knowledge and experience.  Finding a model of funding which works is a massive challenge for arts organisations in Stoke-on-Trent, and we knew we were not alone in this. We wanted to visit a city or region where the challenges we face would be understood and crucially where we may be able to find some solutions.

We choose to visit Sheffield after much debate and thought.  We wanted to visit somewhere of a similar size to Stoke-on-Trent, where there was thriving cultural industry and scene which had been born out of industrial decline.  We wanted to learn how the arts had thrived and what lessons we could take back to our own organisations and also to the region. Quite a tall order!

We choose Sheffield and on 7th January a minibus set off from The Barracks en route across the hills to Sheffield, a beautiful but bumpy journey.  We had a packed schedule for the day and planned to meet our counterparts in a variety of organisations ranging from National Portfolio Funded galleries with vast experience of income generation to brand new organisations who had never embarked on any fundraising before.  We met with:

·         Site Gallery

·         Yorkshire Artspace

·         Bloc Projects

·         Access Space

·         Sheffield Printmakers

·         Music In the Round

It is hard to sum up the learning, as it was wide and varied.  For myself, the visit reinforced that every size of organisation is having to look at all of their income streams and then decide where and how to focus its resources to maximise income. What was clear was that many of the traditional sources of income, for example trusts and foundations, are being used more and more by arts organisations and I wonder how long this can be sustained.  It was fascinating to hear that some groups have decided to steer clear of Arts Council funding, citing stiff competition and the fact that the funding is largely restricted to projects as their reason.

Without exception there was huge generosity of spirit, time and knowledge from all of the people we met with in Sheffield.  We found issues similar to our own but also great spirit and will.  Of course we did not find the solution to our funding need, but then again we did not expect to, but we have made contacts that I hope will remain and grow.

Thank you to everyone we met – it was a fascinating and interesting day.  Please do come and make the journey to Stoke to see us soon!