Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Research Visit Report: Organisational Development, Arcade + Campfa, Cardiff.



Rebecca Davies meets with Clare Charles, Director at Arcade + Campfa, Cardiff.

(Welsh Cake) Rebecca Davies, 2018.

I first met Clare back in 2014 when she bought my ice cream van for a hundred quid. I had put a callout on Facebook for someone to take this vehicle off me: "she’s a beauty and had a good innings as a library, maypole and rave venue, but her heart is slowing down (and my energy at the time trying to store her somewhere in London) and needs someone or a group to breathe life into her."

Clare got in touch.

Clare was working for Made in Roath at the time and the van went on to be a May Day float, bar and temporary space at Spit and Sawdust – a skate park and arts programme in Cardiff.

In the Spring of this year, I got in touch with Clare: we had seen each other a couple of times at workshops or events I had run in London since 2014. She was working as Project Manager with Metal, Southend. Given her experience working with Engage, Ffoto Gallery and on various projects in Wales, I was keen to link with Clare as part of my research for AirSpace Gallery. She responded immediately – but to say that she was leaving Metal and going to be Director of an artist led space, back in Cardiff.




So, on Wednesday 3 October, I made my way out to see Clare in Cardiff. Arriving at the station I was reminded what a bloody big city it is: the last time I had visited was for my friend Phoebe’s 21st – about twenty of us rolled in and out of a Wetherspoons pub to watch the rugby (and on that trip I think Cardiff graced me with two new experiences – rugby and snakebites).

I met Clare at Arcade, which incidentally is in a shopping arcade in the centre of Cardiff. Surrounded by a sea of commercial businesses, Arcade sits in the belly of a brightly lit metal and glass building. It’s main unit sits next door to New Look and opposite a hair salon. Directly in front are two massage chairs. "It takes me back to our unit at The Elephant, Clare!" I exclaim when I arrive. The music blaring from the salon competes with the muzak playing from the mall’s tannoy speakers. Clare had visited the project I ran for years with Eva Sajovic from the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre.

An exhibition is being installed, and Clare introduces me to the artist and walks me through the space. Out the back is an office (Clare’s mostly) and up/down some stairs there is a residency space (the annual residency is six months, the artist finally sharing their work in an exhibition). Clare leads us into another unit – Arcade’s second space, Campfa, which also has a show being installed. "What are your partnerships like?" I ask, "Links with the university are great – the Fine Art course use the gallery for their shows and treat it as their own space." Being the Director, Clare runs the space, leading on all the programming that takes place; she is supported by one part-time Producer and occasionally people volunteer their support (volunteers are associates and associates have an exhibition once a year).



Arcade is currently in its eighth year as an artist led gallery and residency programme. There is a new show every three weeks – which was first set out to ‘keep things fresh’. I’m a bit shocked, "but that must be exhausting Clare!" The two of us are pretty tired and hungry, so continue the conversation in the Wetherspoons round the corner from where Clare lives – walking distance from the gallery. We talk excitedly about work we’ve been doing over the last few years, projects that have been met with challenges, people who have supported us, institutions who have disappointed us and pitfalls we have had to overcome. The more we talk, the more I realise we’ve both needed this. It feels like support!**

**I keep banging on about this, but feeling like someone’s ‘got your back’ is really important to me. Personally and professionally. It’s about trust, and it’s about feeling like you’re supported enough in the work to take risks and be bold. This, I think, strengthens the artist led.

Everyone is trying to protect what’s important to them right now – that’s a standard result of a shitty social and economic environment. I am trying to protect and champion the arts, because I think it’s rad, powerful and can change shit for the better, if that’s what people want. And I think through doing this organisation development, we are trying to protect an arts space – AND the artist led.

Good arts spaces are permeable – to their locality and community.

This is something that Clare recognises from experience, but also wants Arcade to do more of – permeate. In February 2019, things will be a little different at Arcade/Campfa, in a bid to activate the space more and widen their community. "It’s been a remit of artists to be centred if people hover at the gallery’s entrance – it has always been up to that person to enter. But I’m trying to shift this." In addition to some great pre-existing activity, such as critiques for volunteers (often students) and volunteer socials, the plan is for the gallery to introduce something more permanent, that’s part of the space: a workshop and library. This programme would be curated by an artist, supported by Clare and the Producer. "There would be wifi and tables, and space for people to come and work." The residency would also use it as a space to share work and interact with people.



During my short stay in Cardiff, Clare arranged for meetings with Becca Thomas of Spit N Sawdust and the organisers of Made in Roath (Clare is also on the lead team for this great arts initiative/community and annual arts festival). Some great conversation ensues around being truly artist led, the notion of a gallery being ‘outdated’ but how a space can be used to help develop an organisation. We discuss operating as a space for people to be heard – keeping things small and helping to diversify a programme. But we also highlight how Arts Council England’s pressure for professionalisation of organisations is really just about turning organisations into institutions.

I sit with Clare at an outdoor cafe in the centre of Cardiff, about to get my train. And we reflect whilst drinking tea and eating welsh cakes. Clare has only been director of Arcade since April 2018, there’s a lot to be done – but dammnnn she’s on it. And damn we’ve got our work cut out. My first research trip has shown me this isn’t just research: this is an exchange of ideas and a rallying of support for the invaluable artist led.

With thanks to Clare Charles and Arcade + Campfa, Cardiff.

For more info, visit www.arcadecardiff.co.uk

Rebecca, Clare (on left) and the ice cream van.

Monday, 15 October 2018

Research Visit Report: Organisational Development, KARST, Plymouth



Selina Oakes meets with Donna Howard, Business Director at KARST, Plymouth.


KARST is the largest independent contemporary art venue in Plymouth: it is both a public gallery space and an artist studio complex. Founded in 2012, it has made extraordinary tracks in a mere-six years – from humble beginnings, it is currently a National Portfolio Organisation for the period 2018-2022 and a recently registered as a charity. In travelling to its home – a one-storey, ex-warehouse in the Millbay area of the city – I was able to comprehend the true scale of its achievements and contributions to the expansion of Plymouth's creative community. Following a busy few days of Plymouth Art Weekender (28-30 September, a three-day visual arts festival in Plymouth), KARST's Business Director, Donna Howard, is energetic as ever – it's clear that her passion and enthusiasm for people and 'getting things done,' is one of the organisation's major drivers.


I Am My Own Primal Parent, Promo, 2018. Courtesy of KARST.

Cutting-Edge

We spend time with KARST's current show, I AM MY OWN PRIMAL PARENT – a group exhibition programmed as part of Plymouth's new cultural addition, The Atlantic Project (a pilot contemporary art Biennial). The opening night saw a fantastic crossover of audiences: here, the artistic community overlapped with individuals of all ages and disciplines. Howard speaks about the evening's energising atmosphere, and how she's committed to maintaining KARST's reputation of being a test-bed for experimentation; producing “cutting-edge” projects which challenge traditional boundaries. In our conversation, she quotes a student, asking her what makes KARST “cutting-edge?” Her response: "we're cutting-edge because we encourage artists to push boundaries of their work to point where risk taking is identified, encouraged and supported." It's refreshing to engage in a frank conversation: in Howard's eyes, nothing is impossible.

In 2012, Plymouth was a different place: it was post-industrial, like many cities, but it was also struggling to foster an environment in which graduates may find stability, post-university. In 2011, Plymouth hosted the British Art Show 7 – the first time the city had staged a cross-venue event on this scale. Howard describes it as a turning-point in the region's creative output. Following this, Howard and Carl Slater rented the Millbay property at a pepper-corn rate and invested a lot of their own time and minor finances into renovating the building into a gallery and studio space. It's impressive: Howard says how they were selfish in the first 12-18 months in terms of KARST core programme: they had to be to transform the space into a project really worth striving for. And it's paid off: KARST's Brutalist, concrete box is a modest exterior to the hive of activity within.



I Am My Own Primal Parent, KARST Main Space, 2018.

Inside, skylights illuminate a white-walled gallery, providing an expansive, well-light space for exhibitions and performances. Opposite is “The Pit” - a test-bed space in what appears to be an ex-garage or bay-loading area. Howard reflects on CLAIRE FONTAINE's I AM YOUR VOICE (2017) in which a matchstick map of Great Britain was installed and ignited. Titled UK (Burnt/Unburnt) 2011-17, the piece is a prime example of the risks that KARST takes: it was a huge gamble to light an artwork in an in-door space; it paid off, without the fire-service having to be called, and enabled CLAIRE FONTAINE to experiment; to take risks – and the audience to experience an element of danger in their Brexit-brink condition. Programmed as part of We The People Are The Work by PVAPG (Plymouth Visual Art Programming Group), the show also illustrates how the region's arts organisations are working together, supporting each other.


UK Burnt/Unburnt, 2011/2017, Claire Fontaine. Photo: Jamie Woodley.


Smart-Working

KARST has come a long way since 2012. It has changed from being a Limited Company to a registered charity – as a charity, KARST is granted a charity rate relief of 80% on its property. Much of this transition has been aided by Howard's prior experience in partnership working but also in her astute attitude of seeking help from different individuals. KARST has gradually incremented its Arts Council England BIDS from £10,000 to £98,000 across five years and is now in the process of securing funds for capital development. Howard is sharp when it comes to bid-writing: in recent years, external consultancy fees for Business Advice have been written into funding applications – this financial support has enabled her to seek additional advice regarding KARST's business plan.

In receiving external consultancy regarding KARST's budgeting and operations, Howard has been able to implement suggestions from an independent Business Advisor. For example, KARST's human resources have been rearranged following the realisation that people's roles were overlapping. Now, clear job descriptions in which everyone leads in one area ensures that there is clarity and no overlap in operations – i.e. time and resources are maximised. Currently, there a seven staff-members at KARST covering Artistic Direction, Operations and Engagement, Technical, Marketing and Programme. There are also three gallery interns and a pool of volunteers.


Talent Development

We speak about KARST's invaluable partnerships and the relationships that Howard, in particular, has built over the last six years. A key relationship is the one KARST has built with Plymouth University and Plymouth College of Art as part of its talent development initiatives. Every year, KARST hosts two Graduate Residencies – one for a university graduate, and another for a college graduate. Both run concurrently for five months and include studio space, three critiques, mentoring and a culminative exhibition in The Pit. KARST encourages all of its Graduate Residents to feed back to their peers and respective institutions through talks and mentoring: this not only reinforces the bridge between organisations but also provides students with examples of 'success stories' – of graduates practicing and beginning to make a living from their work in the city.

KARST also develops talent through its Test Space strand: here, the main gallery is used by students to push the boundaries of their creative practice. This benefits KARST as it feeds into their annual partnership agreement income but it also embeds the organisation within a young arts ecology – equally, it benefits both Plymouth College of Art & Plymouth University by becoming part of its offer to incoming students. As with all relationships, the partnerships which Howard and KARST have built are about trust and communication.


KARST Exterior in the Millbay Area of Plymouth.

Artistic Community

Alongside its exhibition spaces, KARST has a total of nine studios – current artists include Carl Slater, Graham Guy Robinson, Rosie King, Clare Thornton, Keith Harrison and Paul Hillon, the latter of whom is also KARST's Head Technician. Within this tight-knit community – the studio complex spans 2000 square feet – KARST has established a dynamic and professional work environment: it maintains the quality and dynamism of its artists by requesting a proposal from each tenant every six months. Howard explains that this formality ensures that KARST Studios remains a thriving part of the organisation. The KARST website states: “Integral to the development of KARST, studio artists play an important part in contributing to the organisation’s growing presence.” Howard also highlights that their studio artists benefit from critiques and one-to-ones with artists and curators exhibiting in the main gallery space.

KARST has no official public programme; instead it maximises the value of its visiting artists – Howard says these interactions “fuels the hunger to create.” Within KARST Studios, is its Residency programme: it regularly invites international artists to work in designated spaces; but it is an area up for expansion in the future. It launched it's official Artist Residency Programme earlier this year with artist Mike Ballard. Unlike other artist-led spaces, KARST doesn't have an Associates Scheme – PAC Home currently fulfills this role, however recent changes in its funding may shift the responsibility of this city and regional-wide membership network to another party.

With regards to Outreach and Engagement, led by Angela Hilton, KARST works with groups which already exist rather than creating new initiatives. In being situated in a deprived ward in Plymouth, the organisation is well-placed to build connections with the nearby Homeless Hostel, the Millfield Trust and Plymouth School of Creative Arts (the first free arts school in the UK, sponsored by Plymouth College of Art).


Paul Hillon, Presence In Absence (Detail). 
Welded Steel, 250cm x 148x148cm, 2018.

Mike Ballard, Laying in the cut.
2018 KARST Gallery.


Forward-Thinking

Judging by Howard's own personal vigour, KARST is constantly on the move – its forward-thinking attitude has facilitated a quick and stable progression. We speak about the importance of the digital and how an investment in these practices is crucial – particularly sound and gaming. She's been working closely with i-DAT, a Plymouth University research-strand dedicated to new technologies. Lead-member Birgitte Aga has recently joined KARST's Board of Trustees. Howard highlights the value of having a range of skill-sets on the Board - “they can advise with knowledge and experiences from their specialisms and contribute to the direction that KARST may take in the future.” She's interested in how individuals working in business and design can contribute to the development of KARST.


The Future: Expansion and BAS9

KARST draws on notions of 'smart-working' to support itself. It has received support from local businesses such as Leyland – a company which provided materials for some of KARST's renovations (Howard mentions the 'community budget' that most businesses have to aid initiatives in their area.) Recently, KARST has been working on its future identity through plans for a major expansion. Howard shows me the project's Feasibility Study, RIBA stages 0-1, which envisions a new glass entrance to the building, new studio spaces and an entire new floor. The benefit of being housed inside a box, Howard reflects, is that you can add things to it. KARST's flat roof, which has been privy to briefly-lived thoughts of a garden, will be developed into a second floor: here, further exhibition and test spaces will enable KARST's curatorial trajectory to grow, while commercial spaces will provide the organisation with a steady income. A platform lift will also be installed to make KARST a fully accessible building.


Marcin Dudek, Sing When You're Winning at KARST, 2016. Courtesy of KARST.


As a whole, Plymouth is a dynamic and fast-flourishing city for the creative arts: KARST is growing from strength to strength and municipal gallery The Box is on the horizon. It's a city which appears to be forward-looking and keen on relationship-building – qualities which Howard brings to KARST. In visiting PAW and The Atlantic Project too, I experience PVAPG's work in action – both projects are part of Horizon, a two year programme funded through Arts Council England's Ambition for Excellence fund and led by Plymouth Culture. This partnership (between The Gallery at Plymouth College of Art, KARST, Peninsula Arts at Plymouth University, Plymouth Arts Centre and The Box) represents contemporary art's resilience and potential for change in a region which, not so long ago, was struggling to sustain and build upon its creative community.

KARST, 22 George Place, Stonehouse, Plymouth, PL13NY. 

I AM MY OWN PRIMAL PARENT runs until 3 November. For more details, visit: www.karst.org.uk.

AirSpace Gallery would like to thank KARST.

Monday, 24 September 2018

Research Visit Report: Organisational Development, g39 and WARP, Cardiff


Selina Oakes meets with Cinzia Mutigli, WARP Coordinator, Cardiff, on 19 September 2018.

“Burrow into much of the current artist-led activity in Cardiff and you can find a link to g39 somehow,” writes Emma Geliot in 2012 as part of g39's 13th anniversary publication, It Was Never Going to be Straightforward. The book charts g39's evolution from the germ of an idea in 1997 and subsequent founding at 39 Wyndham Arcade in 1998, to its move to a large, cavernous warehouse on Oxford Street in 2011. Like many artist-led spaces, g39 has had to adapt to undulating economic, cultural and social climates. It, like others, has survived through the surplus and voluntary hours given by its dedicated members and supporters. The fact that g39 is at the core of much of Cardiff's artist-led activities, two decades after its founding, is a testament to the adaptability, creativity and resilience of its community.

g39`s premises at Oxford Lane, Cardiff. Courtesy of g39.
Setting g39 apart from fellow artist-led spaces, is its no-studio model: unlike other organisations which have stemmed from a studio-space framework, g39 has grown up as a “creative community space.” In principle, the studio-gallery concept works – being based on the notion of collective working – but there has been a tendency for some spaces to become more commercial and thus lessen their creative integrity. In its 20th year, g39 maintains its no-permanent-studio format; instead, it focuses on providing training, mentoring, exhibition space and resources. g39's ethos is “to advance and promote contemporary visual arts for the benefit of the public in particular but not exclusively by providing exhibition space for Welsh and other contemporary visual artists, and by providing training and other similar resources to artists and to the public.” While g39 concerns itself with a more curatorial trajectory, its informal membership scheme, WARP (Wales Artist Resource Programme), provides professional development resources and services for emerging and mid-career artists living and working in Wales.

As part of AirSpace Gallery's Organisational Development Research, I met with Cinzia Mutigli, WARP Coordinator, to discuss WARP's aims, objectives and expansion. Arriving in Cardiff, I was familiar with the city's main sights; not so much with Oxford Street, which lies North East of the bustling centre. Meeting with Mutigli inside g39's current home – an expansive, monotone warehouse – I was immediately engaged with how innovative the organisation has been in settling into its new surroundings. There's a central open plan kitchen for people to socialise; a small communal area; a catalogued library; offices; a tech store and a screening room, all built into this unassuming building. During my visit, artists from g39's UNITe programme are milling around their temporarily installed spaces (a recent summer residency exploring the notion of artists' studios,) which take up less than half of the warehouse's “exhibition space.”



In speaking with Mutigli, I hear about WARP's early days: being shaped by Sean Edwards with early funding from Esmée Fairbairn, it was a more formalised version of the kind of support that g39 had always given artists. Today, WARP's professional services remain free to use and include 1). Resource Room, a drop-in centre with resources geared towards the administration of an arts practice. Artists have access to a scanner, computers, printers etc. 2). Library, a physical space for learning, art writing workshops and a library residency; it is also digitally catalogued online, 3). Mentoring and One-to-Ones 4). Paid WARP internship provides experience-based training in arts administration, 5). Talks and g39's Public Programme. In order to reach artists living and working beyond Cardiff, WARP also conducts studio visits and is supportive of other artist-led initiatives in Wales that respond to the needs of their artist community, such as CARN in North Wales.

Warp has built on an informal community of artists who access its resources over the past 10 years and is currently free to access; to date, it has been funded by Esmée Fairbairn and Arts Council Wales as well as funds from other sources. In the next year a more formal membership scheme will be introduced. The intention for the membership scheme is to give clarity to the availability of services and resources and as well as ensuring the scheme is sustainable for the future. The future plan, which has taken into account the views of practitioners attending Artist Consultation Sessions in recent years as well as research into other artist-led membership models, will include tiered memberships for individuals seeking varying types of support. WARP and g39 have run Artist Consultation Sessions for several years, which enables practitioners to feed back on events and services, and have a say in future developments.

g39 is the only artist-run organisation with revenue status from Arts Council of Wales – these funds meet 30% of costs; the remainder is raised through lottery sources, trust funds, partner organisations, earned income, donations and volunteer time (from g39's website, September 2018). Revenue does not cover the full running costs which includes salaries for part-time staff and a paid internship.

WARP offers advice and guidance to artists through their One-to-One sessions. Across the year several One-to-One sessions are offered by g39 / Warp staff and are delivered in a supportive and encouraging manner to help identify obstacles and how to overcome them, highlight strengths and how to build on them. One-to-One sessions are also arranged by Warp with visiting artists and curators. G39’s approach is to work with artists in dialogue and artists are often mentored during the development of a project.

Artists are, through and through, at the heart of WARP and g39's programming. The current UNITe project sees WARP and g39 directly overlap with each other: “Devised by artists for artists, the UNITe season is a summer programme of artistic experimentation, research, critical discussions, film screenings, socials, lectures and more.” Unlike other organisations, WARP and g39 come alive in the summer months; particularly in August when the public programme is at its busiest. Drawing inspiration from independent art schools and peer-led activities, UNITe invites up to 15 open-call-selected artists to produce and critique each others' work: “We're particularly interested in how artists in a studio community can support one another in rigorous critical ways.” The public programme, which includes Curators Talk, Artist Talk, Open Studios and Screenings, reflects the aims of UNITe. Speakers in 2018 have included Eddie Peake, The White Pube, Sam Perry and Rory Macbeth.




There's also a weekly Breakfast Club, an informal catch-up over breakfast, tea and coffee, on Saturdays. Free and open to everyone, it's another way of meeting artists and members of the community – but it only runs during g39 exhibitions due to health and safety concerns during installs. Year-round, the public programme has no other fixed events; there tends to be at least one-two events a month, a level which responds to the desire from artists for a dynamic programme. Additional events include 3 events associated with James Richards' Wales in Venice exhibition, Music for the Gift (2017). (WARP partnered with Wales in Venice and Chapter Arts to provide invigilator training for this Venice show as part of the Wales in Venice Invigilator Plus scheme.)

Being positioned in Wales, WARP and g39 maintain their responsibility to support Wales-based artists. In common with all publicly funded arts organisation in Wales, all of their material is translated and printed in both English and Welsh, and their policy is to ensure that across the year at least 60% of the artists they work with are Welsh or have a connection to Wales (they connect with 1300 artists, 700 of whom are living and working in Wales – g39 website, September 2018.) In speaking about Cardiff's artistic community, Mutigli says that it is strongly supportive rather than competitive: she explains that Wales, as a whole, has a small artistic scene and as such it is easy to connect with people, particularly in South Wales. The negative in knowing everyone is that criticality can be undermined, but the positive is that it makes for a supportive way for things to happen – networking, skills-sharing etc. Mutigli highlights that it's important to “be your own thing in any situation” - a sentiment which is applicable to any art-space: everyone has varying circumstances to respond to and to overcome.

WARP and g39's surrounding landscape include Chapter Arts, Ffotogallery, National Museum and Arcade Cardiff – as such there is no Municipal Gallery. Mutigli mentions strong bonds with organisations in Swansea; she has also helped organise Away Days with PAC Home and Eastside Projects – and g39 / WARP partnered Eastside and Jerwood during the Jerwood Encounters 3-Phase project in 2015, with artists Kelly Best and Georgie Grace. Recently, WARP has supported The Boat Studio, an up-and-coming organisation housed on a boat sailing between England and Wales.

From g39: “[g39] sees its role as a ‘bridge’ between the artist, and the public, and a key component of the curatorial rationale is bringing contemporary work to new audiences.. [..] If the space was to play a key cultural role it first had to develop a strong relationship with artists in Wales while acting as a conduit for work from elsewhere.”

g39, Oxford St, Cardiff, CF24 3DT

UNITe concluded with a Closing Party on Friday 21st September. For details of the upcoming programme, visit: www.g39.org and www.g39.org/warp.

AirSpace Gallery would like to thank g39 and WARP.