Monday, 24 September 2018

Organisational Development: Research Visit to 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: and

AirSpace Gallery would like to thank g39 and WARP.