Thursday, 14 March 2019

Organisational Development: North East Group Visit, The Newbridge Project




On Saturday 16 February, we visited The Newbridge Project site in Gateshead. Founded by two Newcastle University graduates in 2010, The Newbridge Project has grown, changed form and changed buildings since then. Currently, it is split across two sites – one in Gateshead and one in Newcastle. We meet with Director Rebecca Huggan to chat about the organisation's development, its changes to a charity and more recently an NPO.
Glen Stoker notes: “It [The Newbridge Project] is an interesting arts model built on the provision of studio space and an artist community-resourcefulness which acts as a motivator for their programming. NewBridge occupy two buildings and have recently moved one of their studio blocs to a new building in Gateshead. Their business model is built on having a lot (100+ over two buildings) of low-cost studio provision to cover all business overheads.

Staffing and Salaries
There are currently two full-time members of staff: a Director, who is largely tasked with organisational stability and programming strategy, and a Programme Director, who looks after the gallery programme and off-site public programme. There are also two Co-ordinators – an Artist Development Co-ordinator and a Studio Programme Co-ordinator – who operate three days a week each. Salaries made up from various income streams such as NPO funding, support in wages from Newcastle University and studio income.

Gateshead Building
  • The new building layout gives over 90% to studios with a small exhibiting space at front of building
  • Newcastle University architecture department delivered plans for this building – for no charge – as part of NewBridge’s Early Career Artist Programme which is supported with funding by the University.
  • The delivery was carried out through an ACE Grants for the Arts commission by TILT, a technician & artists services organisation – the space was built in three weeks.
  • Important inclusion of a large social space, with open access to the public, makes for a good communal atmosphere and attractive to studio seekers
  • Felt that they had to move from being a CIC to Charitable status to be eligible for business rates relief following move to new council-owned premises.

Studios
  • The studio revenue from the two buildings (in Newcastle and Gateshead) is £85k per annum. This income allows for solid match funding and a steady cashflow. There is also a selective application for studios – asking for evidence of work and why they want to be part of, and how they can contribute to NewBridge. This acts as evaluation/ provides evaluatory material for funding reports.
  • Studios are always at 100% capacity with a waiting list of around 60 – showing that there is studio demand in the area
  • Some studios act as residency space
  • They have difficulties with the environment of their studios – particularly the cold – but their cashflow enabled them to sustain themselves and install a new heating system.
  • Studio holders have a tenancy agreement and contract, and pay a £50 deposit upon entering their studio

Leases
  • The Newbridge Project only has a 3-5 year lease – so there is a sense of impermanence and precarity as it is a lot of work to move 100+ studio holders to a new building for an acknowledged short amount of time. This frustrates existing studio members to some extent, though, there is a general understanding that this is just the way it is all across the city: all of the studio providers in the city - Northern Charter, B&D, Ampersand, Breeze Creatives - are all on short term, temporary leases - so generally all the city’s artists are in the routine of regularly moving studios.
  • Most of Rebecca’s time is spent searching for a building with a longer term lease. Aconversation to access a new City Council-owned building with a 25 year lease, big enough to house both current building’s worth of studio artists has just fallen through after 12+ months of negotiation - so now looking at new options, is it feasible to buy a building?
  • The area they’re looking for buildings is problematic. Most artists want studios in Newcastle, and even though Gateshead is only 10 minutes walk from Newcastle centre, the perceived poor transport infrastructure (public and private) deters people from Gateshead as a location. 9/10 of prospective studio holders state a preference to be in Newcastle rather than Gateshead.



Running an Arts Organisation on Studio Provision

“It is clear that there is a successful model here for running an arts organisation based on its studio provision. The business model is built on a steady large scale revenue stream from its studios, which in turn, opens up access to other funding bodies. There is almost a readymade supportive community made up of the artists inhabiting the studio spaces, meaning there are plenty of resources to tap into. The potential for the associated gallery programme is rich with professional development possibilities for the studio community and it is clear that the human resource-rich nature of the organisation is attractive to the artists Newbridge work with. There are clear links with and formal support from the University and its culture department - as the benefits in terms of attraction for new students is clear, and the prospects for graduate retention are high. A symbiotic relationship, which ought to also offer the ability to sway the political stakeholders as to the worth and value, both socially and politically to this level of cultural activity.

Whether this sort of model could ever be transferrable is moot, as it relies so heavily on some basic fundamental infrastructural realities - namely stakeholder support, a critical mass of practitioners and a healthy and vibrant, dynamic and fraternal cultural eco-system. However it is clear that if these conditions exist, this model is not only feasible but desirable. It is clear that in the case of Newcastle and Gateshead that these conditions exist - and is further helped to by the presence of a high quality, supportive arts institution - The BALTIC, who appear to understand the worth of and necessity for grass roots, artist-led activity in support of its activities and as an essential element of a city’s cultural offer.” - Glen Stoker

Public Programme
We continue the conversation by speaking about Newbridge's Public Programme. At present, Newbridge receives some support from the Newcastle Cultural Investment Fund which is put towards an offsite commission. Rebecca notes that, a few years ago, Newbridge delivered Hidden Civil War, which comprised of 20 events in one month. It focused on austerity politics and presented existing works. Following this, Newbridge has decided to slow things down: to deliver less but to commission new works which are responsive and more embedded in Newbridge's overall output (Rebecca's points to the more recent Deep Adaptation as an example).
Newbridge's Public Programme exists alongside the Exhibition programme. It focuses on a) its public audience and b) support for artists. The PP in itself can be divided into public-facing and an associate scheme, the later of which is called Practice Makes Practice - an artist development programme run by artists for artists and the wider arts community. PMP is given structure by a steering group and regular activities managed by the PMP Coordinator. They have communal soup meetings once a week and specialists workshops such as lifedrawing once a month (which attracts 60 people each session). PMP focuses on developing artists as people who are part of a community.


As with most artist-led spaces, volunteers play a crucial role. At present, Newbridge has an informal placement programme whereby volunteers are able to gain membership to PMP and discounts on space hire. As well as its studio members, it also has “Hot Desk” members who pay £25 per month for flexible desk space and a key to the building. It could be beneficial to AirSpace to begin an Associate scheme - similar to PMP - to generate a 'returning' audience and community, as well as introducing a Hot Desk membership (or Resource Room) where people hired out the space on a regular basis for a set, annual membership fee. This would form part of the gallery's Public and Outreach programme.

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