Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Organisational Development: Visit to In-Situ, Pendle

As part of AirSpace Gallery's period of programme and organisational reflection, research and development, ahead of our intended programme of works 2019-2021, we embarked on a series of research visits to relevant organisations across the country.

In early 2019, we visited In-Situ, in Pendle, Lancs - an organisation with relevant thematic concerns for AirSpace, but one with a proven ability to engage in real terms with its community and a brand new NPO organisation. I talked with Paul Hartley - an ever present at In-Situ - and new-to-the-organistion - Andy Abbott about their approach and structure.

Some notes from the visit:

In-Situ - Embedding art into everyday life in Pendle
Our vision is for In-Situ to be a part of everyday life. For our art to be an art of action. For our art to contribute to society as a whole. For our art to challenge current thinking about environment people, place and culture.

Paul Hartley – Organisation and Engagement
Andy Abbott – Environment Programme
Anna Taylor – Marketing and Communications
Kerry Morrison – Lead Artist
Hussnain Hanif – Engagement
Sophie Skellern – PhD Evaluation


In-Situ is a not for profit arts organisation started in 2011 by Paul Hartley, Kerry Morrison and William Titley - formed originally in Accrington, from a shared interest in how artists could work in aid of the displaced communities resulting from a housing market renewal scheme - and from a shared frustration about how art was working in communities and in particular a sense of tokenism and short-termism.

Situated in Pendle - a district made up of 3 towns: Colne, Nelson and Brierfield - a mix of urban, post-industrial cotton mills and manufacturing industries - with associated migration from South Asia (mainly Pakistan) mainly based in Brierfield and Nelson, both of which are characterised by around 30-40% migrant communities. Surrounded by wealthier rural areas.

Built from an initial £10,000 seed money investment from a visionary element of Lancashire County Council which sought to strip some existing bureaucracy from arts funding in an attempt to get funding direct to artists. The money allowed for a series of national and international research visits to inform the existing interest in how artists can contribute to social solutions rather than merely offering a mirrored response or highlight of problems. The research visits led to some planning time - based in the back room of a library in Brierfield, where on a scrap of paper, an initial 5 year plan was formed to create an organisation which would;

1 - Commit to one place (Pendle)
2 - To try and always think long-term
3 - To always have artists driving projects in leading roles, rather than local authorities or other stakeholders bringing artists in as deliverers of their projects.
4 - to build on a historic (1960’s), but maybe lost, view of the role of artists working with communities - not as community artists, simply delivering workshops, but exploring the political dimension of the contemporary artist in how they and art can play an active role in shaping policy.
5 - To keep briefs open and allow the artist to develop them through their practice
6 - To allow space for each of the 3 artists to maintain and develop their own collective and individual practices. (Paul > Community Development Work and space finding for conversational activity, William > revealing small town sub cultures, eg Northern Soul, Kerry > the urban environment, brownfield sites and liminal spaces).

From here - Arts Council funding allowed for R&D into organisational and structural development and In-Situ was set up as a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee. Aided by the coalescence of Libraries, Museums and the Arts in the local council, their ad hoc space in the library became more permanent, offered free of charge and became their base for 5 years and allowed for a follow up 2 year ACE Grants for the Arts bid which crucially allowed for the specific non-prescriptive development of an embedded, social practice-led way of working.

The work

- Initial set of 12 artists’ residencies built on conversation, communication and social practice - affording time to be spent in place to identify concerns.
- Using the Library as a base - for talks and meetings - but not for exhibitions.
- Having artists “out and about” was crucial - engaging with the community on their terms, but being visible as artists.
- Projects grew organically from these residencies, meetings and conversations with the public.

Particular attention has been paid to:

- understanding the organisation’s place within its specific location, something helped by the organisation’s founders being from the area.
- and in particular the migrant character of the area.
- always paying attention to the central idea of being embedded in the place
- how to engage with those communities
- building relationships through committed, time-plenty activity
- maintaining built relationships
- working with particular artists sensitive to those communities
- building partnerships with organisations who already work in those communities.
- delivering talks in an open a way as possible, to allow the community access to the thinking behind the works
- being realistic about how much work can be done, and ensuring quality of work is maintained
- disseminating word of the local activity to a national audience

Being central players in the area’s Arts Council Creative People and Places project, allowed In Situ’s existing activities to be scaled up, to deliver much bigger set piece activities, reaching a much larger audience and participant group. This in turn alerted the local Council, private sector and stakeholders to understand the value of artist activity. Ultimately, In Situ were gifted their current premises by the Council who understood from previous activities, that there ought to be a continued presence of artists within the development of their area.

The decision to apply for NPO status came at this stage - with increased visibility, a settled place in its community, a confidence in what the organisation was and what it wanted to do, support from its community and the local policy makers, and a building.

Capacity building had been done through paid intern schemes with young, emerging practitioners, working on organisational projects. NPO status has allowed for this time and energy hungry organisational aspect to be more effectively balanced and efficiently managed. Previous intern-led activity such as marketing and communications is now officially undertaken by specifically skilled members of the organisation.

Does NPO mean the end to artist led? What is In-Situ’s thinking and how has it changed the organisation?

Ultimately, following a personnel change, with amongst two new members - (Andy Abbott - heading the Environment Programme and Anna Taylor - heading Marketing and Comms) filling the gaps made by the departures from directorship of William Titley and Kerry Morrison - the key for In-Situ has been to develop roles for specific themed activities, but then hiring people who have arts practices - and in this way, maintaining the artists perspective at the heart of the organisation.

Finding the balance between members of the organisation who enjoy or are capable of the necessary admin and fund finding, and those who thrive on the delivery of the artistic output is paramount. p

Audio Clip #2 - https://soundcloud.com/user-375347239/insituclip2

Audio Clip #3 -  https://soundcloud.com/user-375347239/insituclip3

It is clear that it has also been key for the new group running In-Situ that there is an aspiration for there to be a fluidity between the roles - a hierarchy free structure, and that each main player in the organisation, in theory, can deliver in each role. However, it may be that in realistic terms, you have to play to the strengths of each individual, and allow this to inform your way of working.

There is a sense that the organisation, as Andy Abbott suggests, has morphed necessarily into an arts collective, built on artist principles and sensibilities. The conversations between the group are ongoing as to at what stage can each individual’s arts practices be brought into their specific roles within the organisation and into the organisation as a whole?

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