It has been great to hear about all the different projects that came out of the Creative UK Challenge day back in June 2022.
Thanks to Maureen Lawrie from Stanegate Productions for putting this blog post together, sharing how the application to research the need for an online directory of artist studio and spaces is very much needed in Northumberland. It also highlights how valuable co-working days are.
There are currently co-working days held in Alnwick Playhouse and Hexham. If you would like to join in with the co-working days, you can email us firstname.lastname@example.org
Over to Maureen...
After attending the Creative UK Challenge day in 2022 on Dynamism, Growth and Diversifying income and hearing about some of the issues that artists working in Northumberland were having around isolation and finding suitable premises to work, an application to research the potential of setting up an online map/directory of artist studios/spaces was submitted.
The grant was awarded to carry out this research with a focus along the Tynedale/A69 corridor. The benefits of such a directory would be twofold:
i) it would help artists with their own premises to develop additional income streams by monetising their space thereby easing financial pressures involved with upkeep
ii) offer a resource to artists looking for spaces to rent
Born out of discussions with Yvette Ja, who runs the Hexham Co-Working days at the Queen’s Hall in Hexham, a free brunch networking event to gather research was organised as part for July.
A funding webinar - with additional funding masterclass thrown in - by Claire Newton was used as the ‘hook’ to attract interest. Several small bursaries were made available from the grant budget to make the event accessible to all.
Visual artists of varying genre attended along with bookbinders, calligraphers and a community singing practitioner. They mostly came from within the focus area with a couple from further afield.
The event was well received and enjoyed by the 16 artists and not only elicited the information required but also helped to boost the Hexham co-working days with most signing up, if they hadn’t already, to attend future days.
Research was collected through surveys and discussion on the day as well as facebook (Tynedale Creatives, Culture Northumberland and Yvette Ja studios), direct email and individual interviews. 20 surveys were collected – 6 for artists with a space and 14 for those needing a space.
Analysis of the surveys along with discussions suggested that the ratio of artists with spaces to those without is around 1:3 in our area. Those artists fortunate enough to have their own space are often working from a room in their house or a shed or garage in the garden and are not keen to open this up to others or for their address to be pinned on a map.
Those with a space and/or with plans to develop a dedicated space tended to be interested in the idea of an online directory. 50% said they would subscribe to one with 30% willing to pay an annual subscription. Further surveys need to be conducted to confirm these trends.
The over-riding conclusion from the survey of artists looking for a space is that the most important factor in considering premises is having opportunities to connect and network with other creatives. 83% of respondents indicated this was the case.
Not a ground breaking discovery but worth flagging up again. The perfect set up would be a dedicated community arts space offering a mixture of open studio and private rooms, ideally in a town with good transport links. Other factors including rental cost, access, flexibility, storage, facilities, exhibition and workshop space are in the mix but lower down the priority list.
Opportunities to meet this demand are, quite literally, few and far between in this neck of the woods and those that do exist require a financial commitment that is beyond reach for many.
Discussions around potential solutions threw up some interesting possibilities and questions:
· Artists could team up to share costs. Could there be some kind of artist match making resource?
· Venues and arts organisations should be proactive in reaching out to artists and offering them opportunities to work within a creative environment. Could this become a requirement for funding applications?
· Unused buildings and shops should be made use of not just for pop up exhibitions but also for working studios for artists of all kinds with short term flexible leases. Who owns these buildings and what kind of contracts would work for both parties?
· Tap affordable public spaces ie community centres, libraries, schools, village halls, train station waiting rooms, church halls, empty shops etc. Could reciprocal arrangements be put in place to benefit users ie an arts workshop offered in exchange for room hire?
A couple of short-term solutions might be:
i) to set up more co-working days in places that cater for wet, dry and performing arts and that offer some storage
ii) to identify and compile a list of public spaces that could be made available for hire at low cost with flexibility. This list could be offered as a resource to artists.
Long term, we need to look at how to create, fund, maintain and run creative spaces and research different types of business models for their viability and sustainability.
There is a clear case for local authorities to be providers of such spaces. If not new builds then by bringing empty buildings that are falling into decay back into use.
But this needs to be advocated for. It is too easy to be drowned out amidst the clamour for money and services.
Groups such as Culture Northumberland are already well placed to act as a voice for Artists. Could Tynedale Creatives be organised to add a voice from our area? Something to look at.
The wider context
This issue needs to be placed within a wider context. That being the need for a clear arts strategy for local authorities - a commitment to developing an arts policy for local artists and local communities. Surely this should be somewhere on the agenda rather than at the bottom of the list, or worse, forgotten?
As artists, we know that creative expression is a fundamental human need, that art helps inform a society, its culture, its thinking and its politics. Any discussions around Levelling Up funds and Neighbourhood plans must include the arts as an integral aspect of community cohesion.
It is up to us to make that discussion happen.
Maureen is a creative producer at Stanegate Productions in Haltwhistle.