FUTURE SPACE NFASP Event and AGM: Birmingham

Grand Union Studios


Monday, December 6, 2010 - 10:00

NFASP's inspirational annual event kicked off in Birmingham on 6 December - a platform for discussion and practical advice on how artists' studios and art colleges can foster mutually beneficial relationships to support sustainable studio developments - and create a catalyst for dynamic artist communities. NFASP's invited speakers gave some enlightening and ambitious examples of collaborations and relationships between artists' studio providers and art colleges. Sean Rorke, Hot Bed Press, Salford on being a member of NFASP and joining the NFASP event: "To be involved in a larger studios network and have access to such a wealth of experience and empathetic advocacy is priceless." Read the full FUTURE SPACE REPORT here.
Issues around the relationships between studios and art colleges were:
- What are the mutual benefits of collaboration?
- What partnership models are successful, especially in the current economic situation, with huge cuts looming for both HE arts education and the arts in general?
- The transition for ex-graduates into their own studio or workspace - how does HE prepare them for this?
- And how can art colleges and artists' studios help graduate retention and artist sustainability in cities and rural areas outside of London?

The packed hall of NFASP delegates heard presentations and engaged in lively debates on the following:

• In Birmingham, ex-graduates from Birmingham Institute of Art and Design (BIAD) have successfully set up the Grand Union studios and project space in the burgeoning artistic area of Digbeth (Eastside). One of the founders, artist Stuart Whipps, says the relationship with BIAD helped to open doors for help with funding - John Butler, Head of Birmingham School of Art, supported their application - "they could help more as a "broker" to provide a way-in to the right people to influence," says Stuart. "One of our aims is to help graduate retention in the city."

• The Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) underway between Acme Studios and Central St Martins art college. Through this first ever KTP focusing on contemporary arts practice, Acme staff are keen to make sure their provision is meeting the needs of graduates and future practising artists. The KTP's detailed research on studio provision and graduate requirements should lead to new briefs for design specifications and management protocols to be embedded into Acme's strategy. But also to recognise that: "It's crucial to get arts students to understand what a studio practice should be," says Acme Chief Executive Jonathan Harvey.

• Frustrated at the lack of support for art graduates and lack of vibrant cultural activity in Southampton, Dan Crow of a space studios in Southampton and Alan Schechner of Solent University are developing an ambitious project of studios and college space together in an empty retail space in the city. Plans are to create a stimulating space where students can engage with professional practising artists, and be inspired to stay in Southampton.

• How do art colleges retain their biggest asset - the students - in their local area? Keith McIntyre took up the same theme of graduate retention as he inspired the audience with Northumbria University's new graduate studio space in Newcastle. Membership of £150 per year gives each student access to the open plan studio space for two years. "It's open plan to give a chance for the space to evolve organically through the individual artists' work," says Keith.

• A unique set-up, which has kickstarted a "new dynamism" of students working alongside practising artists at Spike Island studios in Bristol. Since 2002, the BA and MA Fine Art at University of the West of England has been based there. Spike Island Director Helen Legg says: "Students began to self-organise better - organising exhibitions, events, crits and taking on intern and paid work, and staff at Spike Island and at the university both benefit from the relationship." An Associates programme for artists who are not studio-holders at Spike Island, with a membership fee, has also helped to keep graduates in the city.

• As access to MA fine art courses looks likely to become increasingly difficult as tuition fees rise, would these associate/membership/post-graduate studio schemes end up replacing MAs? Extra Special People (ESP) is an associate membership programme for anyone who would benefit from engaging with a dynamic, ambitious, artist-led environment run by Eastside Projects in Birmingham- "It's like the best MA there never was," as Stuart Whipps of Grand Union says. But there was concern in the hall about not confusing the difference between these practice set-ups and an academic MA course.

Afternoon workshops focused on:

• A reminder of the economic value of the creative sector is equivalent to the car and IT industry in the UK - as shown by Creative & Cultural Skills engagement advisor, Harriet Mancey-Barratt. But also how art graduates need to improve employability skills.

• How aa2a (artists access to art colleges) places ex-graduates in universities across England, which enables artists to use it as a feeder to grant applications or MA courses.

• How East Street Arts in Leeds is developing tailor-made collaborations with HE organisations in the area. "You need to keep contracts temporary and flexible to make sure they remain relevant," says Judit Bodor, programme curator. One example is that ESA studios shows work from MA students and encourages interest in MA courses.

More issues that came out of the discussions:

• The importance for the artists' studio sector to keep sharing information - such as at this NFASP event. Also, how the expertise of NFASP, trustees and member studio providers can help share information for studio set-ups around the country.

• The importance of the communal aspect of studios and workspaces, so that emerging artists, especially new graduates, do not feel isolated.

• How studio providers benefit from the relationship with art colleges so that they can refresh or revise the way they are providing space for future practising artists.

• There is no single model of arts education-studio collaborations that can be transferred - each very specific to the location.
FUTURE SPACE took place on Monday, 6th December 2010 at  Birmingham Institute of Art and Design (BIAD), Birmingham. The NFASP Event was organised in partnership with BIAD. It was free to NFASP members and £15 to non members.

You can download the FUTURE SPACE REPORT as well as the PROGRAMME and PRESENTATIONS below.

The day ended with the NFASP AGM, followed by:
• Visit to Grand Union artists' studios and project space, and the Grand Union Editions exhibition
• Drinks reception at artist-run public gallery Eastside Projects.

Eastside Projects

Grand Union

Venue: Birmingham Institute of Art and Design (BIAD), Margaret Street, Birmingham B3 3BX