150 delegates from across England attended Gaining Ground, the NFASP’s inaugural conference. Held at Spike Island in Bristol on 30 November 2007, the conference brought together representatives of diverse studio groups and officers from DCMS, Arts Council and local authorities, to take part in a full programme of presentations, practical workshops and information sharing.
In their feedback, delegates welcomed the positive atmosphere of the conference, the opportunity to meet with peers and discuss what they wanted from the Federation. There was a strong sense of the importance of coming together and of collective purpose.
“Thanks for a great conference. It was really worth coming up for ...” (Studios delegate)
“Excellent sense of openness and responsiveness to artists/studio providers needs.”
“I met all and more of the people I wanted to and made positive links.” (Studio member)
“ the range of experiences discussed really highlighted the varied issues for studio providers” (DCMS representative)
“The Federation is clearly well-placed to be a vital force in the support of artists.” (Arts Council representative)
The conference celebrated the significant achievements of the Federation over the past 18 months and confirmed its role and status as the professional membership body representing the work of affordable studio providers throughout England. It was also an opportunity for the NFASP’s new and growing membership to inform the Federation about its needs and concerns and to help give shape and substance to the future direction of the Federation.
Conference Chair Peter Boyden welcomed delegates and introduced the day with a few comments on the current cultural climate. He spoke of the confidence and pro-activity that have come to characterise the cultural sector over the last two decades, such that now we can “happen to the world, rather than waiting for the world to happen to us.”
Naomi Dines, Chair of Trustees, recalled the key milestones in the new organisation’s history, beginning with the important national conferences (Creating Places and Making Spaces) in 2003, which were seen as a ‘coming of age’ of the studios sector. These events highlighted both the value and the vulnerability of the sector, the need for a national membership body, and imparted a sense of urgency to the initiatives which followed. Acme’s survey and register of studio groups and organisations in England provided the foundations and mandate for a National Studios Forum meeting in May 2005, from which a nationally representative steering group was formed. It was from the work of this steering group that the Federation was incorporated in June 2006.
Only eight weeks after the launch of the conference and associated membership drive the Federation now has over 50 full studio members, representing the extraordinarily diverse range of groups and organisations across the country. This growing membership embraces both the newly-formed and the long-established. It includes organisations of contrasting scale, some in rural locations as well as many at the heart of our cities, and groups with widely differing structures, activities and aspirations. What these members share is a common belief in the value of affordable studio provision and a common purpose in working together.
Val Millington, NFASP Director, reviewed the role of the Federation, how it supports and promotes the activities of studio providers and how it campaigns to secure, sustain, improve and increase affordable studio provision in England. She highlighted some of the challenges and opportunities and how these are shaping future plans. The Federation will commission research, prepare briefings and provide a range of resources. Advice to groups and organisations is at the core of the Federation’s work and an advisory strategy – everything from packages of on-line advice to long-term mentoring support – will be developed in the coming months.
Delegates around their tables were invited to discuss what the Federation could do for them and noted the headline issues that arose from the conversation around their table. (These issues will be taken into account in the Federation’s future planning).
Julie Lomax, Head of Visual Arts at Arts Council England, London and artist Gavin Turk completed the morning line-up of speakers. Julie endorsed the Federation’s role in supporting artists and reminded us that we need to be responsive to the potentially different workspace needs of today’s artists. She confirmed Arts Council’s ongoing priority for workspace and supporting artists in its future planning and that studios “are an absolutely vital part of the ecology for artists.”
Gavin reminded us of how access to appropriate working space is fundamental to the development of an artist’s practice and he recalled how a studio with ACAVA in London had been so important for him early on in his career. He also expressed his full backing for the NFASP which, “for the first time, has created a structure of support for ACAVA (where Gavin is a Trustee), and for other studio groups of all sizes. It enables a forum within which ideas can be shared and problems can be solved more easily.”
The afternoon session focused on studios in their wider context and began with the launch of the NFASP’s Public Benefit toolkit by consultant Annabel Jackson. This new resource would enable studio groups to record their activities and help them to make more visible to funders and policy-makers the valuable work that they do.
This was followed by two ‘dialogue’ sessions: the first with presentations by Jonathan Harvey, Co-Director, Acme and Steve Eccles of Swan Housing Association, on their partnership resulting in the 100 percent affordable Leven Road development, which will provide 66 affordable housing units and 21 affordable studios. Jonathan spoke about the model and how this could be replicated across the country. Steve explained how Swan Housing viewed the partnership:
'The shared benefits are that we knew what we were working towards from day one, with Acme factoring artists’ needs into the design. Their early involvement meant that we were working towards a shared vision and outcomes; a complementary vision where both parties were interested in developing social and community benefits.’
The second dialogue session had presentations from Jon Wakeman of East Street Arts in Leeds (ESA) and Sue Flowers of Green Close Studios in Lancashire. Each spoke about the evolution of their organisation and how they had recognised and responded to particular opportunities, thus ensuring that they are now a respected part of the cultural infrastructure in their areas.
Download the Dialogue presentations
The presentations powerfully demonstrated the valuable work that studio providers do and the many challenges they face. In the questions, the time commitment required from studio groups to achieve such strong local relationships was voiced as a concern. Jon Wakeman responded by saying that:
'If you want to take it the whole way, to something that will be sustainable, it will take you many years. You have to reconcile yourself to it; that you are not going to be able to continue with your own creative practice in the way that perhaps you had set out to. We convinced ourselves that actually this effort was part of our practice, and acknowledging that liberated us from getting frustrated at the fact that we weren’t able to carry on being creative in a more conventional sense.’
These inspirational presentations were balanced by a series of highly practical and topical workshops focusing on subjects including Health and Safety, Planning Gain, Governance, Public Benefit, the Disability Discrimination Act, International Exchange and VAT. (Notes of all workshops will be made available on this website in due course).
In his concluding remarks, Chair Peter Boyden emphasised the importance of what had been achieved and that there was due cause for celebration. He sketched the complex future landscape in which the sector will operate and the
challenges that will pose and concluded by reinforcing the power of collective activity: “...the work has been done to help you to create a single voice. You can use that voice to speak persuasively to the seats of power, and through that you can begin to effect positive change for your organisations and your sector.”
The conference was followed by the Federations’ first AGM at which three new trustees were appointed and three trustees were re-appointed to the Board of Trustees. See our Trustee pages.
In addition to the formal conference proceedings, there were a number of informal opportunities for delegates to socialise and visit other organisations. These included: supper on Thursday evening (60 delegates attended) and Friday evening; tours of Spike Island; a visit to Jamaica Street Studios and a Saturday morning visit to SVA (Stroud Valleys Artspace).
The NFASP will draw on the main presentations and workshops to develop guidance notes and resources for members. These will be available early in January 2008.
Download the full report and three presentations below.