Over 40 delegates from across the South East of England attended an NFASP networking day for studios on 08 March in Margate. The day was part of a full programme for NFASP as it was followed by a member event and the Annual General Meeting.
The event was organised by Dover Arts Development (D.A.D.) and hosted by Turner Contemporary, whose staff kept everyone fed and watered and ensured that everything ran smoothly.
The delegates represented established studio spaces, newer ones and some still in formation, with representatives from Kent County Council’s Arts Unit, Canterbury Council and ACE South East.
Joanna Jones from D.A.D. welcomed everyone and invited them to introduce themselves and what they hoped to get out of the day and the network.
The delegates were from: Dover Arts Development, Blue Monkey, Phoenix Arts, Nucleus Art Centre, The Deaf Cat, Workers Of Art, Creative Foundation, Arts Space Portsmouth, Chesworth Arts Studios, Limbo, Whitstable Biennale, HKD, Maidstone Television Studios, Crate Space, Red Dog Studios, SEOS, Strange Cargo, Canterbury City Council, West Street Loft, Stepping Stones Studios, Margate Gallery and Pie Factory, Kent Arts Development Unit, Kent County Council. There were also individuals attending, including current students, who were considering starting a studio group and NFASP staff and trustees.
As everyone went round the table introducing themselves the sheer breadth of representation became clear – from small studios in former industrial spaces; studios in agricultural buildings; larger, well-established spaces; studios in empty shops to studios on Margate Pier and a budding project space on a light ship. There was also a representative from the SE Open Studios network and from Higher Education institutions.
It became clear that everyone welcomed the opportunity to share information and experience. Many had experienced problems with securing premises or funding. Some had both but were worried about their sustainability – the use of empty shops being one such example, but others had seen buildings slip away or had problems with leases. Officers from the local authorities and ACE agreed that the networks would offer a route to connecting with artists. For Kent CC this was important to their ambition to increase the creative economy in Kent. For ACE the network offers a way in to the sector that doesn’t exist and helps ACE make relationships and identify needs.
While aspirations for the day and the network varied, there was one clear theme: attendees wanted to meet each other and share experience and information. The local authority officers also stated that it was an invaluable opportunity for them to make direct contact with artists and studio providers. Duncan Smith, Chair of NFASP and founder/director of ACAVA, said that he wanted to see studios spaces taken as seriously as exhibition spaces.
Helen Pike, Assistant Director of NFASP, said that she hoped that the day would help to shape the future network by members saying what they hoped to get out of it and, equally importantly, what they could bring to it in terms of hosting/running future meetings and/or events.
It became clear that provision and demand across the South East region was uneven, as was the availability of suitable and affordable premises. Maidstone and Medway have very little provision (but this is changing through a number of separate initiative) and rental costs are very high in places like Brighton. In Dover DAD are focussing on assisting artists with production through finding appropriate project and residency spaces.
There were several ambitions for studio spaces from: showing/selling/making work; servicing the needs of emerging artists; providing production/project space and support; increasing the local cultural offer; creating exhibition platforms; developing curatorial expertise; re-animating under-used heritage resources through to reviving dying high streets.
To take the networks forward, Helen Pike explained that they would each have their own forum on the new NFASP website. She urged attendees to join NFASP if they weren’t already members and asked delegates if they were prepared to help run the network or host events. Lucy Greenaway from Phoenix Arts in Brighton offered to help.
In the afternoon, members split into groups for two sessions, run by NFASP trustees. Marcel Baettig, of Bow Arts Trust, listened to a presentation on business models for artists’ studios. Baettig showed how rent from studios can be used to invest in more studios spaces and also to create community projects that embed the studios in the local community while creating much needed employment for studio artists. A lively q & a session followed as issues such as critical mass, scale of buildings to generate investment income and many other topics were raised and teased out.
In the other session, Jonathan Powell led a discussion about Public Benefit – a thorny issue for studio groups who are interested in registering as charities to help minimise business rates and support fund-raising efforts (please see the forthcoming NFASP case study about registering as a charity for more information on this).
Joanna Hughes, of Mother Studios, corralled members into groups around the main meeting room, loosely based on their regions, so that they could meet and compare notes. Ken Stratford, of East Street Arts gave some feedback on the first Northern Network meeting, explaining that perhaps ‘The North’ was a bit too large an area to cover for one network due to travel times and geographical barriers. As the session continued the room began to buzz with potential new networks forming.
After a very welcome break for tea and cakes the 2012 AGM was convened. Members can download the minutes below.
The day was rounded off with a trip to CRATE and LIMBO for a private view and an evening of performances. With thanks to Dover Arts Development and Turner Contemporary, Margate for hosting the event.