HOW TO RUN AN ARTIST-LED SPACE

Tuesday, 3 April 2012


Instead of waiting to be told they’re the next big thing, artists are increasingly taking matters into their own hands by setting up DIY galleries and project spaces, often in unusual settings. Here’s how to do the same…

Think outside the block
“If you see a space, knock on the door find out who the commercial landlord is. Don’t devalue what you have to offer,” says Afshin Dehkordi who, together with Natasha Caruana, founded StudioSTRIKE creative space in July 2010. “We came across this ad for the top floor of an 18th-century pub in Clapham run by a trade union,” says Afshin. “The agreement we struck with the landlord was that we would refurbish the space and run art events, talks, exhibitions, screenings and community cinema in return for low rent.”

Renovation takes imagination
“[Eastside] was just an empty warehouse so everything in it has been generated by projects,” says Ruth Claxton, Associate Director of Eastside Projects in Birmingham. “Our office is an artwork by Heather and Ivan Morrison called Pleasure Island. It was made for the Venice Biennale [but] we were able to use as an office afterwards.”

“We were on a low budget so we had a massive call out,” says Afshin. “We had mums and dads and partners coming in, we made food – it was a bit of a festival day out – and we painted and put in new desks.”

Choose members who share your vision
“Be clear about what you want to use the space for,” says Sita Calvert-Ennals, member and current leader of Residence, a community of theatre-makers based in a former record shop in Bristol. “We had rules about the kind of artists we wanted to work with. If they wanted to be a member, they needed to offer something to the organisation as well.”

“Natasha and I come from photography and film disciplines but we were careful that we didn’t make this a homogenous group of people all from the same field [so] people aren’t competing for the same clients or curators,” says Afshin. “One person we knew and the rest we found by putting ads out and interviewing. It wasn’t so much about the pedigree of their career or what awards they’d won; it was more about fitting in with the other community members.”

Designate organisers 
“Without one person or a few people taking charge, it’s loads harder,” says Sita. “With 10, 15, 20 artists it’s difficult to get everyone in a room together to make a decision – everyone’s here, there and everywhere making work. We have a leader [who changes] every three months. They're responsible for communicating decisions to be made among the group – it’s democratic but things get done.”

StudioSTRIKE faced similar issues: “There was such a diversity of ages – from recent graduates to established artists – it was difficult to find a common ground,” Afshin says. “Natasha and I now run studioSTRIKE as an opt-in process. We come up with ideas and proposals and ask the artists who wants to get involved.”

Aim big
“If you have an idea, just go and do it. Once you establish it, the funding and the profile and everything else will follow,” says Afshin.

Sita agrees: “You suddenly have clout in a way that we, as young theatre makers, didn’t have at all. As an organisation we’re now taken seriously as a voice, which is a useful thing to know when you’re starting out – basically, it’s worth it.”

And, as Ruth points out: “Artist-led spaces don’t have to be this first thing that you do. Actually they can be really ambitious but still remain artist-led, [with] that idea of practice at their core.”

Some useful resources


Capacity Bristol 
Project aimed at opening up empty spaces for use by Bristol’s creative community.

The Empty Space Network 
Website with free downloadable resources for anyone planning on setting up a creative space in a disused shop.

ICA list of artist-run spaces
Check out these artist-run spaces for some inspiration.


This article originally appeared on IdeasMag.

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