Mir Jansen, Programme Manager of the professional development programme at Yorkshire Artspace in Sheffield talks to Jane Watt about how the studio organisation continues to support artists, the parallels between an artists and an organisations profile development, and her top five tips on making funding applications.
Yorkshire Artspace in Sheffield is one of the longest running studio organisations outside London. It began life as a studio group of graduates from the Psalter Lane Art College (now part of Sheffield Hallam University) in 1977. It is not an artist-run organisation, but it is owned by the members – all the artists who rent studio space are members.
Since 2001, Yorkshire Artspace’s main base has been the flagship, award-winning building, Persistence Works, a purpose built complex with fifty-one studios and exhibition space. The organisation continues to grow, with an ambitious studio expansion plan for the next two years. It has recently taken over a Council owned building to provide temporary studio accommodation until two new buildings are completed in 2010/2011.
However, Yorkshire Artspace is more than just a studio complex. Since 2000 it has developed an exhibition, residency and professional development programme. It also runs a starter studio scheme for designer silversmiths which offers young graduates access to a fully equipped workshop with additional mentor and technical support.
Tell me about your role at Yorkshire Artspace.
Traditionally my role has been about providing one-to-one advisory sessions about general stuff such as making grant applications, helping artists to devise strategies to move forward, and general portfolio advice. I still provide this advice, but most of the information is now available on-line, with a-n and Artquest providing very practical and generic advice, particularly for early career artists.In my view, all opportunities for artists contribute to their professional development, as well as their artistic and personal development.
We started the residency programme in response to artists who were a little further with their practice and who expressed a need for time, space and money to develop new ideas and work. We are planning new starter studio programmes at our new sites, using the silversmiths’ starter programme as a successful model. Together with my colleague, Rachael Dodd, we want to ensure that the communities around the new sites will be able to access the new facilities and artists’ expertise.
How important is it for artists, and Yorkshire Artspace as an organisation, to make professional links outside the studio walls, in your locale, nationally and internationally? And how can this be done?
Very important if you have ambitions to raise your profile or expand.
We had these ambitions right from the moment we moved into Persistence Works. Suddenly, with a rather big award-winning building, the public perception about artists’ studios changed quite significantly. It is true that the new building helped us as an organisation to raise our profile and it also helped many of the artists in the building.
We kept our eyes on the changes that were happening and that is how we got involved in building new studios in areas undergoing significant regeneration. It was extremely important to link up with initiatives and work collaboratively with partner organisations to capitalise on new opportunities for growth. I suppose, in this sense, arts organisations are no different than individual artists: networking, sharing expertise, pooling resources, making others aware of what you do ... all this is exactly the same.
Our Director and the two Programme Managers all have links with organisations that have a national remit: the National Federation of Artists Studio Providers, Creative Partnerships and the APD network. I’m also involved in Forming Ideas, a networking and discussion forum that focuses on professional development and making international links for curators who want to develop challenging craft projects. Direct involvement in these organisations / initiatives helps your own professional development.
Our next step at Yorkshire Artspace will be to make more international links that will form into longer lasting relationship. It is important for us as an organisation and it is important that our artists also benefit from these links.
For us, I think the key was to do things slowly and well with the resources available. It is important to keep looking inward i.e., what are we good at; what are we not so good at; how can we do it better; what do we need. It is also important to keep looking outward: what do we want to achieve; who can help us; who should we link up with. This has helped us to make progress in the last eight years.
What particular professional practice advice and support is most in demand at Yorkshire Artspace?
I still get a lot of queries from new graduates but also from older generation artists who are still at an emerging stage. Even though there is so much advice available in different and accessible formats, there still seems to be a real need for basic advice, particularly around funding and marketing.
We also get a lot of queries around employability. A great number of artists based at Persistence Works are involved in education work within schools, communities, galleries. I believe there is a real need for training, shadowing opportunities and mentoring in this particular field. The Crafts Council has just launched Portfolio with specific attention being given to ‘working in education’. And there seems to be a lot of talk around re-introducing apprenticeships.
That’s interesting you highlight artists working in educational settings as a-n is currently working with Fabric in Bradford to publish a version of their practical guide for artists working with schools, Creative Connections: a guide to creative collaboration
Finally, as you advise artists on making funding applications, what are your top five tips?
It is the acronym for the SMART rule I’m afraid. It still works for me:
- Be specific. It is important to stay focused.
- Make sure you can measure the impact of what you set out to do.
- Make sure it is achievable with the financial/human resources and skills/expertise available to you.
- Be realistic. Have a vision or dream but think A to B not A to Z. What support do you have for your project, what is your track record?
- Make sure you have a timeframe in mind. At some point you want your project to have an end or a point at which you can analyse whether it has been successful or not.
Artists’ Professional Development Network
National Federation of Artists Studio Providers
First published: a-n.co.uk December 2009
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