Out of the Blue
Out of the Blue has thrived through establishing a diversity of activities and income streams.
Out of the Blue has come a long way in a relatively short time. Initially it was a small, artist-run gallery in downtown Edinburgh. Now, a decade later, it now owns a large former army drill hall where it provides space for artists and small companies; it maintains dozens of artists’ studios in an old bus depot; and, in a third venue, it runs one of Scotland’s most successful alternative night clubs. A blend of openness and enterprise, matched to a spirit of inclusivity and experimentation, seems to be the key to its success.
This profile forms part of a portfolio of material around studios including the studios toolkit - designed especially for artists thinking of setting up some kind of workspace facility - case studies of studio organisations at different stages of development and more.
Out of the Blue started out in 1994, as an alternative showing space for the visual arts in the heart of Edinburgh. A small gallery off Edinburghs famous Royal Mile, it aimed from the outset to break down the barriers associated with the art gallery experience. Edinburgh, at that time, lacked an informal meeting-place-cum-gallery venue: an informative, welcoming, alternative space. We wanted to create a space that people felt comfortable to visit: part cultural centre, part social scene. We offered free coffee to all our visitors to make them feel more at home.
Our programme was deliberately eclectic. Some of the first exhibitions were of the kind of art not catered for by other galleries; things like art by prisoners, or street art. We wanted to give it proper status as an art form. At the same time we would also do high profile shows, such as a group show of visiting artists from New York. International and community-based shows were intermixed. Because we were unfunded and independent we were free to experiment. Our emphasis was on diversity and on building a social and cultural scene.
As we became established, the artists attracted to the space changed. Live art was emerging at that time and visual artists were becoming interested in performance. As no other venues were catering for this practice, and as we were open to artistic risk taking, we became an outlet for it. We hired the gallery out as a space for the Edinburgh Fringe, which attracted a more international crowd. We also started a live arts cabaret based on the Victorian model of the bohemian arts club the Bongo Club, with the idea that it would essentially be artists performing for other artists. This encouraged further cross-over of genres and art forms.
After we had been going for about two years we decided we would take on a second space, a former bus depot. This was a huge leap but also a natural progression. Out of the Blue started out as just as a showing space, which would sometimes be used to develop projects on site. In our second premises we also took on studios. This was not a planned evolution; the opportunity came, and we decided to grasp it. It wasnt underpinned by a business plan or market research. Our bank manager and solicitor were saying dont do it, youre mad, but our initial success gave us the confidence to take the leap.
The new space was two minutes walk away in New Street, just behind the railway station. Its a more flexible space in a good, public location. Theres room for an exhibition space, a café-bar, meeting space and thirty-eight studios. At the point of taking on the New Street building, wed had no funding at all; wed done everything on a completely voluntary basis. We could afford it because the property was earmarked for demolition and we were guaranteed a low rent for as long as it remained available.
Because we knew it would eventually be demolished, though, pretty soon we were on the look out for another, more permanent, space. We realised we would have to buy a building in order to be able plan long term. The property market in Edinburgh has gone mad over the last five years, which has made it increasingly difficult to find affordable space.
We recognised we would need to put in some serious business planning to achieve this. From the start, Out of the Blue has sought to build an open, informal environment but on the basis of a strong, formal organisational structure. In our early days we set up a board of trustees and adopted charitable status. The Bongo Club, which went from strength to strength as a popular social space, became our trading arm. It has now moved to a prime location near the new Scottish parliament building, it supports our work but has its own separate identity. It wasnt part of a grand plan that we would end up running one of the busiest alternative music venues in the country, but the income stream from Bongo Club suddenly became a key part of our financial strategy for securing the future of the organisation.
After four years of looking, we eventually found our new permanent base, The Drill Hall in Dalmeny Street. Again, we saw an opportunity and we went for it. Despite our lack of collateral against which to raise finance to buy the building, we managed to secure a mortgage from Social Investment Scotland and Triodos Bank, which specialise in finance for social, rather than commercial, enterprises. This represented a real leap of faith for them as we had no experience of managing this level of capital. Because of our professional way of working and the business acumen we have built up through the success of the Bongo Club, though, we are now considered a social enterprise worth investing in, rather than charity dependent on subsidy. We still operate without any regular revenue funding, but receive project funding from the Scottish Arts Council, City of Edinburgh Council, Communities Scotland and the Capital City Partnership.
We are now working on a phased refurbishment of The Drill Hall. The first phase has been completed with the help of lottery funding from the Scottish Arts Council. The building is, as its name suggests, a former army drill hall; a stunning Victorian building of vast proportions with a glass roof. We bought it from the Ministry of Defence. Its a listed building so there are restrictions on what we can do with it. As well as permanent space for artists and designers, we have some flexible space where artists can work on temporary commissions. Part of the building also houses offices, for us, other arts agencies and some non-arts social enterprises. About fifty artists and small arts organisations currently work at The Drill Hall. With the next phase of refurbishment, we aim to increase this by at least 50% and to provide workshop spaces and a café to initiate a creative interrelationship between artists and those living in the local area.
Our activities are now divided over a number of sites though we eventually decided to let go of our original gallery space. There is still no still no end date for the New Street building, so we intend to keep this going. There are thirty-eight individual studios and a rehearsal space and about seventy people in total use the building to make work. It is still predominantly used by visual artists and makers, but we have some musicians and a recording studio. It also houses offices for other small arts organisations and charities, such as an Indian music and dance group.
We remain committed to supporting a diversity of practice: everything from public art projects in partnership with the National Galleries of Scotland to working with young people to regenerate the local park. Both studio artists and external artists participate in our activities. We dont have a membership scheme for artists and there is no formal selection process for studio occupancy. The spaces we manage across our sites are very mixed: some clean, some dirty, some have an industrial feel; some appropriate for painting and multi media work, some for tool-based work. Rents per square foot range from £3.75 to £10.50 per annum. We maintain a sizeable waiting list, and could easily fill all the space twice over.
Weve raised the money to develop additional workspace; we now need to fundraise to create additional facilities and activities for public benefit. There is less emphasis at the moment on the presentation side of things. The Drill Hall will be open to the public once the refurbishment is completed. We have held special events such as open days and workshops. A pilot Edinburgh arts market is scheduled for the end of 2004.
Out of the Blue recognises that to develop as a useful and creative community resource we need to grow, adapt and change with external and internal circumstances. Our knowledge and experience extends as we exchange ideas and interact with others. The key to our success is that we have developed a project which seems to offer something for everybody: our programme covers all kinds of art, from the community-based to the experimental; our facilities cater for all kinds of people, from emerging artists to audiences of all ages and backgrounds.
Out of the Blue aims to:
- Initiate an interest in the Arts by developing a comprehensive programme of educational and recreational community projects;
- Provide administrative support and space for artists, performers, musicians and dancers engaged in innovative work;
- Encourage interaction and stimulate collaboration between artists and art forms;
- Promote emerging and established artists working in a variety of media;
- Create training opportunities for people working in arts administration/development;
- Maximise exposure to all the Arts.
Out of the Blue does:
- Provision of studio space and resources for arts workers and artists, eg rental of studio to artists, providing access to office equipment and information, such as sponsorship opportunities;
- Development of projects encouraging people from different backgrounds and disciplines to work together;
- Public platforms for the display of resident and non resident artists work to an invited and public audience;
- A variety of visual, dance and music workshops for children, youths and adults;
- Training posts for arts administrators, eg student placements from local colleges;
- Marketing all aspects of the above to as wide an audience as possible by means of documents, presentations, showcases and live events.
Out of the Blue Arts and Education Trust
The Drill Hall
36 Dalmeny Street
Edinburgh EH6 8RG
0131 555 7100
Out of the Blue studios
6 New Street
Edinburgh EH8 8DW
The Bongo Club
37 Holyrood Road
Edinburgh EH8 8BA
0131 558 7604
Dana Macleod, Press and Publicity Coordinator, Out of the Blue.
Dana Macleod, Press and Publicity Coordinator, Out of the Blue.
First published: a-n.co.uk March 2005
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