Bow Arts Trust
How education work has contributed to this studios success.
Some studios organisations Acme for instance simply provide affordable space for artists to work in. Increasingly, though, studio organisations are looking to engage in other activities, which usually help to link studio-based artists to the world outside. They may put on exhibitions or open studios events, organise training, or become involved in education projects with schools or community groups. Bow Arts Trust demonstrates how promoting a studio organisation as an arts education service as well as a studio provider can bring benefits to your organisation and create employment opportunities for artists.
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.
Bow Arts Trust (BAT) has occupied its current premises, two adjacent buildings in Bow Road, East London, since September 1995. BAT secured the buildings on a fifteen-year lease by forming a partnership with a commercial landlord. With ninety-two artists filling its spaces, the Trust is now the largest independent studio organisation in London independent in the sense that it operates without any core revenue subsidy. Despite this lack of subsidy, a recent survey of London studios found that BAT offers some of the cheapest space in the capital. In common with other providers of affordable workspace in London, its studios are 100% full and it has a sizeable waiting list.
BATs founder, Marcel Baettig, who is now its director, acted as unpaid project manager whilst the studios were being set up. This involved everything from identifying the building, negotiating with the landlord, finding the resources and working with others to make it wind and watertight, and advertising the space to would-be studio holders. The building was filled up piecemeal on a reduced rent, on condition that the occupying artists agreed to help fit out their own spaces, Baettig recalls. Only when we had filled the building did we agree to take on a formal lease.
During 1996 Bow Arts Trust registered as a limited company, as this was the simplest structure to set up. But, at the same time it also registered with the Charities Commission. We applied as an educational charity, of which the studios were a part, says Baettig, and were accepted within three months, the shortest time possible.
In order to qualify for charitable status, it has been known for studio organisations to adopt an educational mission out of pragmatism rather than conviction. Bow Arts Trust, though, saw from the outset that an educational remit could help both the trust and its artists to become sustainable. Artists dont only need to make their work, they need to find an outlet for it and earn a living from their professional skills too, says Baettig. If you can offer those who rent space from you an income source you are making it more possible for them to afford the rent long-term. It was our policy from the start to make the deal more viable, from an individual point of view but also organisationally; each part would support the other.
In response to a climate of opportunity for more artists to work in inner-London schools partly through the Creative Partnerships programme education has rapidly developed into an important mainstay of BAT. It benefits BATs artist members through increased work opportunities, contributes to organisational running costs, increases the profile of BAT and has a positive effect on the way that it is perceived and valued locally.
In 1998 a £60,000 A4E award from Arts Council England helped to give an initial impetus to both the Nunnery, an in-house gallery located within the studios building, and to the BAT education programme (which now goes under the name of education@bowarts). It enabled us to employ an education worker to develop our policy and to introduce ourselves as a partner to schools, says Baettig.
The relationship it established with the nearby St Pauls Way Community School, which has been designated by the government as a specialist art school, proved particularly positive. On the basis of our first year of working with them, says Baettig, they adopted us in 1999 as their official arts partner. They chose BAT because we were local and because we had built up a relationship of trust. We were now able to offer them, and their associated feeder schools, an entire educational service. We employed Bow artists on their behalf to work in schools, brought school groups into the gallery, and ensured that they had access to a supply of artists from outside the trust. We were their quality controllers; they could trust us to recognise who was appropriate to work on a particular project. At first it was just studio members who took part in the education programme but, as demand grew, BAT began training external artists to deliver educational projects and workshops. It also developed INSET training for the teachers who took part in the programme. BATs team of artist-educators now includes practitioners in other artforms, which has led to new creative collaborations.
Education@bowarts has enjoyed steady year-on-year growth and it now represents a healthy 40% of BATs overall turnover. In 2003-04 it generated £190,000 of income, most of which is returned directly to the artists who work on the programme. This equates to around 1,000 days of professional employment and 1,000 days of top quality arts being taught by professional artists, supplied and supported by the trust, in schools in the most socially deprived areas of London.
The benefits are not just financial. The education programme embeds us in the local community, says Baettig, and opens doors for us to other local development agencies. It makes it easier for them to value and invest in us as a resource for the wider community. The partnership with St Pauls Way school has been hugely successful. The school is in the poorest ward in one of the poorest boroughs in country, says Baettig, When we first started working together its educational results reflected that. Last year, though, St Pauls came twelfth nationally in the league tables for GCSE passes, with a 92% pass rate in art.
Education@bowarts now works with over fifty schools and community organisations across London, reaching out to over 25,000 young and disadvantaged people annually.
Critical success factors
Annie Bicknell, Education manager at BAT, sees the following as the key factors which have contributed to the success of education@bowarts:
Bow Arts Trust aims to promote and develop the contemporary arts as an inclusive and relevant part of peoples lives through the sustainable provision of:
Bow Arts Trust
182-183 Bow Road
London E3 2SJ
020 8980 7774
Marcel Baettig, Director
Annie Bicknell, Education and Events Manager
Paul Glinkowski is a freelance arts writer.
Paul Glinkowski is a freelance journalist, writer and arts consultant. From 1997 to 2003 he was a visual arts officer at Arts Council England (ACE), where he led on the development of a national programme of support for visual artists studios. He played a key role in the development of a series of three studios conferences in July 2003: Creating Places at Tate Modern, and Making Space and Opening Doors at Yorkshire Artspace, Sheffield (see http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/information/publication_detail.php?sid=12&id=393&page=2 for conference report Supporting artists workspace). He also wrote the 2003 ACE publication Open Studios (see http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/documents/publications/282.pdf)
First published: a-n.co.uk March 2005
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