New shades on old structures
Richard Taylor finds out how three artist groups are re-vamping their structures as established organisations, to support new talent and promote a variety graduate activity.
Intermedia, S1 Artspace & East Street Arts
The mid 80s and early 90s saw UK's art scene act in self-perpetuation and soon enough artist-led initiatives, in the form of studio groups, arts charities and gallery spaces were inaugurated. The creative boom was focused on the artists themselves and in pursuance of cultural gain new shades of activity overcame political and economic structures.
East Street Arts, Leeds, S1 Artspace in Sheffield and Glasgow's Intermedia sprang in to action in the mid 90s. For years these particular initiatives have set their own stride within the cities where they reside, developing grains of activity for others to follow suit. But what is their future as the cultural sector faces this bedlam of funding cuts?
All three organisations are diversifying their approach to accommodate new graduates and support students in creative courses at adjacent art schools and universities. Here's how.
Intermedia - life in Glasgow as an artist
If you stand in the right place at the back end of Glasgow School of Art you'll see a number of rooftops sheltering The Centre for Contemporary Arts' (CCA) multifaceted activity. One rooftop houses the Intermedia gallery: a place of good fortune, since its beginnings in 1992 amongst Glasgow's artist-led scene, for new graduates to propose ongoing work and engage with good solid professional practice.
Since its move to the CCA, Intermedia's premise has been to encourage DIY activity in an established environment. DIY really is do-it-yourself with a small budget provided by the council for materials, install and de-stall, invigilation and advertisement. There's space for more support though as some people have the 'art business' skill under their belt, but many selected candidates fall short on marketing their projects.
Intermedia is currently being developed by interns at the CCA in partnership with Glasgow Life (previously Culture and Sport Glasgow) and Trongate 103 a new council funded arts hub in the city. A current CCA intern says, "the space provides exhibition opportunities for early career artists and encourages submissions from Glasgow School of Art graduates. It continues to this day to function independently, retaining complete autonomy."
This autonomy is something to build on in making the Intermedia suit easier to slip in to, especially for new graduates: more manoeuvrability for wider audiences and involvement. But how can they provide the right sort of cross-pollination?
The intern goes on to say; "We're looking to expand the activity of Intermedia by introducing crit sessions and residency programmes, utilising the space and enthusiasm in and around the CCA as well at Trongate. We are interested in how it can nurture people during internships, and other volunteers, as well as the selected artists."
Intermedia also retains autonomy by making use of social media, "The launch of a group page with 'friends' as contacts; stands as Intermedia's step towards a more manageable structure. Each selected artist will be given full use to online accounts, offering Intermedia as a flexible infrastructure, and benefiting the artist-led community."
So a flexible list of contacts through online portfolio can broaden horizons and build a more inviting, network ready programme; perhaps this is where the gallery's future lies. More give and take from both organisation and creative mass.
S1 Artspace - from Sheffield with love
In 1995, at the tender age of ten your writer lived in Sheffield. He remembers the down sized city centre thats life was forfeit to 'shopping malls' developed in its industrial trimmings: there's been a Fine Art course at Sheffield Hallam University for longer though and within its walls, new artists were brewing.
Since its beginnings in 1995 S1 Artspace, tidied away in its holdings at the heart of the developing cultural quarter, to this day remains focused and forward looking. By running its associates programme, allowing different forms of engagement with artists in Sheffield and beyond, S1 continues as a hub for critical debate locally, and provides a platform for emerging artists nationally.
S1 associates' officer Rob Lowe says, "Central to S1 is the ambition to raise the profile of Sheffield as a city with an active artist community and a pioneering approach to enabling contemporary art projects... cultivating a wider audience for contemporary art, offering studio space, support and opportunities for artists."
As Sheffield was put forward for 2013 City of Culture it called to arms all forms of activity including the credible art scene. S1's activities then are very well placed as 2010 has seen the inauguration of their six-month Bursary Programme, backed by Sheffield Hallam University.
The programme draws on the expertise of staff and studio-holders at S1 creating a unique environ, which nurtures artists who are at a very critical stage in their career development. Lowe goes on to say: "the scheme provides a valuable opportunity for younger artists to experience and benefit from working in a professional artist studio complex during the later stages of their fine art course and on into the preliminary stages of professional practice. The students benefit from subsidised studio rents, mentoring sessions with a range of practitioners associated with S1, and opportunities to gain insight into the workings of a committee led studio space. At the end of the six months, the students then have the opportunity to exhibit new work in S1's project space."
In July two 'Showcases' in the bursary's finale took place in the gallery, throwing recent graduates in to the grand scheme of things. Not only does this develop individual careers and networks, it gives something back to the city by retaining well-placed creative talent for the future of Sheffield's scene.
East Street Arts - placing Leeds for professional development
East Street Arts was founded in 1993 by two artists ready to re-contextualise their artists' led activity, it now works as a charity within Leeds supporting educational and artistic aims, and is a founder member of the National Federation of Artists Studio Providers.
Co-founder Jon Wakeman explains, "East Street Arts programmes and promotes contemporary art within a context of engagement. This includes resource provision and development support for artists, but also involves working towards qualitative change in the environment for practitioners in Leeds.
Much like Intermedia and S1 Artspace, East Street Arts was interested in supporting the working structure of the art scene and progressing the artist-led activity to build connections nationally and internationally. Such self-preservation necessitates a constant involvement with new artists and researchers, and this starts with creative practice students based in Yorkshire.
By keeping a constant outlook for broader artistic initiatives, East Street Arts has recently started a scheme to develop professional practice modules in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). Wakeman continues, "we have always focused on supporting students' work through placement opportunities and are equally committed to provide continuous professional development. Through graduate studio provision and partner projects with HEIs our integrated professional development and public programme has been developed to link students with established artists and arts professionals."
As East Street Arts puts forward its knowledge towards the autumn term for third years in Fine Art at York St. Johns University, they're making a start now with 'Weds@105' a new professional development strand in Leeds focusing on different aspects of contemporary arts practice, building on ESA's place in contextualizing artists' activity and opportunity as a central theme for curatorial progression. A perfect setting for graduates not yet used to the loss of weekly group tutorials and crit sessions.
So on top of their increased membership and discounted studio space encouraging and nurturing new graduates, East Street Arts is all set for fertilizing their adjacency to colleges and universities in the region. So in all, Leeds is a good place to be.
Up to 50 percent off, so what now?
These organisations need to self-perpetuate. Artist-led activity is ever reliant on the cultivation of new talent and fresh ideas; and as self-led graduate activity is encouraged, it's also in danger of creating a surplus of artistic representation. There's only so much money, so much integrity and so much room. So as there is a place for certain endeavours, joining forces with readily established institutions first may well be a good choice - at least to find your place and be given the right sort of structure to research your next move.
Intermedia: Facebook »
Against the grain: focus on three DIY artists' groups formulated by graduates from 2008 onwards. Read on »
East Street Arts: Paul Glinkowski's 2004 article explores how East Street Arts is a model example of what the purchase and refit of a studios involves. Read on »
S1 Artspace: Paul Glinkowski looks at how S1 Artspace provides studios for artists whose work is both contemporary and critically engaged. Read on »
Artist-led activity: Chris Brown introduces a rulebook to guide you through the whys and wherefores of artist-led activity. Read on »
Artists' strategies: Knowledge bank section including profiled organisations, artists, toolkits and guides. Read on»
First published: a-n.co.uk July 2010
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