Nottingham Studios Consortium
Nottingham Studios Consortium is an example of the ‘strength in numbers’ approach in making the case for studio provision.
In many of the UK’s major cities – including Bristol, Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle, Glasgow, Edinburgh and London – funding from the arts Lottery and/or regeneration agencies has, since the mid 1990s, helped to create good quality, affordable studio spaces which are either permanent or have long term security. As yet, the cities in the East Midlands lack such a space. The Nottingham Studios Consortium has got together to try to change this. Niki Russell, one of the key drivers behind the consortium, describes its progress to date.
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.
The Nottingham Studios Consortium began life as a proposal by Michael Forbes and Joanne Naylor which outlined the need for an additional venue in Nottingham which would incorporate a gallery and studio spaces. This proposal built on numerous similar but unrealised ideas that had gone before it, and sought to test the water with regards to the current funding climate. An initial meeting was held in September 2003 at Arts Council England (ACE) which involved Michael and Joanne (representing artists currently without studio space in Nottingham) and myself (representing Reactor and the YAH (You Are Here) Festival). Though the scope of the project was seen as over ambitious, certain aspects of it (primarily the studio space element) hit a chord with ACE, who said there might be an opportunity to gain capital funds for the project through the ACE Grants for the Arts capital programme which was at that time receiving proposals. The downside was that the deadline for applications for this scheme was then less than a month away.
With support from ACE, the group was able to secure the services of a consultant who helped us to move the project forward quickly, bringing on board others who had a shared interest and commitment to seeing the project realised. The consortium now embraced seven organisations: Vertu; Reactor; You Are Here; East Midlands African Caribbean Arts (EMACA); Apna arts; Egerton and Oldknows. By building on existing documents and work already undertaken by EMACA and Apna towards a previous unrealised proposal, which had identified a possible site and a specific need for studio spaces for artists from African, Caribbean and Asian communities, the group was able to put together a credible funding application quite swiftly. The key to this was that we were building on work that had already been done and tapping into a momentum already gathering. We submitted the application with a degree of confidence despite an awareness of the highly competitive nature of the scheme.
The bid process
Our bid outlined a vision for the development of a new complex of affordable artist studios. The aspiration is for a fully accessible space that will support and nurture contemporary visual artists within a creative, practical and well-resourced environment. The building will provide opportunities for studio practise, networking, exhibition and sales, and artists development. It will incorporate individual and shared studio units, a dedicated area for artists to work together on site-specific installations and space for live art events, exhibitions, workshops and education projects. Opportunities for public engagement are at the heart of the project, to ensure that the space remains live rather than a closed shop. This will be achieved through a rolling programme of exhibitions, events and workshops. We also aim to create dedicated public spaces within the building.
The project was identified by ACE East Midlands as a priority and as such, in the time between submitting the application and hearing of the outcome, the group took part in a series of mentoring meetings. These were designed to allow priority organisations with limited organisational capacity to develop the mature and realistic approach needed to realise a major capital project. In contrast to other projects on this mentoring programme our consortium was very young in its development, and it felt a little like we were playing catch-up. Despite this, the process helped clarify and develop our vision and gave us a better awareness of what might be in store.
At the end of this process we found out that our funding application had been unsuccessful, whilst this was clearly disappointing it did not come as a complete shock. It was an indication of the set-backs that most capital projects have to survive before they realise their ambitions.
ACE has stressed that, despite this setback, the project remains a priority for the region and they are keen to continue to work with us to find an alternative way forward. In partnership with the local Small Business Service, ACE is now funding us to undertake a feasibility study for the project. The feasibility work has been underway for several months and much of the market research and comparator surveys are now complete. We have begun to look into possible sites, which might include both existing buildings and sites on which we can build anew. Options appraisals are being carried out and we will be making site visits in the coming weeks with an architect. We are now at an exciting point in the projects evolution, where what has until now existed only on paper begins to translate into possible physical incarnations.
The project driving-force remains a small group of individuals representing the different members of the consortium. Michael Forbes and myself are the main contact people. At the moment, the consortium is not formally constituted. As part of the feasibility study the consultant will be advising us of the best way forward on this, and while we have a clear vision of what we are working towards, we do not yet have a mission statement. A final feasibility document is due to be produced shortly which we hope will provide the evidence necessary to back-up our argument for the need for such a space. It will also begin to hone down realistic options for the location of the building. The next task will be working with our partners to identify how we might secure the capital funding needed to realise the project.
Niki Russell, on behalf of the Nottingham Studios Consortium.
First published: a-n.co.uk March 2005
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