The first a-n Assembly took place in Margate 4-5 May 2017, attracting more than 200 participants over its two days.
Programmed and devised in collaboration with Margate-based social artist Dan Thompson, the event set out to explore how an influx of artists from London and the opening of a major public gallery has brought opportunities for artists, while also creating tensions for those who live and work in the area.
Assembly Margate opened with a seminar hosted by Turner Contemporary: The Curation Process (Or – How do I get them to exhibit my work?). Head of exhibitions Sarah Martin introduced the gallery’s programme which showcases both contemporary and historic art, and discussed the projects that took place in the lead up to the gallery opening in 2011.
Whitstable Biennale director Sue Jones focused on how the biennale, which takes place in the seaside town to the north of Margate, commissions artists as part of its programme.
“Working with artists is a compelling process,” she said. “When curating you work with depth, communication – it’s an authentic process.
“We’re keen to support emerging artists and experimental practices – we’re keen to see new ideas and proposals. I take very seriously recommendations from artists of other artists to commission.”
a-n’s executive director Jeanie Scott used her presentation to introduce a-n and AIR’s Exhibition Payment Guidance and how it contributes to fair contracts and pay for artists exhibiting in publicly-funded galleries.
“The guidance reflects recommendations from artists, curators and funders about what best practice looks like when exhibiting artists’ work,” she explained. “It’s about valuing the contributions artists make.”
Launched alongside the Exhibition Payment Guide, the Artist-Led Manifesto takes into consideration the different economies and ecologies artist-led activities operate in. Thompson explained the key principles in the manifesto, before introducing some of the artist-led projects and groups that were to be visited over the next two days.
The afternoon programme included two workshops. While photography studio and creative space Fire Eye Land hosted Hen Norton’s Demystifying Crowdfunding and Getting to Know Your Audience Better, at one of the town’s smallest artist-led spaces, STAN Art Pod, Stoke-on-Trent-based Anna Francis led The Power in People workshop as part of her initiative to establish a series of guidelines for artists who work in socially-engaged practices.
Before asking attendees to work in groups to suggest and vote for their guidelines, Francis explained that she’s particularly interested in the impact artists have on the places where they are based.
She discussed some of the projects she’s worked on in Stoke, including repopulating a disused bandstand, planting and renovating part of an abandoned rose at the Spode Factory in the city, and turning an abandoned pub into a social enterprise as a way of bringing people together in the community where she lives.
Explaining why she felt it timely to develop guidelines for artists working in these contexts, she said: “There seems to be a new animosity towards artists working in these situations – a backlash from communities who worry what effect artists will have on their neighbourhoods.”
The day came to a close with Assembly Social at Cliffs, a coffee/record shop in the Cliftonville area of Margate. Here, artist-led organisations in the town mapped the services they offer while Thompson played a selection of vinyl from the shop’s racks.
Day two of Assembly Margate set out to explore the town’s many and varied artist-led spaces and studios, with Julia Riddiough’s Artist-led Tour: A Walking Assembly kicking off at Marine Studios, before heading to Limbo, Crate, Bon Volks, Clayspace, Resort and ‘surprise late addition’ the Violette Sculpture Park.
Marine is one of the longest-standing studios in the town; it was set up in 2009 by research-led design studio HDK as a community interest company committed to developing projects which extend cultural participation.
Limbo studios is housed in a former electricity substation. Currently made up of six spaces, studio holders Sarah Trillo and David Price showed attendees around three new studios and a project space under construction on the building’s ground floor.
Mooney created the Violette Sculpture Park in the front garden of the Victorian terrace to house her large-scale sculptural work Darkwave II, originally created for the exhibition ‘#51%RememberHer?’ as part of International Women’s Day in March 2017 at the Tower Gallery, in Plaistow, east London.
Following a lunch session at Cliffs, with a-n board member Nick Sharp and Mike McCormack of a-n’s insurance partner Hencilla available to offer legal and insurance advice to a-n members, the afternoon seminar was hosted by Resort, a creative hub and studio space which is home to artists, designers, architects, photographers and curators.
For Spaces and Places, presenters from three arts organisations discussed their approaches to working with artists and communities.
East Street Arts’ temporary spaces project coordinator Fran Bundey outlined how the organisation supports artists’ development through over 100 temporary spaces around the country, including Art Hostel, a social hub and creative space in Leeds.
Colette Bailey of Metal discussed its programmes that seek to engage audiences in Liverpool, Southend and Peterborough including Estuary Festival, which was initiated in 2016 as a programme of exhibitions, talks and events in response to the Thames Estuary.
The final presenter, Kate Kneale of HDK, discussed how it aims to engage communities through projects such as Marine Studios, 1st Fridays and GEEK Festival, explaining that she wanted to highlight the “ideas behind things, rather than the things we’ve done”.
“I’m interested in the people who never get through the doors of museums,” she said. “We started doing this to demonstrate that this [culture] is for everyone.”
While projects such as 1st Fridays, a regular discussion event that draws on the knowledge of ‘experts’ in a wide range of areas, “provide multiple entry points to break down barriers around the language of art” you still have to “get people off the street and into the space,” Kneale explained.
“Employment and skills are the only things that make a difference,” she said. With GEEK Festival, Kneale said the aim was to create an arc between Turner Contemporary and Margate’s amusement park, Dreamland.
“80 per cent of people play video games. GEEK Festival broke down the creative cultural skills that go into creating video games by encouraging kids to hack the content and create their own games.”
Assembly Margate concluded with the latest edition of 1st Fridays at Marine Studios. Creative producer and cultural strategist Sophie Jeffrey summed up the two days of workshops, debates and talks, while Assembly attendees added to an arts timeline by “remembering, and marking moments in the last 17 years of the Isle of Thanet’s art and cultural history”. The research will form part of a new archive in Marine Studios’ open library.
Assembly Margate took place 4-5 May 2017. For information on future Assembly events including Assembly Liverpool (26-27 May), Bristol (8-9 June), Newcastle upon Tyne (13-14 June) and Leeds (29-30 June) see www.a-n.co.uk/assembly
1. Whitstable Biennale director Sue Jones, The Curation Process (Or – How do I get them to exhibit my work?) at Turner Contemporary. Photo: Jason Pay
2. Turner Contemporary head of exhibitions Sarah Martin, The Curation Process (Or – How do I get them to exhibit my work?) at Turner Contemporary. Photo: Jason Pay
3 & 4. Anna Francis’ The Power in People workshop at STAN Art Pod. Photo: Stephen Palmer
5. Dan Thompson discussing his work Empire and Arcadia at Marine Studios, Artist-led Tour: A Walking Assembly. Photo: Jason Pay
6. Limbo studios, Margate, Artist-led Tour: A Walking Assembly. Photo: Jason Pay
7. David Price discussing his work at Limbo studios. Photo: Jason Pay
8. Sian-Kate Mooney discussing Darkwave II and her Violette Sculpture Park. Photo: Stephen Palmer
9. Spaces and Places at Resort studios. Photo: Jason Pay
10. 1st Fridays: What We Have In Common at Marine Studios. Photo: Jason Pay