“Bold, curious and experimental, with locally-sourced talent providing alternative viewpoints from unexpected sources.” This is how Devonshire Collective (DC) programmer Amy Zamarripa Solis describes ‘Threshold’, a 16-month programme of visual art and performance funded by Arts Council England and resident-led community fund Devonshire West Big Local. “It aims to startle and surprise, with inspiration coming from all directions.”
As part of ‘Threshold’, the Collective is about to throw itself into its second Digital Weekender, co-curated by Solis and digital producer and curator, Jon Pratty. The pair seek to introduce something new and surprising to Eastbourne’s cultural calendar with innovative events, workshops and an exhibition, ‘Slowness’, themed around ‘Storytelling: True & Untrue’.
The programme reflects Solis’ eagerness to provide new opportunities for creativity in the East Sussex town. “There is a strong creative tech sector in the town which offers untapped opportunities for collaboration between individual artists and across artforms.” Solis sees collaboration and the way it brings people together as a transformative process.
As we sit in DC1’s café-gallery I admire members’ work on the walls. Solis points out some eye-catching paintings which stand out against a bare brick wall. “They are by our last artist in residence,” she tells me, reeling off a list of residencies, commissions, events and exhibitions that have already taken place since October when she secured £70,000 funding for ‘Threshold’.
So far DC has maintained a balance, supporting local artists through practical opportunities such as the residencies and exhibitions along with a programme of developmental talks and workshops. At the same time, it has also fulfilled Solis’ ambitious agenda to bring emerging national and international artists to DC’s modest basement gallery.
I ask Solis what she’s most proud of so far. “I’m proud of the diversity we have here, and I’m really impressed with the level of engagement by artists – people taking advantage of the opportunities and making things happen. I’m proud of the support DC has been able to offer artists.”
It is a fact that, in a town where resources for artists have historically been underdeveloped, the Collective has made an impact. The availability of hireable spaces at concessionary rates for DC members encourages artists to plan events and exhibitions, while benefits such as marketing support and funding advice from DC help make artist-led initiatives feel achievable.
Not least though, from an artist’s perspective, is the uplifting effect of a visibly industrious arts community where artists can be seen at work on a daily basis, where new work appears on workshop walls, new creative relationships are formed and old ones reinforced.
Strong relationships with established organisations such as Towner Art Gallery and the artist-run Blue Monkey Network have helped introduce existing members of the arts community to DC and encouraged them to try out what’s on offer. Collaboration with young people’s organisations such as music charity Audio-Active and digital technology hub TechResort have helped to strengthen the depth of public engagement and produced innovative ideas.
Launched just over a year ago as part of an initiative by community-led group Driving Devonshire Forward and Eastbourne Borough Council, the three DC venues provide a café-gallery hub along with much needed workspace, including six artists’ studios, printmaking and ceramics workshops and multi-use hireable space.
These street-facing town-centre venues have attracted creatives from a diverse range of artistic and cultural backgrounds, forming the core of a growing membership (currently 70 artists and makers,) with the potential to form a vibrant cross-generational, multi-skilled network in Eastbourne.
Talking to Solis about the past year and her vision for the future of this grass roots collective, she emphasises DC’s status as an independent social enterprise with all the complicated economic issues that entails. The organisation has its work cut out to meet its multi-strand remit, which includes supporting artists’ development and bolstering regeneration in Eastbourne’s struggling Devonshire Ward.
There have been many challenges during this first year, which has seen Solis finding out what works and what doesn’t for artists and audiences, and thinking about how to stay afloat financially. “Maintaining affordability while covering the costs of unsubsidised commercial leases is a constant challenge,” she says.
But Solis has ideas for diversifying income streams and despite the struggles involved in establishing a new organisation, she is proud and optimistic. “My dream is to be fully self-sustaining, supporting a lively community of artists at the centre of regeneration in the Devonshire Ward, to make it a place where people want to come.”
Devonshire Collective’s Digital Weekender takes place 9-11 February 2018.
1. DC1 Cafe & Gallery, 2017. Photo: Avant Commercial; Courtesy: Devonshire Collective
2. Lights, Brian and Gareth McClave, 2013, Digital slow scan image. Courtesy: the artists and Devonshire Collective
3. The Cube 2, Circa69. Courtesy: Circa69
4. Everybody’s Gone To the Rapture, The Chinese Room, 2015. A game for Sony Interactive Entertainment America LLC
Judith Alder is an artist based in Eastbourne and one of eight a-n members selected for the a-n Writer Development Programme 2017-18. For more information on the writer programme, and to read more of the latest cohort’s work, visit the 2017-18 programme’s blog on a-n.co.uk or use the a-n writer development programme 2017-18 tag