Practice Makes Perfect -- A Roundtable 01 April 2011

PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT

The final of three discussions held following the Forming Ideas research visit to the Nordic countries in 2009/10. The Stanley Picker Gallery and Kingston University Faculty of Art hosted this roundtable on 1 April 2011. Below is a summary of the roundtable.

David Falkner, Director of the Stanley Picker Gallery welcomed the participants:

The aim of this roundtable is to share aspirational models from Scandinavia and consider other models and look at how we support practice now in the UK. To share how and what we do and look at ways to improve and collaborate in order to improve the conditions for the production of work here in the UK. Although FI is rooted in crafts - something that came out of the visit to the Nordic countries was that the Crafts were not seen as something singled out for separate support but seen as part of a larger geography of arts provision. SPG deals across architecture, design, and fine art with equal emphasis. As part of Forming Ideas three inspirational models of support were invited from Finland, Sweden and Denmark.

 

Prof Penny Spark introduced the discussion by suggesting there is no over-arching model for Research/Practice. What is it about practice that can be described as research? At one end of spectrum it’s integral and hard to extract what is the research content. At the other end it is conventional research, an academic activity linked to practice (illustrative or testing). No two cases are ever the same. Intrinsic link and marginal link.

THE SCANDINAVIAN MODELS:

 

Artist Kim Simonsson introduced us to the model of support offered by the ceramics company Arabia which was founded in 1873. The factory is situated in Helsinki next to the University of Art and Design and produces quality tableware. Prior to 1931 the factory production comprised copies of European designs but in ’31 Kurt Ekholm introduced Finnish and Scandinavian designers and established an Art Department....from then on Arabia is linked to seminal Scandinavian designs.

In 2000 Arabia was sold to Fiskars and to protect the existence of artists at the core of the production process the Arts Department was formed into the Arabia Artists Society. The six resident artists are on renewable 3 year contracts that provide them with rent-free studios and access to Arabia’s facilities. Every year the Society invites one artist from and entirely different discipline to spend residency time at the factory.

 

There is no obligation for the artists to produce functional objects. Kim recognises that he is somebody who does not make functional objects but there is no pressure on him. Being at Arabia allows him to make anything he wants using the high-end technical production facilities they have. He explained that the benefits to Arabia are in supporting their values of original art and access to artists. He feels that there is more room for collaboration with the University of Art and Design.

Janis Jeffries asked Kim where he located his work. Kim explained that in Finland ‘design’ is the biggest respected export. There are few ‘craft’ galleries so he decided to take on the contemporary art field. Of course he recognises that his work uses craft skills but he firmly positions it as contemporary art.

www.arabia.fi

Annika Enqvist then introduced the delegates to the work of Iaspis which is funded through the Swedish Arts Grants Committee (government agency) at a level measured against the visibility of commissioned work in the public realm. The group had difficulty getting their heads around this - who measured the times a piece work in the public realm was looked at? It seemed more difficult to quantify than books from a lending library or performing rights.

 

Iaspis was founded in 1996 as the Swedish Visual Arts Fund’s international programme commissioned to support international exchange for practitioners in the areas of visual art, design, craft and architecture. Iaspis’ activities aim to enable practitioners based in Sweden to develop artistically and improve their working conditions by establishing international contacts between artists and institutions, professionals such as curators and critics and others active in the field

Their other activities include:

public programme: Lectures, seminars and exhibitions both in Sweden and abroad. Visits by international and Swedish curators and critics to facilitate international networking and domestic collaborations. Iaspis’ studios in Sweden. The programme even includes series of Skype Lectures.

residencies: Iaspis has twelve studios in Sweden, nine of which are located in Stockholm, and three courtesy of Iaspis’ collaborative partners in Gothenburg, Malmö and Umeå. I Studios are open to Swedish and international artists. International artists are invited by a committee and offered a monthly grant, accommodation and a studio. Swedish artists apply with a project plan and offered studio space for 6 months along with monthly grant (only Swedish citizens whose main artistic practice is in Sweden are eligible for grants). Two of the studios are reserved for artists who have recently graduated from a Swedish art academy as well as a studio they receive a lump sum payment.

Iaspis has 7 studios abroad. Swedish practitioners are offered the opportunity to work abroad for a period of time. Grant recipients are offered the use of a studio, a furnished apartment and a grant to cover costs for subsistence during their residency. Presently, Swedish artists can apply for a studio residency in Berlin, London, New York, Rio de Janeiro/São Paulo, Cairo and Tokyo.

archive: Iaspis’ archive carries information on Swedish contemporary art and previous Iaspis grant recipients.

Kristine Autzen told the group about the Danish Art Workshops. The workshops were established 25 years ago and inhabit a former waterside warehouse space over 6 floors. It is a production facility supporting around 170 projects each year and is open 24/7. The facility is funded with 1 million euros each year, raised through taxes. two thirds go on running costs and one third on staffing. Artists, designers and makers are able to apply to make work that is challenging and requires support, specialist equipment and or a large space. There are four application dates each year and on average projects take from 2-6 months to complete, although some projects can take longer. International artists can apply for a ‘project’ as long as there is some connection with Denmark - the ‘project’ gets selected. The Danish Art Workshops welcomes ambition.

Anna Harding talked about SPACE (London UK) and its18 studio buildings. SPACE was started founded in 1968 and provides excellent raw studio space for artists; SPACE is developing new sites all the time. They have been able to bulk buy large properties for fitting out in the simplest ways, thus converting economically so as to provide long-term, cheap space for artists. Only 8% of its turnover is from public funding.

As well as studio space they also provide other programmes that support artists to support themselves. They run a community of peers, facebook, markets, events and NOI (support for emerging artists offering them shows) from 12/13 £30k funding a year for this programme.

As well as providing studios for artists SPACE also run programmes that include commissioning, networking, mentoring, residencies and workshops. They also have a strong outreach programme working with young people in the East End of London that encourage youngsters to get involved with art.

Stephen Beddoe gave a short presentation about ArtQuest (UK)

ArtQuest offers advice, information and opportunities for artists. The project is funded by ACE and hosted by the University of the Arts in London which encompasses St Martin’s, Chelsea and Wimbledon College’s of Art, The London Colleges of Fashion and Communication and Byam Shaw School of Art.

ArtQuests’s remit is to support practice in London. Two-thirds of all artists in the UK are based in London numbering some 18,000 artists/makers practitioners 2/3 in East London. The primary contact for artists is through www.artquest.org.uk which is four parallel websites in one, ArtQuest gives information on opportunities, ArtLaw offers legal advice specific to artists, ArtRoute gives international guides to artists and Atelier is a studio/apartment swap. ArtQuest recently commissioned a guide to the arts sector in Brazil written by artist Nick Ran who the Forming Ideas group met during their research visit.

ArtQuest has also established residencies in Berlin and Amsterdam; it offers a peer mentoring which was established 8 years ago and runs conferences. They are currently researching on micro financing issues for artists - small amounts to realise projects (under £1k)

THE OPEN DISCUSSION

WHAT OTHER MODELS ARE THERE?

Spike Island’s Associate Programme Spike Island is a studio facility based in Bristol comprising 70 studios, it houses 280 arts students and 35 design practices. Spike Island runs an Associate programme that charges individual artists £12 per month, this goes into a pot from which travel grants are distributed and networking events organised. The scheme is being viewed by artists as an alternative to and MA and currently has 90 members. At the least people feel part of a creative community whilst other more pro-active members run events

Spike Island also run open call residencies that are supported by private funding bodies.

www.spikisland.org.uk

Fiskars, the same industrial company that now owns Arabia developed a Utopian model of an arts community in Fiskars village outside Helsinki. When Fiskars decided to move its operations to a brand new factory they made the decision to offer the housing in the former village to artists and designers and a low cost. Fiskars supported the community through maintenance of the area and its communal building that were developed into exhibition space. Fiskars village is a major cultural attraction and reinforces the Fiskars as a company that values high quality creativity and seen as positive branding.

www.fiskarsvillage.fi

Higher Education has come to the forefront in recent years in offering research opportunities to artists wishing to develop their practice. The scheme Artist Access to Art Schools has run nationally for 12 years with 20 colleges taking part and offering 5 to 6 places each year. The scheme offers artists small grants and access to Art School facilities.

The European Ceramics Work Centre in Holland offers state of the art technical research.

WHAT SUPPORT DO ARTISTS NEED?

The discussion looked at funding systems and how London and indeed the last government had invested massively in the arts. The discussion looked at the funding of the arts in North America, the UK and then Scandinavia, observing that the UK sits between the US free market model and the social democratic mode of Scandinavia. What does this do risk. Boards are too powerful in decision-making. Emerging Asian cultures have a different set of assumptions.

Triodos Bank offers financing for Art Productions and SPACE has invited Triodos to a workshop for artists to present information on applying for loans.

London Re-building offers micro financing for organisations that comes from the governments Innovation and Skills budget.

New Deal for the Mind is seeing a return to the days of the Enterprise Allowance of the 1980s, where the self-employed were offered a basic sum each week to support their work.

SPACE is keen on helping artists with Self-sufficiency - rooftop farming and solar energy. They are also advocating for Work Homes and would like to encourage an international Work Homes movement.

The discussion moved in to the education system that all agreed is facing huge change. There was a wish that the arts sector and Academia work more closely together.

It was recognised that artists were seeking alternative learning models to expensive educational courses. Some were looking back at models from the past - Grizedale is reworking the Workers Institutions, whilst others are looking to Terry Smith’s The Experimental Art School from the 1970s.

Why do people keep coming to RCA - because it is a privileged, small community with excellent contacts with industry?

Art Schools from Europe and America are looking to set up in the UK to offer cheaper options to our own colleges.

Artists are asking how can they teach each other rather than go to Art Schools. A BA, MA and PhD could cost an individual £100k. The arts sector needs to recognise this need to provide alternative learning provision. Models like DIY learning models and peer-to-peer learning in studios. One academic suggested the collective buying/renting of buildings and individuals paying artists and teachers directly to come and teach - this is likely to result in greater teaching hours than students currently receive in HE.

The focus switched to Craft practitioners and how they are under attack, few courses will be left soon and craft organisations were hit badly in the recent funding cuts. The Craft sector is not pro-active enough and is seen as more isolated than visual artists. There was recognition of a silo approach in the Craft sector. This observation moved the group into debate around the need for a more cross-disciplinary approach. It would be great to continue this session with another session inviting industry.

We’re in a world where we cannot have little silos. Makes no sense to separate artists from makers etc.there.should be no naming but a desire to work together. More contamination is needed to see a multi disciplinary approach. Kingston mixes up more consciously, opening up workshops to all students to create a cross fertilisation. The MA is the best manifestation of this and sees students and staff working together.

Material knowledge is valuable and generations are beginning to grasp this. We could lose value - expertise in ceramics and glass will be lost.

WHAT’S NEEDED FOR AMBITIOUS ARTISTIC PRACTICE TO FLOURISH IN THE TIMES AHEAD?

Opportunities and information/sign posting: knowing where to look for support and signposts

Brokering of connection/collaboration/partnership with industry, tourism, and heritage. AHRC are looking at this – bids in for 4 major Knowledge Hubs that can broker relationships between arts and industry.

Help understand the implications of working with organisations and galleries as well as industry and how to operate in these situations.

Enterprise and research opportunities. The Danish Art Workshops encourage ambition and Kim can make whatever he wants with Arabia’s industrial facilities at his disposal.

Contact with individuals who have experience in engineering

There’s a brain drain out of the UK of young artists and scientists

Time and Space to make mistakes - in Arabia the mistakes would end up in production.

What would be possible - manufacturing is growing and industry might be open to this - there needs to be a mapping of manufacturing opportunities and possible partnerships. Space and Money research led by Simon Zimmerman looked at Studios, Practice and Industry, where are the results of the research? ACE might support a register of companies and promote bio-synergies and include HE models in that register

There are small pockets of technical providers - London Print Studios. Scotland has a better infrastructure for this - London doesn’t have a dedicated workshop space

The New Media Industry supports artists who want to work in games - Silicon Hackney

Rolls Royce has artist placements

Artists Access to Industry

Different sites of production

That industry needs to recognise the artist’s ability to conceptualise. Artists are creative problems solvers and industry could use them. It was recgonised that there can be a clash between industry and the arts because industry sometimes doesn’t ‘get it’. However there are industries that are closer and offer opportunities like the film industry.

WHAT RECOMMENDATIONS MIGHT WE MAKE?

The commissioning of a register of potential partners in industry and HE

Brokering Agencies

4 x mega Knowledge Transfer hubs

Information

Time and Space to make Mistakes

Innovative models of financing

Advocacy of value of artists as ‘thinkers’ and problem solvers

Hope that this conversation will generate further conversation and lead to action.