Dylan Shipton, Punishment Park on until 15 June, LIMBO, Margate
Art has always been a social activity, sucking talent from across the world into capital cities, where fame and fortune are hungrily pursued. But for those in the South East who can’t or won’t move to London, there is still opportunity reports Mark Sheerin. In the coastal towns which feature below, art is, if anything, even more social. Art ventures are collective, or networked, or membership based, and regional artists are advised on all sides to group together for support and succour. Additional research Emily Leonard.
Speaking to artists in Margate, Eastbourne and Brighton, and a graduate talent scout, the message was largely the same. Get together and stick to your principles. “Quality does win out”; that is the good news. Such are the words of Matthew de Pulford from LIMBO in Margate. This is an artist-led model, which comprises studios and an exhibition space in a former electrical substation, off the High Street, in what, for many years, had been a quiet town in terms of art. Founder Paul Hazelton was a 2003 grad, looking for somewhere to work near his home in Thanet. Nothing was on offer and so LIMBO was born.
Artistic co-director Matthew de Pulford shared some of the lessons he’s learned at their 10-year old organisation: “On a practical level, we’ve had to work quite hard to give ourselves a grounding in the area”. He tells me that LIMBO has had to get to grips with the agendas of both Arts Council and the County Council. This entailed: “Speaking to those influential bodies to find out how what we want to do fits in with that and to an extent I guess it has changed what we do”.
But one constant in the LIMBO offering is rigorous high standards. “Things have worked much better for us when we’ve had a firm attachment to what we think is good,” says de Pulford. He also points out that, as artists themselves, he and Templeton bring passion and expertise to the organisation. “The more ambitious we’ve been, the better it’s been for us,” he adds. Margate is clearly on the up.
But the same might be said of Eastbourne, right around the coast. It’s another former resort. It too has a newbuild art gallery (Towner, as opposed to Turner). And, just like Margate, there were, until recently, few opportunities for artists. Judith Alder set out to change this when together with three other artists she set up a studio group, which has evolved into artistic collective Blue Monkey Network.
Farley Farmhouse, Wycliffe Stutchbury, Blue Monkey Network and Studio
“One of our priorities was to try and build up some sort of infrastructure for ourselves as new graduates,” she tells me. “There was nothing else in Eastbourne at all, no artist studios, nothing really.” But now her organisation is supported by local gallery, Towner, from where it can offer talks, support, and networking opportunities. And so members can get advice, help with promotion and meet like-minded artists. Alder tells me that she looks for “sincere” artists rather than selling artists: “My own heart lies with artists who are struggling along trying to maintain a non-commercial practice”.
If that’s you or someone you know, Alder has some good advice: “I think one of the key things is to build your infrastructure and make sure you’re part of a group, because there’s so much more you can do as part of a group than you can do as an individual”. The artist and director includes moral support, a spread workload, and the chance to push one another on, in her list of attributes for a collective.
So those are two models: a studio with an exhibition space and a network with a nominal home in a publicly-funded gallery. In Brighton, if you know where to look, you can find a small scale basement gallery which for long periods of the year puts on one show a week, no less. This is Community Arts Centre, tucked away in a city centre location. Shows are a week in the making and last for one evening only. This hectic model is called Work Programme and there have been nearly 50 to date.
I asked artist and director Huw Bartlett about the opportunities for artists in his town and his answer demonstrates that philanthropy can also work on a grassroots level. “Whatever circumstances the artist finds themselves in should not jeopardise their ability to put on a show,” says Bartlett. “So I suppose why I set up Community Arts Centre was to generally offer a transparent – in inverted commas – way of allowing artists to show their work, on their own terms”.
“Make it your life,” he advises recent graduates, adding that artist-led spaces can be a direct way of working and offer the chance to cut out the cultural middleman or woman. “I guess team play is the best play,” he adds. “Don’t feel yourself isolated. Don’t feel frustrated. Get together, because there are so many people in the same boat, you might as well sail together than sail against each other”.
But CAC is not a selling gallery. And given the sizeable debts most art students incur nowadays, it is no surprise that many of them graduate with a commercial mindset. This was the case for Sophie Giblin, also based in Brighton. “Professional life as an artist seemed pretty unfeasible,” she comments. “As artists we weren’t being paid enough,” she says of her course mates. And her response was to take two courses in entrepreneurship in order to learn about the business side of art. This equipped her with knowledge about artist rights, intellectual property, and pricing her own work.
In her artist-led gallery Kollectiv, Giblin looks for a certain attitude to the artists she takes on. “I look for local artists who want to exhibit their art and also want to learn about entrepreneurship,” she tells me, encouraging her stable to use Kickstarter for funding, to create content for the Kollectiv website and to even dream up publicity stunts to promote the work. She is always on the lookout for empty city shops from which to run temporary galleries. After hanging the work they throw a hard-earned party.
The enterprising Brighton graduate is yet another voice urging up and coming artists to join forces. “Keep your projects social and collaborate lots,” she says. Giblin’s plentiful advice also includes being disciplined and keeping on with the work. But her venture is perhaps at odds with most artist-run spaces, when she says: “Get your business head on . . . and never, never, never work for free”.
Eva Bowan, Fuck Shit Up, Kolletiv
Given the challenges of pursuing a career in ‘difficult’ art, which might include video, performance or installation, Giblin’s maxim about doing nowt for nowt can seem like a tall order. I spoke to Justin Hammond, who curates the nationwide Catlin Guide for graduate talent, and he was more realistic. “There are so many really good artist-led spaces that literally can only function for a year or two which is just such a shame.” Cash and time are needed, just as much as opportunism, but as talent scout to the UK art world, Hammond does advise artist-led start-ups to not compromise on their vision.
By way of example, he mentions The Sunday Painter in Peckham. Some five years after graduation they have hit the relative big time with a stand this May at art fair NADA in New York. “So it can be done without relying on outsider funding and it’s just a matter of getting through those first years,” says Hammond, who champions countless emerging artists: “It’s f**king hard, you know!” He advises regionals, who might not be on the radar of collectors, to get involved with art fairs where they can be. Specifically, he mentions biannual project Sluice.
“That will give them a platform. That will give them wider coverage. There’s just that chance they’ll pick up maybe a couple of collectors who can really support them.” If collectors are your endgame then maybe you would be better off in London. But for less lucrative opportunities and potentially more interesting ones, the South East is still a good prospect. If you want to create something from nothing, you could be in the perfect place. But getting something off the ground here is an art form in itself.
LIST OF ARTIST GROUPS & RESOURCES
Below is a list of various groups in the South East with links to websites. This list is not exhaustive, so if you know of a collective, an artist-led or community organisation that you think should be included, please get in touch with the relevant information and send to:
Limbo was set-up to create a resource supporting cultural development and experimentation in Thanet and beyond; providing affordable artist studios a gallery/project space and a programme of exhibitions, artist residencies, events and off-site projects
Through its projects LIMBO aims to create new points of reference or entry, through which challenging and unfamiliar ideas and methodologies can be experienced and discussed.
Crate is an artist-led organisation based in East Kent supporting contemporary visual artists’ research and practice. Crate promotes critical debate and the exchange of ideas without prescribed outcomes.
Based in an old print works near the sea front in Margate, Crate’s building has been bought and refurbished with major support from Arts Council England South East, East Kent Partnership and Thanet District Council. The building opened in July 2006.
Formerly known as Grey Area, Community Arts Centre is an independent artist-run gallery in the centre of Brighton. Established to support innovative arts events in a non-sterile, non-profiteering space.
The gallery has an idiosyncratic character and its 400 sq feet are housed in the basement of a commercial building close to the main train station.
Blue Monkey Network (Eastbourne)
Blue Monkey Network is an artist network run by artists for artists, in partnership with Towner and supported by Arts Council England. It aims to provide opportunities for professional and creative development for East Sussex artists. We want to help make our arts community strong and vibrant, sustainable and productive.
Blue Monkey Network runs regular monthly events aimed at promoting the exchange of ideas, information, skills and knowledge between artists, curators and arts organisers.
The Kollektiv aims to subtly teach artists how to build a sustainable livelihood through their artwork, collaborating with artists to work out how to entice audiences together. Kollektiv is aimed and run by young artists, who learn by doing.
Kollektiv Gallery lets their audience decide if their projects are worth creating, giving a sense of ownership to the community by asking them to help fund the projects. Their second successful two week Kickstarter campaign proved, once again, how much Brightonians desire to see their high streets filled with the work of local, talented artists.
Salt Fox Collective (Cornwall)
Salt Fox is a collective of nine international designer-makers and sculptors. They are all practicing makers working with a broad range of materials and processes. They share the aim and passion to advocate creativity through making.
Salt Fox deliver creative art and design workshops at a variety of levels to local communities, schools and private parties. Sharing its enthusiasm for making and lust for collaboration.
Chalk Gallery (Lewes)
Chalk is an artist run gallery in Lewes, East Sussex. It is a gallery devoted to promoting artists and their work. A featured artist is showcased every three weeks with a re-hanging of approximately 80 works every six weeks. The diverse group of artists work to a consistently high standard in a variety of media, style, subject and techniques.
Marine Studios, (Margate)
Marine Studios is a community interest company. They focus on projects that benefit the community rather than make profits for shareholders.
Marine also stage events that range from First Fridays (exhibits, talks and more), to GEEK2014 (a festival of games of the past, present and future), and Adventures in Comics ( a two-page comic challenge). Marine Studios work with artists and creatives of all areas to create ideas and take them to different communities.
Art Schism (Brighton)
Gallery/shop run by a group of artists and makers from Brighton. It started out as a pop-up shop in 2012 and then the group of artists decided to run the space as a collective with Art Schism supporting the local art scene in the area. It is artist-run and in cludes photography, screen printing, spray painting, crochet, and painting. Artists who are interested in joining the group are invited to get in contact, drop-in to the gallery with a portfolio of work.
SIX Project Space (Bournemouth)
SIX project space supports emerging and established artists as well as recent graduates. It encourages artists to make new work which is yet to be critiqued and will create a forum for artists to receive feedback from peers. It aims to introduce established artists to the Bournemouth community to use tskills and knowledge to support others through talks, critiques and personal tutorials.
The Catlin Guide
The Catlin Guide is an elegant, limited edition collection of artist profiles, introducing the 40 most promising new graduate artists in the UK. Printed annually, each edition exhibits the artists’ latest work and details future exhibitions, projects and aspirations for the coming year.
The Catlin Guide 2014 launched at The London Art Fair on 15 January 2014, alongside work by many of the featured artists. The artists are selected for their work shown in the most recent series of BA, MA, MFA and PG Dip final exhibitions where they demonstrate ambition, skill and integrity. The Catlin Guide is distributed throughout the art industry. For the featured artists it proves to be a vital springboard, with many going on to exhibit at high profile shows