In December last year, group+work were given the Emerge Art Activists commission to set up an artist-led space in the Westminster borough. We are currently in the process of negotiating a space, so this pack is a way of documenting and reflecting on what we have learn through our collaboration and the various processes we have worked with.
This pack is for people interested in setting up similar initiatives who may not have done so before, and to share our experiences and learning so that others might benefit from it. Whilst it is far from a comprehensive guide, we have tried to included resources that we found particularly helpful during the course of the project and also some of the useful contacts we have made along the way.
Download this pack as a pdf from the resources section of www.group-work.org
group+work came together due to our frustrations of losing touch with our practices or of experiencing a huge gap, especially after graduating from university. We and many other graduates we have spoken to in London have found it extremely difficult to sustain their artistic practices after leaving university.
This is due to various factors, but the main reasons cited are the lack of a supportive network of creative individuals, financial insecurity, work choices and hectic lifestyles.
The supportive frameworks of a university course with workshops, tutorials and peer-review sessions provide a sense of stability and community. Upon leaving university, for many this gives way to an uncertainty about what to do next. We can become distanced from the people we studied with for lots of different reasons, leaving fewer opportunities for conversations about our work. If we are no longer working in a creative environment, it is easy to fall out of the habit of having an art practice, and lose connection with our interests.
We and many of our graduate peers have found it hard to find the time to continue our practices, due to either over-working to cover basic living costs, or spending all our time and energies searching for work.
Internships, freelancing and other forms of precarious employment are common for fine arts graduates. Frequently, trying to combine this with creative activity is limiting and exhausting. group+work seeks to build a community of individuals and groups who can support one another by providing help and advice, technical expertise and inspiration through the exchange of skills at critical feedback sessions and workshops, which can be proposed and led by anyone.
The commission from Emerge really gave us the motivation we needed to get an idea off the ground, an idea which had been on our minds for a long time.
Our personal experience is that we have found it increasingly important to have friends and some kind of supportive network around you in order to sustain a practice. Dissatisfied with highly competitive and restrictive arts employment opportunities, it seems to us far more positive and productive to create our own opportunities through collective self-organization.
group+work hopes to be a creative space for emerging artists, graduates and others who have had a substantial break from their practice for whatever reason.
Together, we can continue to develop as professionals but also on a personal and collective level too, where we can learn from each other, offering support and meaningful working relationships.
In addition to commissioning emerging visual artists within several London boroughs, Emerge provide support for artists through developing networks and professional practice. This is delivered through workshops, talks, events, consultations and the wealth of information on the Emerge website.
Please go to http://www.emergelondon.org.uk/ for more information, and subscribe to the mailing list to keep updated about Emerge events.
group+work is a multi-disciplinary artist-led initiative that engages with recent graduates, emerging artists and those wishing to re-connect with their practice after a significant period of time. It will provide a collaborative and supportive environment with respect for individual practice, aspirations and development.
group+work are committed to shared-learning, knowledge-exchange and alternative methods for art production. We promote the common values of self-help, shared responsibility, democracy and equality within a creative and supportive community.
In December 2010, we obtained funding from Emerge with the support of Westminster Council to research and develop setting up an artist led gallery with studios in the borough of Westminster. Provisional Produce will operate as an independent and autonomous space, but the project will also address issues around social mobility and unemployment within the arts and the community at large.
Our original concept for the art space was as a long-term project, situated in a disused shop-fronted space, within an area lacking in similar initiatives and arts facilities to be used as a site for the interface between the local community and the artists involved. This dialogue would be generated by and delivered through a rolling programme of exhibitions, talks and events.
All of this activity would be driven by the professional development of the artists involved, who would be responsible for the organisation and day-to-day running of the space and its programme. In return for time spent helping with the space, volunteers' artistic practices would be developed and sustained through adjoining studio space, a critical peer review programme, shared learning between members and access to equipment.
Importantly, our aims and visions for the space and its programme would be upheld through non-hierarchical modes of organisation, fostering a culture of mutual responsibility through shared values of self-help, skill-sharing, equality, democracy and co-operation. The activities and practices of members of group+work would be built and sustained through exploring alternative models of organisation and collective practice, and developed through peer-support, experimentation and critique.
The largest obstacle in the process of our research has been looking for a space to use. We initially thought of having a space for about 6 months which we hoped could be extended, so we can develop a coherent arts programme and engage with the community. But the reality is that in Westminster there are very few commercial premises that remain empty for long, and we are competing with many other small businesses who are happy to pay for 'pop-up' shops.
Working with the Council Arts Officer is a good way to get started with looking for a venue. The Emerge commission enabled us to work with the Arts Officer for Westminster from the outset, however others may need to contact the relevant arts officer to talk about their project, or send a proposal in order to get advice and support.
The private property market is another avenue to explore when trying to find a space. The benefits of visual arts to the property market and regeneration are well understood, but not everyone will be sympathetic to your cause.
These are just a few of hundreds; we have found the ones below to be receptive:
We have also found it important to make contact and talk to other creative and voluntary organisations in the areas; through this, we have discovered that there is a lack of provision for young and emerging artists within the borough, and also identified several potential collaborators or even sites for temporary exhibitions within existing spaces.
Kinds of organisations to contact: community groups, schools, voluntary groups, local interest groups, charities, other arts organisations, organisations for unemployment, local businesses, studios.
Also find ways of contacting other artists and creative individuals in the area and get them involved. Ways in which you can do this might be through networks, events and by establishing peer-led artist groups.
An important aspect to consider in looking for a venue is what the use class of the premises is. Use classes are categories of buildings grouped into similar types, used by councils for planning permission purposes. If the use class is not suitable, this can severely delay a project as planning permission for a change of use takes 6-8 weeks.
Exhibitions and multi-disciplinary arts spaces are confusingly a bit of a grey area in terms of legal definitions. If anything is being sold in the gallery (eg. artworks or publications), an A1-4 use class is most appropriate. However, if nothing is being sold and it is free to enter the gallery, D1 is the most suitable class. Also, if you are thinking about having any events or performances, including private views open to the public, it is important to get a Temporary Events License. Again, it helps if the owner already has one as they can be difficult to get. Further details on licensing and application can be found on your local authority website.
It is also possible to contact existing organisations or businesses in the area you wish to work in and ask if they have any available space which they may be willing to let you use for an event or limited period. A successful example of this is Fitzrovia Noir's Art Trail http://www.fitzrovianoir.com/page23.htm. You could also submit a proposal to Wasted Spaces http://www.wastedspaces.org/ who have found dozens of empty properties to host art projects in.
It is good practice when applying for funding to read all guidelines thoroughly and also call the funding organisation in advance of the deadline to chat about your project, its eligibility and the feasability of receiving funding for your project.
group+work decided it was not realistic to apply for core funding for the project at this time. As we are just starting out, we were advised that core funders may see our venture as having a 'high risk' factor, especially as we are only a small organisation, do not have charitable status and have not done anything like this before. Additionally, not having secured or being in the process of negotiation on a space makes it very difficult to apply for core funding, as budgets can vary dramatically from property to property, and also you are unable to identify how you might engage with local audiences and the immediate community. This makes it harder to 'sell' your proposal to the funder.
We researched funding available to us at this stage in the project, and applied for several smaller pots of money, for specific project proposals that relate to the main project (such as exhibitions and community projects) but do not cross over with core funding, and additionally can be conceived without a permanent space.
The prospect of a budget can be intimidating for beginners, so ask friends and colleagues for any sample budgets they might have to work from. Whatever the complexity of your project you will almost certainly need spreadsheets, so consider learning more if none of your group has Excel skills. Bear in mind you may have to make several budgets for one project. As a group, we decided which items fall into which categories and shared the work-load to research the costs.
Budgets consist of Overheads, Assets, Consumables and a Contingency. Overheads are costs the the organisation or project can't run without that are consistent. Assets are objects that are fixed that are required for the project. Consumables are similar to assets but are smaller and will need to replaced. A Contingency is an allowance that covers Overheads, Assets & Consumables (and is normally a percentage of these, around 17%).
Example budget: www.artscouncil.org.uk/information-sheet/example-budgets-grants-for-the-arts/
We also use twitter to update people about our activities, interesting events, exhibitions and articles. We have managed to get a reasonable base of followers just through our expanded network and making links with similar organisations. Despite not having a physical space for activities, having an online presence has enabled us to generate an audience and keep them informed. You can also increase your network and presence of the the project by attending events, and talking about the project to people you meet. Remember to collect emails and keep a marketing addresses list.
Google these resources for creating and managing your online activities:
Indexexhibit / Wordpress / Dropbox / Mailchimp / Twitter / Google Apps for Orgs
group+work feel that regeneration should work towards the sustainable developments of communities, and are aware of the role artists play in the development of deprived or run-down areas. Through providing a space for the local community or working with them on collaborative projects, we believe that artists can contribute in a positive way to society, and benefit those who do not have access to the arts ordinarily.
We feel that the job of the artist should not be about improving appearances, or about making an area suitable for investors. There is a concern for the sustainability of this process, as more and more people are displaced by rising rents and gentrification.
group+work believes in increasing people's capacity to be involved in society and their community and culture. How can artists work ethically within communities? We believe in having an agenda other than just being 'creative'. Through research-led practice, and integrated education and community projects, artist led spaces can have a valuable function in the community, rather than imposing our preconceptions of what we think people want or need.
There is a feeling that there is a need for an active engagement, that would counter the myth of art being edifying automatically. This work may not end with a physical product or fixed outcome and may not be recognisable as art in the traditional sense.
For these kinds of projects it becomes necessary to go outside of gallery contexts, where work isn't confined to the white cube. Satellite projects and projects that may not need a fixed space provide a great way to interact as we can go to the people we want to involve, rather than expecting them to come to us.
Mara is currently doing her PhD in Urban and Cultural Geography. She speaks to us about her research on the re-use of empty spaces in London by artists and activists and the ways in which these alternative practices and critical interventions challenge the hegemonic production and use of the city.
Listen to the podcast at www.group-work.org and go to resources
Individual and collective working has been a major part of this project. Generally, one of the group has been responsible for particular areas, and has fed this knowledge back to the group. This has enabled us to work more quickly on many processes whilst allowing all of us to benefit from each other's learning. We have also learnt from each other's particular skills and experience, and would say that it is great when you can work within a group where people have different expertise and combine knowledges!
Trust is vital when working as a group, which means that we rely on each other to be responsible and competent for our own work: this does not mean that we are not accountable for the work we do individually, but it is more an approach of collaborative revision and development rather than undermining the work others do.
We recognise that it's much harder to do something on your own and far too easy to take too much on. Through working collectively we have learnt to appreciate that sometimes we have different commitments. To cope with this, some have stepped up to take on more of the workload when others are busy and we have learnt to recognise the limits of what we can do, not over-work, ask for help and plan to overcome this.
Throughout the project we have contacted others who have set up similar initiatives, and have been really generous in sharing experiences and pitfalls of this type of work. We'd recommend having as many conversations as you can with others; not only will you learn from their experiences, you may find people with similar interests and potential collaborators.
The most positive aspect to learning together through collaborative practice is perhaps the feeling that you are allowed to learn through doing, and it becomes much easier to acquire a certain skill with a group effort. In the current climate of unemployment, it is very easy to leave university feeling you have no substantial skills and need to do further formal training. group+work feels that it is not necessary for learning to always be validated in this way, and that personal development can be achieved through self-organisation and supportive working relationships with others.
We decided to adopt a legal form with limited liability in order to protect ourselves and formalise our activities, as this makes it easier to apply to some types of grants and funding and also provides more financial transparency. We registered as a Company Limited by Guarantee: of all the models we looked at, this seemed to offer the most flexibility and protection for the kind of organisational structure we wanted and the activities we would be doing. To become a company, you need to register at Companies House (for £20) which requires a memorandum, detailing the founding members of the organisation and the constitution, formalised as a set of 'articles of association'. Once registered, you must submit accounts to Companies House each year.
There are many example models for a company Limited by Guarantee to be found online, a good place to start is
Written into our constitution are our aims and objectives as an organisation, our not-for-profit status plus the way we will work and organise our activities. A lot of this draws from co-operative principles and ethics, particularly in terms of governance, as this most accurately reflects our working ethos and approach to organisation.
It is also possible to pay a formation agent (costing around £120) to help you complete the documents and register for you. Approved formation agents can be found on the Companies House website.
The articles are quite overwhelming at first, especially if you are working with the charity model, however support and advice from friends who themselves run organisations and co-operatives has suggested that the most important things to include are:
Further information on charities can be found at:
For more information on setting up as an organisation and different structures, look at
Sion, member of London-based print and design co-operative Calverts, speaks to us about his personal experiences of being involved in a worker co-op, the basic principles and elements of a co-op, and the historical and political contexts that inform the co-op movement, as well as the various alternatives the co-op model and methods can offer to those wishing to self-organise or set up a space.
Listen to the podcast at www.group-work.org and go to resources
We are very enthusiastic about the cooperative model as an alternative way of working together, but for us at the moment it is not possible to become a co-op as we will not be a revenue-generating business. However, there is lots of advice and support available for groups wanting to set up a co-op.
The co-operative values of mutual responsibility, self-help, trust and democracy are driving forces of group+work. These values work against hierarchies, making working and learning together more enjoyable and foster a sense of community, in which individuals are respected and supported in whatever they do.
Co-operation also develops confidence, agency and autonomy, which we feel is extremely urgent at the moment, during a time when government cuts are hitting hard and fast and public funding is being withdrawn; it is becoming more and more important to look for alternatives together that help us to live and work in ways that are dynamic and fulfilling.
group+work will be member controlled, and anyone who uses the services we provide or participates in our activities can become a member. We are also committed to the regular circulation of all roles, to prevent hierarchies from forming and so that everyone involved can benefit from a wide range of experiences.
We are in favour of the practice of consensus decision making - this involves making sure everyone's voice is heard and accounted for in decision making processes, and working through disagreements to reach a solution where everyone feels satisfied. This approach also works against hierarchical organisation and cultivates a culture of equal responsibility whilst preventing exclusion.
The Co-operative Principles
Further information can be found at
The Co-operative Enterprise Hub
Collaboration is at the core of what we do and is a really big part of what we are about. This not only runs through the kinds of practices we are interested in and want to encourage, but we are also interested in professional and organisational collaborative practice.
We view collaboration as a way to increase our abilities to get things done and push forward projects. This does not involve finding a 'third way' or compromising to come to something everyone agrees on; through collaborative discussion ideas are developed, tested and improved, whilst retaining the strength of individual voices and practices.
Collaboration has been key to the way we work together as a group and keep up our momentum, even though we are yet to secure a space. We still find our activities and work together valuable although we haven't reached our original aims yet.
We are also open to the possibility of collaborating with others, which is why we are currently setting up a Professional Practice Development network. This will develop as a series of meetings where all participants can make suggestions for activities, exchange skills and experience through peer-led workshops, develop professionally and personally through dedicated feedback sessions, and focus on current and future ideas and projects in order to support each other in our individual and group practices. The continued process of contact and collaboration as a group will generate material for temporary exhibitions, satellite projects and other events.
We feel that throughout our activities, visitors and others involved should be able to have as much investment as they wish, and have the freedom to test things out and develop meaningful working relationships.
We have found that there is a really good community of self-organised activity and initiatives in London, and sharing and support between groups is strong. Others have been generous and happy to share experiences, showing a great deal of enthusiasm about our project. We have found that within the culture of self-initiated organisations those with more experience don't act like they hold a position of authority, but consider you as peers within the same movement.
We believe in the sense of empowerment and belief in your own power and abilities as a group that comes through self-organisation. It's all about giving ourselves the opportunity to do what we would be unable to do through usual prescribed routes and career paths, working in a way you want to, and creating a sense of autonomy in our lives.
Other kinds of economies can be a testing ground for these activities, which are not always possible in other sectors. Alternative economies can offer some other kind of renumeration other than monetary, and we see this preferable to the pandemic of free-labour within the arts.
Something that we are acutely aware of is the issue of creative free labour, which we feel contributes to the situation of joblessness and precarity we find ourselves in after graduating. We want to avoid exploitation at all costs, and while we are currently unable to create jobs at this moment in the project's development, we will be exploring alternative working methods and economies that may be able to sustain practice without putting anyone involved at a disadvantage. The alternative economy that we are proposing is remuneration through studio space along with access to equipment and skill-sharing in exchange for time and energies put into the organisation side of the project.
Through this alternative economy, there is an opportunity to have direct input into a project, gain experience at all levels of organisation, remuneration through space and support for artistic practice. There is also the room to take risks and make mistakes, and develop skills and attributes other than those deemed professional or those which may increase your employability.
We feel that this is very different to the return from an internship and in many ways more worthwhile, as this approach values creative skills and ambitions, something which is forgotten about by many employers of recent arts graduates.
Thanks for reading the group+work guide. We hope we inspired you to self-organise and work collectively to realise your creative ambitions.