Archive for the ‘Society & Politics’ Category

East Street Arts- A Social Enterprise Success Story

East Street Arts

East Street Arts

In recent months I’ve been working in the finance and lending sector. In the present financial climate, many small businesses and social enterprises are struggling to get off the ground due to a lack of support from high street banks. This is a particular concern for the arts sector, arguably made worse by the UK’s imminent departure from the EU. Fortunately there are alternative lending channels in the form of responsible finance providers (community development finance associations) that service and support the needs of such initiatives. The Key Fund in Sheffield UK is one of these providers. On a visit to one of its events, I was fortunate to meet Nicola Greenan, External Relations Director of East Street Arts. East Street Arts is one of a growing number of beneficiaries of Key Fund financing. Nicola and her colleagues kindly agreed to answer a few questions regarding East Street Arts and its objectives.

How did East Street Arts start?

In 1993, East Street Arts emerged in Leeds with the aim to take reference and inspiration from the rich history of, and current developments within, the artist-led movement. Karen Watson and Jon Wakeman founded the organization on the ideology of the alternative, contesting the place for art and the role of the artist resulted in the initiation of studios, facilities, professional support and public activities.

The first public exhibition took place in 1994 in two temporary empty shop units underneath the railway arches in Leeds city centre.

In 2000 East Street Arts moved to Patrick Studios, the site of St.Patrick’s Social Club – a former boxing club on St.Mary’s Lane in Mabgate. With a capital grant it renovated the building with Leeds architects Baumann Lyons to create 34 custom designed artists studios and facilities.

The business has grown over the last 23 years; working across four permanent venues, eighty temporary and partner spaces across the UK, making use of civic spaces and the public realm, East Street Arts develops new work and positions art within our everyday lives and contexts.

What are the aims and objectives of East Street Arts and how do you aim to achieve them?

Our mission is to focus on the development of artists through our events programme, membership activities, professional development and studio/facility provision.

We aim to support artists to create work and experiences that bring lasting change to our everyday lives; we do this by supporting artists’ creative needs, wellbeing and prosperity and by providing an environment that nurtures creative exploration and collaboration for audiences.

How and who can be a member of this collective?

Anyone can become a member of East Street Arts. The ethos of our membership is about support and exchange. We need member involvement to help us ensure we are meeting member’s needs. We currently have over 300 members, many of which are also studio holders.

Our membership is national and subscription based, the fees represent 1% of our overall income and they and other raised funds directly support:

  • UK and Europe based residency opportunities
  •  Access to facilities, equipment and space
  • One to one tailored professional development sessions
  • Promotional and profile platforms
  • A range of professional development sessions
  • An annual research trip to meet peers in key European city
  • A dedicated members monthly newsletter

How important are your studios in supporting artists and communities?

Studios expose the rich diversity of artists practice, broker new relationships, collaborations and events and play a pivotal role in a city’s cultural and creative identity.

We offer artists affordable, diverse and managed studios based within active and inspiring environments. Over the last twenty years studios have remained a constant and essential part in the work we do in support of artists.

Studio holders are an important part of our community and we work hard to ensure we have the right kind of space. We welcome artists working across art forms and at different stages of their careers.

We currently have over 200 artists and groups working across our range of venues in the UK. In Leeds we host studios at Patrick Studios, Barkston Studios and Union 105, and in Gateshead Old Town Hall. In addition we have a variety of studios within our Temporary Space scheme.

Can you explain the Art Hostel Leeds initiative and how it works?

Art Hostel- Leeds

Art Hostel- Leeds

Art Hostel is the first social enterprise Art Hostel in the UK, leading the way with a brand new concept: a social mission focused on strengthening the local economy by creating new jobs and encouraging income into the area via ethical tourism. Also supporting neighbourhood regeneration on the oldest street in Leeds, Kirkgate, an area earmarked by the city council for repair and reinstatement.

Art Hostel will pioneer a new model for artists to interact with their wider community – aiming to change the way people stay, encouraging visitors to contribute to the city of Leeds while they are here, providing a physical infrastructure to make, create, debate, sleep and explore. The basement project space will host a dynamic, rolling programme of artists events, installations, performances and creative happenings; also, this space can be hired, linking back out into the cultural underbelly of the city.

In terms of differentiating the offer, Art Hostel fulfills local demand – it is currently Leeds’ only year-round, budget-style-stay, offering bespoke accommodation from as little as £22.50 per person, per night in a shared dorm room, or in a choice of private bedroom’s, costing £55 per night, sleeping two.

Also Art Hostel is accessible to anyone – you don’t have to be involved in the creative sector to stay there, making art accessible to those who wish to be involved, but also to those who may not have otherwise chosen to participate, de-mystifying visual arts and discovering new audiences.

You received support from Key Fund, a community development financial lender. There is a lot of debate about the importance of funding for social enterprises at present. How important a part did they play in the success your initiative?

As this was a new business model for us as a charity and we needed to move swiftly to ensure we were ahead of the game, regular funding avenues would have been to lengthy a process. The timing of the project was so vital that gaining finance as quick as we could with a social investor that understood how the organisation operated was key to making the project happen. Without Key Funds support the project would not have happened.

For further information on East Street Arts please visit.

For further information on the Art Hostel please visit

For further information on The Key Fund and community development finance in the UK

If you’re in the US please visit the following links

Reflecting Nature with Mark Ware

Reflecting Nature

By Artist Mark Ware

You may recall me writing about Mark Ware and the Cathedra 900 project. The private viewing of the national touring art science exhibition entitled, ‘Reflecting Nature’ is on Thursday 8th September at Exeter Cathedral, England.

Reflecting Nature is an art science collaboration between multimedia artist Mark Ware MFA and psychologist Dr Nichola Street of Staffordshire University and comprises of an exhibition of digital art prints in the Chapter House that will be on display from 1st September until 30th September 2016 with a series of public engagement activities during that time designed to investigate audience responses to the art.

If you would like to read more about Mark Ware’s art science projects including Reflecting Nature, here is a link to a New Scientist article published in July 2016: Reflecting Nature is part of Mark’s Arts Council England supported broader activity entitled, The Wavelength Project. For further information email

Unequal Scenes- Exposing Inequalities in a Post Apartheid World

Whilst flicking TV channels, looking for updates of Olympic events I missed overnight, I was fortunate to come across news of a very interesting exhibition in South Africa. The first ever photography exhibition of Unequal Scenes was held on August 10th, at the Gordon Institute of Business Science in Johannesburg. This is the first time these images were displayed in a large-scale format. The aim of the selection of photographs is to promote conversation around the work and the issues they portray.

Artist John Miller’s desire is to portray the most unequal scenes in South Africa as objectively as possible, providing a new perspective on an old problem. He hopes to provoke a dialogue which can begin to address the issues of inequality and disenfranchisement in a constructive and peaceful way.

I’m also encouraged to hear this show may tour internationally. Hopefully I will get to see it. It would be very interesting to see how this project could be applied to other cities around the world to expose the contrast between rich and poor. It would be very interesting to see how Rio measures after its hosting of the Olympics.

For further info please visit

Seriously, What Is This World Coming To?

US CrucifixionThe world is reminding us of how fragile modern society is. I’m becoming frightened to switch on the TV, read the paper or catch up on tweets in case I hear of another modern day lynching of innocent African Americans, terrorist atrocities or corrupt and untrustworthy politicians fighting off party political and military coups. In previous blogs I’ve paid reference to forthcoming projects I wish to share. I’m not quite there yet but it’s timely to address some of the above issues as they feature strongly in the material I’m working on. Please watch this space and more importantly, look after yourself and each other.

“We cannot change the past, but we can change our attitude toward it. Uproot guilt and plant forgiveness. Tear out arrogance and seed humility. Exchange love for hate.”

Maya Angelou

EU, Brexit and the Arts Industry: What will happen to the UK Arts Sector?

Is the UK better off in the EU?

Is the UK better off in the EU?

I’m undecided which way to vote and need to consider to what extent the EU provides opportunities I can personally take advantage of. In theory, access to Europe and the freedom of movement is great but a rise in far right politics, nationalism, Islamophobia and continued discrimination, particularly against ethnic groups, doesn’t encourage me to think we are closer to practicing the harmonious union of nation states our leaders advocate. Many groups consider it difficult enough in the UK so will Europe, with all its challenges, be any easier for citizens with non-European origins to move freely? It’s all about perspective.

For most people, the Brexit issue didn’t appear life threatening but with the vote less than a month away, Brits are now considering the benefits of staying in. Despite the scaremongering and poor performance of leading politicians explaining the issues, we do need to consider if benefits of lower prices, more jobs and increased trade will be at stake.

The Economy

The UK economy is undoubtedly strong and has benefited from being in Europe. Whilst the ‘Out Campaigners’ argue Britain is the fifth largest economy and can survive on its own, we should consider whether its economic ranking is a direct consequence of having preferential access and influence on the EU trading block comprising of half a billion people. We also need to consider the view of the Bank of England and IMF who provide an overview of the UK’s likely performance as a consequence of exiting. There remains a belief by many that Britain is in a position to command the same political and economic clout as it did at the peak of is colonial empire but this simply isn’t true, particularly with the rise of new global economic blocks and their growing influence on the political sphere. There are so many things to consider such as what is right for businesses, particularly small enterprises and how will they compete on a world market?

So what does this mean for the UK Arts sector?

In theory, being in the European market opens up opportunities for its creative industries. European Union funding nourishes and protects innovation in the UK and it is hoped such benefits will continue. Arts funding has historically been one of the first areas to be cut by UK Governments in periods of austerity so would a UK Government exiting the EU act differently during what may be a financially turbulent time?

The vibrancy of our arts sector is one of Britain’s great qualities. It is an arts superpower and home to recognised artists, musicians, filmmakers and theatrical impresarios. The UK is apparently the second-largest exporter of television in the world, worth £1.2bn in 2012 and home to the second-largest design sector on the planet, worth £131m in exports in 2011. The EU is Britain’s second-largest export market for music. Approximately 1.6 million people in the UK are employed in the creative sector, pumping out £71.4bn in gross value added. Of course, this is the result of the talent and drive of individuals in the British arts sector but there is no doubt that EU membership and funding from the EU’s Creative Europe initiative has and will continue to be been a contributing factor.

So Yes or No?

I’ll be the first to say the EU is not at all perfect and I do have my concerns about how the UK handles immigration and its economy. Is it right for Britain to throw away 40 years membership of one of the most lucrative markets on its doorstep, not to mention once again jeopardize the continuation of the union of the UK with a possible second Scottish referendum?  What will all this mean for the creative industries? I’d love to hear your views. It’s time for UK arts professionals to speak up and vote!

TED Talks: An Artist’s Unflinching Look at Racial Violence

A fellow artist and friend kindly forwarded this TED video featuring conceptual artist Sanford Biggers.  I thought to share it. The artist uses painting, sculpture, video and performance to spark challenging conversations about the history and trauma of black America. He details two compelling works and shares the motivation behind his art. “Only through more thoughtful dialogue about history and race can we evolve as individuals and society,” Biggers says.


The Pendleton Trade Blanket: Celebrating Culture and Art

March 19, 2016 1 comment

Occasionally I have guest bloggers writing on subjects related to art or architecture. I was approached by Jessica Kane of Indian Traders to talk about the increasing popularity of Indian Trade blankets which I find very interesting. Jessica Kane is a native Californian who has always had an interest in arts & crafts, DIY projects, and other handmade products. Her favorite stores are Joann and Michael’s. When she’s not creating items, she writes professionally. She currently writes for Indian Traders, a leading vendor of Pendleton blankets and jewelry located in Glibert, Arizona. Their Pendleton blankets are wool blankets that are a combination of beauty, quality, and durability. The jewellery is designed by Native American artists from the Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, and other pueblos of the Rio Grande.

The Pendleton Trade Blanket as Cultural Art

pendleton blankets

pendleton blankets

Trade blankets have been a part of the culture of Native Americans since the first European traders brought brightly colored wool blankets over on ships. Those blankets were made specially for the trade with the natives. The ‘trade blanket’, as they were often called, would feature bright and interesting color combinations not possible with traditional robes made of animal hide or local materials. The blankets woven by hand were not as intricately woven as those made by a machine. Soon the European machine-made blanket would replace the traditional robes.

Long History

Traditional hide or plant fiber robes were not just worn for warmth. Robes were decorated with symbols signifying many things of importance. So-called wearing blankets of the western Native Americans were often made of highly prized buffalo hide. Some groups such as the Navajo used hand-woven textile made of local plant fibers or even wool. They were dyed with natural pigments. The end results were beautiful. But the muted natural shades and coarser hand woven fabric did not have the same visual impact as the new trade blankets. Over a period of time, even the stately buffalo hide robes were replaced with vibrant and highly detailed Pendleton trade blankets.

Eventually the trade blanket would become known as a robe. Historically, the term robe had only been used to describe a buffalo hide garment. While the trade blanket was sometimes used as bedding, it was most often worn as an outer garment. While it was first called a robe while being sold to European-American buyers, the label is more accurate.

Pendleton’s Approach

The earliest Indian trade blankets made by Pendleton were very different from other trade blankets. A talented weaver by the name of Joe Rawnsley went to the tribes in northwest Oregon. He asked them what they would like to see in a blanket. Using their suggestions for colors and design, he helped to create a uniquely native blanket. These newly designed blankets sold extremely well. Joe Rawnsley went next to the tribes of the Southwest to create new designs for them. The hundreds of ideas that he returned with formed the basis of the new trade blanket design.

The trade in Pendleton blankets started with the Nez Perce nation. It soon spread to all the southwest tribes such as the Navajo, the Zuni and the Hopi nations. The people wore them with pride. Soon the blankets were valuable as both everyday and ceremonial garb. The Pendleton blankets were just sold to the natives by the company, at first. Some patterns and color combinations were more valued than others by those using them. The American Indian tribes traded and gifted their favorites among themselves.

Advanced Loom Technology

Pendleton Blanket

Pendleton Blanket

The Pendleton trade blankets were woven on Jacquard looms. These extremely advanced looms used a series of punched cards to control the thousands of strands that would make up a single blanket. The Jacquard loom was key in creating the many complex designs that were otherwise impossible to weave. The woven designs are reversible, with either felt bound or fringed ends. They often feature a light side and a darker side with bright highlights.

Cultural Pride

American Indian cultures of the west have long used the gifting of ornately woven colorful wool blankets as a way to mark the passage of important events and life celebrations. Many are worn at powwow gatherings to mark belonging to a tribe. Women wear smaller shawls while the men don a blanket while dancing and celebrating.

A Prized Gift

An important cultural item, a gift of a blanket holds high meaning. During powwows the important members at the gathering will often give gifts of Pendleton blankets. These gifts are given in thanks to those who selected such people as the powwow chairmen, the directors or the head singers and dancers. While there are many types of gifts given, the Pendleton trade blanket is the most highly prized.

While the heavy wool or cotton blankets are quite warm, they have much more meaning than just utilitarian use. When given as a gift the Pendleton blanket symbolizes respect, friendship and gratitude. It is a symbol of belonging to a people with a long and proud tradition outside mainstream American life. The emotions felt by those wearing them and symbolism shown to others are part of the “language of the blanket”. It’s what makes the Pendleton trade blanket such a part of American Indian cultural past and present.

The trade blankets have always been woven on machine looms, often by non-Indian people. But these blankets are a part of American Indian culture as the powwow itself. Because of the care taken to work with the tribes from the beginning, these blankets are unique in the cultural consciousness. They serve as a visual statement of belonging to a native people. This is true both within the native cultures and in the greater American cultural consciousness. While the old trade blankets started out in traditional European plaids and block-woven colors, the increasing use of native designs made the blanket uniquely American Indian.

Modern Art

Today finds the Pendleton trade blanket as prized as ever. As the last remaining Indian blanket maker, Pendleton is proud to work with native groups to create new designs. Such traditional designs as the Chief Joseph line feature colors and patterns from the very earliest Pendleton blankets. These are the designs most often given as gifts.

Pendleton Woolen Mills continues to create new Native American designs. Some newer patterns are based on natural phenomena such as early morning in the mountains or the swirl of colors in the arctic sky. The newer Indian designs celebrate the wheel of life and many other traditional motifs. Just as the older patterns were designed for various tribes to enjoy, the newer ones are also made to celebrate different traditions and peoples. Today the motifs are often created by the very people who they celebrate.

There is no parallel in any culture to the uniquely American art that is the Pendleton trade blanket. The designs and colors have been on the radar of the high fashion industry off and on over the decades. Most recently, the Pendleton fabrics were featured in everything from coats to work boots. Today the blankets themselves are valued by many outside of the Native American community for their design, durability and high quality.


I thank Jessica for her educational and thought provoking blog entry. For further information please contact indiantraders com