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. http://eaststreetarts.org.uk

For further information on the Art Hostel please visit http://arthostel.org.uk

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

http://responsiblefinance.org.uk

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

https://www.cdfa.net

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