I’m not sure how to describe the last few days – the End of an Era, the Dawn of a new beginning or a return to normality !
Some of you may know that I am a founder member of a group of artists who came together to put in a bid for one of the newly refurbished studios in the arches at Old Portsmouth. The spectacular site is part of a former Barracks, overlooking The Solent and the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour. First known as ARTches and then HOTWALLS studios, the site has a long association with artists who have shown their wares in the arches since the 1950’s, when groups of local painters used to meet up on a Sunday afternoon and hang their work with the intention of making the odd sale ! The local Council ended up owning the former barracks after the MOD moved out and following protracted negotiations they successfully won a grant to regenerate the entire area. Planning permission was sought and granted and within 9 months the new site opened in July 2016. Fortunately, for us, our application for a studio space was accepted and we moved in on 8.7.16. I say “we” but the group became known as Fire Monkey Arts Collective. It consisted, initially, of 8 or 9 people who first met in the back room of a local pub to discus the viability of forming a group. From 8 artists we quickly grew into about 29, each of whom shared the rent and the physical space. We rostered ourselves on to do a minimum of 16 hours work in the studio per month and we formed a democratic group or collective. The concept was the brainchild of entrepreneur and local design company owner, Sue Portman, to whom we are eternally grateful.
After a while the membership dwindled – as did the pot of money that went toward the rent and it soon became apparent that something radical had to be done so at one of our bi-monthly meetings we decided to increase the monthly subscriptions from £10 a month to £20 and then £30 a month ! It also became apparent that we needed more structure and a steering group was formed, which I coordinated.
For me, I found it refreshing that we had such a wide variety of artists and initially makers, within the group. People came and people went but after realising that we needed some form of quality control we started selecting people upon the merits of their work rather than simply whether they had £30 a month of disposable income ! All groups need criteria for membership and I believe this began to drive up the quality of the work on show and turned us into a more creditable group.
Principally the aim of the group is to encourage artists and makers to develop their practise and regularly show their work to the public. We held new exhibitions every couple of months and a wide variety of work has been shown, leading to sales and commissions. The other major aim is to provide a shared space for artists to work in and experiment with new ways of working. It’s often very difficult to work on the kitchen table !
Art is about change, communication and expression. It’s extremely difficult to make a living from being an artist, irrespective of how good, fashionable or popular your work might be. A sad fact of life is that one has to consider sales and when and where you exhibit. Over the years I have realised that a background in marketing and education is useful but collectors won’t come banging on your door – no matter where your door is located ! Hard work, a loud mouth and hard skin is probably more useful in today’s uncertain climate.
That said, personally things are looking up and next year I have a number of large projects coming to fruition and need to drastically reduce my interests – so I’ve bailed out of Fire Monkeys and handed over the batten !
NB : The title of this post is borrowed from that of one of the late Douglas Adams books and sums up my feelings. The book is the fourth and final part of his “trilogy” The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and the title is a message left by the Dolphins before leaving the Planet Earth, which was to be destroyed to form an intergalactic Highway !
Oh and as it’s Xmas Eve I suppose it’s time to say Happy Xmas !