Colonnade House has grown into a creative hub from the ground up. Starting from scratch in May 2016, just over two years later the ground floor exhibition spaces and the ten studio spaces upstairs are in high demand from the creative community of Worthing and beyond.
We are celebrating this with an Open Day on 26th September, and this has given me an opportunity to reflect on the nature of this success.
With initial funding from the government’s Coastal Communities Fund, Colonnade House is an exercise in economic regeneration, aiming to tempt some of the burgeoning creative industry activity away from neighbouring Brighton by offering affordable workspace. As a hub, we also aim to strengthen and grow Worthing’s creative sector with opportunities to network and learn from each other in a supportive environment.
It was clear early on that the ten studio spaces were not designed for some kinds of creative activity – there weren’t the facilities for a ceramic kiln, the stairways and floors wouldn’t take heavy machinery or materials that a sculptor or woodworker might want to use, and painters would need to be careful to cover the walls and floors before they could work. Also – regretfully – there is no lift, so access to the upper floors is by stairs only. However, what we did have was a characterful building in a town centre location on a pedestrianised street full of shops – and a view of the sea from some parts of the building. Who wouldn’t want a studio with a sea view!
The ten studios have attracted a wonderful mixture of creatives –photographers, illustrators, painters, comic book publishers, printmakers, animators, web designers and developers amongst others. The vibrancy of this community is fed by opportunities for collaboration, a willingness to support one another and healthy mix of people who stay longer term and others that come and go.
Day-to-day in the gallery spaces we are working with artists and designers who want to exhibit and sell their work. Some have plenty of experience of exhibiting, but for others it is a first step into showing their work in a public space – and it doesn’t get much more public than Colonnade House. We are right in the centre of town on a street full of cafes, shops and restaurants and have wonderful 1930’s style wrap-around windows so the whole world goes by.
Some artists are skilled in all the marketing and promotion that goes alongside selling your work and have their own mailing lists, websites, Instagram accounts and so on. Others are starting out, or taking up art careers at a later stage of life. Often we have different kinds of artists renting the large and small gallery spaces at the same time, and the conversations with staff and between hirers around making, pricing and selling work are great examples of the kinds of informal collaboration and support that a creative hub can offer.
From the outset I took the view that I wasn’t a curator and didn’t want to set about creating a space that was exclusive - the gallery spaces should be a platform for whatever was going on in Worthing. While reserving the right to refuse anything that was offensive, if people wanted to hire the space to show their work they could. Our responsibility as a team was to help each exhibition to be as professionally presented as possible – from the hang to the window vinyl to the blurb on the website.
The sheer variety of individuals, groups and organisations that have hired the gallery spaces has been amazingly effective in attracting different audiences. As exhibitions often turn around weekly, there is always something new to see.
We run professional development events that give people opportunities to learn from each other about the nitty gritty of making a living, whether it’s selling on Etsy, photographing your work, or getting to grips with social media. These are always valuable opportunities for people to network with each other and to connect with wider opportunities with talks from funders and external organisations.
The recent Kings College report Towards Cultural Democracy tackles the thorny issues of cultural participation. Despite best efforts, the current system of publicly funded arts can struggle to offer sufficient diversity for everyone and efforts to engage a wider constituency are complicated by anxieties about quality that have recently been amplified by the introduction of quality metrics that may only serve to re-inforce the preferences of existing audiences.
The report describes the value of everyday creativity and an ecology that benefits from connectivity between all levels of activity across the creative industries and within communities. People who rarely engage with the funded arts sector can be inspired by their neighbour’s paintings of their local landscape and be engaged in art in a different but no less valuable way. These are people that we see over and over again at Colonnade House - the audience for art is huge and varied when you are on a busy town centre street and we notice how much the enjoyment of art is driven by people’s sense of personal connection to artists and their work.
Colonnade House has filled a space in the creative ecology of Worthing that has resonated with individuals and organisations locally and is now attracting interest from further afield. To find out more, why not come along to our Open Day where there will be talks from some of our tenants, studio tours and news about how we are expanding in the future.
An experienced project manager working in the fields of arts and culture, Clare Halstead is currently the Creative Hub Manager at Worthing Borough Council and has worked at a senior management level leading projects and programmes as well as working independently in a freelance capacity. She enjoys both working directly with people and taking a strategic role developing projects, devising and leading creative projects that engage people and open up opportunities for learning.
Instagram andTwitter: @colonnadehse