We were fortunate earlier this year to receive some funding from Creative Scotland’s Go See Share fund, which is set up to support creative organisations in Scotland explore other organisations and learn from them.

In mid March 2019 four members of the committee (Jen, Jay, Jill and Jo) set out on a road trip around the UK to visit a range of ceramics workshops, artist run spaces and community resources. Originally we set out to visit Clay Studio Manchester, Cup Ceramics Community Hereford, Spit n Sawdust Cardiff and Turning Earth London, but on the way we were also lucky enough to squeeze in a visit to G39 in Cardiff, Maze Studios in Bristol and Bath Pottery Supplies in Radstock.

Our aims were to look into key areas of Dundee Ceramics Workshop we felt needed attention, including creating stable and sustainable finance structures, connecting meaningfully and ethically with our local community, improving our workshop facilities and having a serious rethink of our membership model. We identified a few organisations around the UK which felt like they shared certain core values with ourselves and set out to see what we could learn from them.

Clay Studio Manchester

Situated within a creative co-operative, we were interested in visiting Clay Studio to find out more about the way co-operatives function within the community based setting. We have been operating a ceramics studio for the same amount of time as Clay Studio and we wanted to compare ways of operating and how this affects financial stability.

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Clay studio is a shared workshop facility for ceramics practice, and offers space for individual members to work and have access to some storage. There is also a regular programme of classes that are open to the public, that provides a valuable income stream to the organisation. Clay Studio is run by a team of three directors, who do the majority of the day to day running of the studios, admin and class teaching. 

Some core learning we took away from Clay Studio includes:

  • Looking at online management systems for booking resources and managing class bookings – this takes a lot of time away from our admin team right now and we feel we need to look into a better system which saves time and is easier for class participants and members to use.
  • Having an expectation of our members to have some previous ceramics experience so that they can use the workshop with confidence. This could result in having different ‘levels’ of membership which give access to different resources.
  • Regular opening hours are super helpful and support the members immensely
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  • They pay their admin hours the same as their teaching hours and the time required is included in how they cost the workshops and classes – this seems out of reach for us right now but is a really good thing to be aiming towards.
  • Classes are planned three month blocks in advance and then released on an announced day – this helps to direct the public to the classes and saves a lot of admin time. 
  • Weekend workshops good! They help to generate interest in the workshop and membership and are financially really good value for participants and for the workshop space. 
  • Not for profit does not mean not paying your staff!!!!! We really need to take this into account and be more proactive about finding ways to better support our team.

Clay Studio has sparked lots more Ceramics activity in Manchester, including studios!! Members have set up their own workshops as a result of being part of Clay Studios and feeling like their practice has progressed to a highly professional level. It was really good to recognise that workshops like this might act as an incubation space for people at a beginner and intermediate level of ceramic making who are not ready to invest in their own facilities and resources – we serve a really important level which increases access to the arts for people who might otherwise struggle to be able to do it. 

They are in the process of starting up a committee of the directors, head technician and members rep. It’s a great idea to have a management committee that represents the different people who use the workshop to ensure that different needs are being met at a governance and strategy level. 

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Cup Ceramics Community Hereford 

A newly formed organisation sharing many core values with Dundee Ceramics Workshop, including a the blend of supporting local communities as well as groups of artists. Having only recently started, we wanted to find out more about their funding models, structures of management and strategies for the future. They ran a highly successful crowdfunding campaign ahead of launching in January this year! 

Cup Ceramics is the passion project of Col Hamilton, who has a vision and ambition that were truly inspiring to see. He welcomed us into their beautiful space and shared some incredible insights into both the practical set up and the set of values they have committed to.

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“At the heart of CUP Ceramics Community is social, economic and environmental sustainability. To achieve this it will provide space and facilities for Herefordshire communities to develop practical skills and gain therapeutic benefits of creating ceramics.”

We spoke about their membership structure which is well thought through. Members get a shelf and storage spaces as well as access to the facilities in the workshop and there are 3 different tiers of membership for different costs depending on what level people require. Members are required to demonstrate that they have had some ceramics training and show some images of their work, and they have a members handbook which is given to all members containing clear rules, limitations and guidelines for using the space. 

Cup ceramics also run a popular series of classes for the public, which often sell out. This is a good form of income for the space and also reaches out to a broad audience within the local community and beyond. 

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It was clear that ownership and trust were core values in the group, and that Col was very keen that users, members, volunteers, technicians and mentors all had a say in how things worked, and that it was very much their space. For example the workshop is kept open by a team of volunteers, technicians and mentors, who for the most part operate on an economy of mutual exchange. The volunteers we spoke to were very happy with this model as it allowed them to have a lot of time to work on their own and also meet the other members and people using the space. Many of the volunteers are from the local College of Art, who are an official project partner of the organisation. The students benefit as there is not currently ceramics facilities within the college. 

Cup Ceramics also have an outreach programme with children and adults including partnerships with schools and charities.  They have an excellent idea of holding all their community workshops on a Monday, which helps with communication and also limits the impact that these projects have on studio use for members. 

Cup Ceramics led a very successful Crowdfunding campaign prior to opening. When we asked Col for his advice around this, he shared that crowdfunding is also a really useful tool for market research and building up a sense of what your community needs and wants. He also shared that the crowdfunder was an excellent way to demonstrate the demand for their project to other funders and lenders, and it really helped as an example of match funding when he approached other possible resources. They were able to secure a start up loan as a result of this.

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Col emphasised that they had to be relevant and responsive to the specific context of Hereford, and that meant spending a lot of time connecting with the communities in the area and tailoring the project to fit well within this context. For them this includes working with local festivals, businesses and markets as well as having good connections with local authority, studios and education. 

Finally we were really inspired by the way Cup Ceramics had thoughtfully laid out their space in a way that really suits the various users of the workshop. 

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G39 Cardiff

Following up on some advice, we decided to add another organisation to our trip, while we were already in Cardiff to visit Spit n’ Sawdust. G39 is an artist led, independent gallery space in Cardiff, supporting emerging artistic practices. We had an excellent chat with founding member Chris Brown who shared a huge wealth of insights into artist led organisational practice and how they have adapted over the years to support artistic excellence in Wales.

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G39 was the first artist led space in Cardiff, proactively responding to local artists needs and having a huge impact on local audience and artists. Their emphasis on supporting early career artists through mentorship, exhibition opportunities and their WARP programme was fantastic to hear about, and really helped us affirm our value of supporting this demographic ourselves. 

Having started in the 90s, G39 is still run by the founders and their team with a winning combination of energy, enthusiasm and demand. They talked a lot about about valuing the arts and how to build relationships with councils,  particularly around graduate retention and the cultural identity of the city, recommending that we find our own advocates and supporters within the city and local authority. 

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Spit n Sawdust Cardiff

Spit n Sawdust are are a skatepark, cafe and arts venue in an industrial area of Cardiff. We were desperate to visit them after meeting two of the directors at a-n assembly in Dundee. We were inspired by their model of providing a blend of activities within their space, creating a financially sustainable structure and interacting on a meaningful level with the local community. This organisation presented a space for art making that we found particularly refreshing and wanted to take time to find out more and spend more time learning from the directors.

The conversation we had with Nia and Christian, the two founding directors of Spit n Sawdust, was so useful and inspiring. It was truly incredible to meet two people with such a strong sense of values and dedication to their project. This conversation brought up several valuable ideas and points to take away and think about.

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Their residencies and art opportunities are all paid through funding, fundraising and capital generated from the social enterprise, and they run studio spaces for artists as well as a billboard commissioning programme, residencies, exhibitions and events.

There were two residency programmes in particular that stood out. Their ‘quiet residency’ are specifically for people who need a bit of time out and is deliberately against the current social media culture of having to share everything all the time. It is useful for artists to get some quiet, private development time when ideas are still tentative and personal. There is also a 24 hour residency which offers artists space, materials, a hotel room if they need it, resources and food for 24 hours. Each artist was also given a fee to participate and access to people and resources within the organisation. The directors do a check-in three months later for feedback and factor in the option of some follow up work for projects to develop, helping further support the artists and also contribute to the organisation’s legacy and impact. 

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There are now three directors of the organisation and they are managing to make a small income from this, which has taken a lot of time and effort. They all recognised that they’ve personally given and sacrificed a lot to make this happen, testament to their belief in the values of the organisation and dedication. There were two years of planning and fundraising, including small loans through social enterprise funding which they’ve paid back after 5 years. They also received a loan through Prince’s Trust and contributed personal funds into the project to help start it up. 

Finally, it was fantastic to talk to Nia and Christian about the core values of the project – providing a space which served a thoroughly unique audience and asked really important questions about arts audiences, who art is for, language, food, class and access. It’s easy for these things to be buzz words in the art world, and for them to become tokenistic and unhelpful, but Spit n Sawdust showed real integrity and passion, which was both refreshing and inspiring. 

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Maze Studios Bristol 

An unexpected addition to our trip, Maze Studios was recommended by artists we met in Hereford after we mentioned that we were travelling from Cardiff to London over one leg of our trip. Maze studios was set up by a mother and son team following the closure of the art college locally, in an attempt to provide learning opportunities, facilities and space for people to work and develop their ceramics practice. Maze studios consists of a shared work and teaching space, kiln facilities and a large number of individual artist studios situated across three adjacent warehouse buildings in Bristol. Chatting to co-founder Jeremiah, we were amazed how much we shared in terms of our values and desire to see ceramic arts thrive. It was also particularly useful to see the way they supported artists to have a studio practice, which is something we have recently started ourselves.

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Some core learning  we took away from visiting Maze is:

  • Providing 3 stages of engagement which eventually leads participants into professional practice
  • Studios have a requirement – they can’t be already established production scale ceramicists, but instead development and experimentation is encouraged
  • Studio spaces are restricted to one year
  • Studio swaps! We chatted about chances to travel and work in different spaces and would love to organise a swap between one of our artists and one of theirs
  • They have a monthly studio lunch to encourage a sense of community and for artists to meet each other
  • A group of former studio holders have moved on and set up their own studios called the clay shed, they’ve developed to be full time professionals – great to see another example of people moving on to positive destinations within their field. 
  • Recognition that this is a full time and full energy job!
  • Once a year a studio exhibition is organised through having a monthly meeting with the studio holders where they all take on different jobs such as finance and marketing the exhibition.

Finally it was great for our technicians to have an insight into the studio layout and techniques employed by the technical team at Maze, overall it’s been extremely useful to get an overview of how other organisations layout their space, manage kilns and group firings and organise materials and facilities.

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Bath Pottery Supplies

After visiting Maze, we popped down south for a quick visit to Bath Pottery Supplies in the hopes of purchasing a new wheel for our workshop, needless to say it was ceramics heaven for our team and we were so grateful to their team for letting us try out a whole lot of fancy wheels before selecting our brand new Bailey wheel.

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Turning Earth London

The final stop on our Go See Share trip was to the two Turning Earth venues in London. First of all we visited Turning Earth E1 in Walthamstow, east London. A new, state of the art ceramics facility, Turning Earth E1 has built itself up from a model more commonly found in the US, with membership and open access studios being the core component of what they offer. They are a well established, large scale studio with excellent equipment and evidently serve a huge community of artists across London. 

Run as a family business, Turning Earth’s other venue, E10 is the original site of the workshop situated under railway arches in Hackney. A truly unique and beautiful space, we were able to view the workshop in full swing as members created work and a wheel throwing class took place.

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As with the other venues, there were several key learning points for us, including:

  • Attention to cleaning and safety when it comes to working in clay – for example they have a cleaner comes in once a week to de-clay everything and threcycling and cleaning systems are super strict to ensure safety and waste management.
  • Membership contracts consist of one month, three month, six month and yearly membership and each member is assigned a shelf for storage of work and materials
  • Turning earth have 7 technicians and lots of freelance staff
  • There was lots of good advice about online booking systems, accounting software and approaches to payment and class management which again was really useful to discuss in terms of improving our infrastructure and administration time

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What happens next?

We had several key learning points and observations which we have summarised below:

Values and purpose:

  • It was very valuable to take time out as a team to really focus, communicate and reassess what we are doing and why, and to have time and room to talk through these ideas in depth.
  • Manifesto – having clear aims and objectives – recognising and valuing how each organisation serves its community

Observing good models of practice:

  • Observing how other orgs run their admin and booking systems – online booking systems; regular and fixed opening hours, paying admin, streamlining communication systems and marketing
  • Residencies – looking at spit n sawdust’s 24 hour residency model – amazing way of serving the creative output and artistic integrity of the community
  • Studio partners – cup ceramics had an established relationship with educational institutions which supported their memberships, facilities and volunteer cohort, recognising that networking and communication is super vital
  • Seeing the value of a coherent and supportive board and governance structure – Cup ceramics have a really supportive and proactive board
  • Pay people for admin time –  observing different ways this was made possible – loans, volunteer management for other roles, funding, reviewing class fees and how this is spent/allocated
  • Cup Ceramics – have one day per week dedicated to Community workshops and other charitable activities
  • Most places had received a small business loan
  • Finding advocates and supporters in the city and within local government  (G39)

Membership:

  • Addition tiers of membership and have a vetting system for the advanced membership, monthly membership fee, inductions and system of support from technicians – all the ceramics studios demonstrated a clear example of this
  • Turning Earth – Members and class student handbook – rules of the workshop including health and safety
  • Communicating with members and streamlining the technicians’ roles to help run more smoothly

Action points

Following the trip, we have come up with several key action points going forward which include:

Communication:

  • New website
  • Communicate classes, workshops and events well in advance
  • Streamline and reduce admin time – having a booking system for classes

Values and governance:

  • Write a manifesto
  • Improve our board of directors infrastructure
  • Spend time reviewing our finances
  • Research alternative financial structures which are not solely reliant on funding – for example short term loans, social enterprise, studio rent – how to do this in a reliable and sustainable way.
  • Prioritise paying our administrators!

Workshop, membership and resources:

  • Research funding and other support for residencies to happen, based on a model that suits our set up
  • Rethink membership and have additional tiers
  • Lots of good learning around use of materials and workshop set up
  • Create a user manual/members handbook for all members
  • Think through our technicians’ roles and how we can make the most of their time as a resource

Connecting with community:

  • Find opportunities to work with partners and the local community in a careful structured way which minimises unreasonable workloads and relying on free labour
  • Continuing to communicate with the orgs we met, sharing learning and resources, visiting, having residency exchanges etc

Finally, we created this Ceramics Map showing our trip! We feel so excited to be sharing this with everyone and showing the ceramics love!

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