Amity Art was a fictitious art collective that starts from its inception through to organising group exhibitions as a collective. As well as a collective being a platform for acquiring exhibition spaces, there are other reasons for forming a collective. These can be purely for economic reasons to share costs and improve their purchasing power, to share studios and workshop facilities. Perhaps for political or social engagement projects where group activity can empower change through art. It may be for professional reasons where raising the group profile raises the individuals and helps curators and collectors identify potential talent. Whatever the reasons for forming a collective, there are several fundamental stages to go through to be successful.
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The Way to Go, An Art Collective
The objective of this article is to discuss the creation of an art collective/cooperative of like-minded artists across diverse disciplines to promote both individually and collectively the present and future careers of member artists.
To have the highest chance of success as an artist you are going to have to find a way to help you navigate your way through the intricacies of the art world, to reach out to the potential buyers, corporate collectors and other movers and shakers. Gallery representation is one way that you can make the necessary contacts. Damien Hirst had Charles Saatchi, Picasso had Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, and Jasper Johns had Leo Castelli. Artists, coupled with gallery owners who championed their work and provided the financial support to enable their careers to blossom. For those not fortunate to get the gallery representation which will launch their stellar art practice, there is an alternative path.
Gallery shows have also been the primary instrument for artists to work through new ideas, market themselves, and receive critical feedback. Unfortunately, many galleries are now seeing a decline in footfall, especially smaller galleries, which is having an impact on their sales, and opportunities for new and emerging artists. The growth of online sales and art fairs has affected gallery visitor numbers which have resulted in galleries looking to other revenue streams. One of these streams that artists can exploit is in that many galleries are now making space available to rent for artists to put on their exhibitions. The artist takes care of the curating, marketing and administration, therefore, relieving the gallery of that side of the financial burden.
There is strength in numbers and for artists looking to develop a practice, being part of an art collective is a positive step into the art world by utilising these available spaces. By combining their skills and collaborating, a group of artists have the opportunity to engage in more exhibitions. They will attract more visitors/buyers through the diverse range of artwork that would be available and with a reduced financial cost. The higher the visitor numbers, the greater the exposure for the individual artist and also a higher chance of personal success.
Collective v Cooperative
The intention for AmityArt was primarily to provide a launchpad for artists to gain a foothold in the art world through collaborating in exhibitions in galleries and public spaces. Ideally, the art collective will consist of more than three and four members. As such AmityArt will operate as a cooperative. Both art collectives and cooperatives are both democratically run, but a cooperative provides a stronger and more sustainable infrastructure. There is nothing to stop a small group of artists from adopting the principles outlined on this site.
Irrespective of its aims an art collective is owned and controlled by its members to achieve a common objective. In a conventional organisation, managers and workers respond to the orders and decisions of the organisation owners. In an art collective, the workers/members are the owners and decision-makers. Every member has equal decision-making power and requires all members to agree on all proposals. Should there be a management hierarchy, the managers’ role is to implement the decisions made by the members. However, collectives are unlikely to have a management structure. Still, if deemed necessary, this is usually on a rotation system with management roles assigned to different members after a set time. Hierarchical management does not negate equal ownership, nor does it veto a member right to vote no on a proposal.
A cooperative is a collection of individuals who willingly agree to work together toward a common goal. Both cooperatives and collectives are member-owned, both are democratically run, and both are self-managed. There are minor differences in the way they operate. Cooperatives are more likely to have some sort of management structure and only require a simple majority to pass a vote. They work on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, cooperative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others. Seven principles are the guidelines used by cooperatives to put their cooperative values into practice.
There has to be a strong foundation upon which it can grow. Building on a sandy beach and buildings are unlikely to grow beyond a single floor, building on a solid rock foundation and they can become skyscrapers. Combining the cooperative principles with a written constitution and a manifesto, this will form the basis upon which to develop AmityArt.
Finding the Right People
Whether we are going to collaborate with other artists regularly or just for the occasional exhibition, we will need to have the right mix of people for the collective to be successful. It is true to say that as we may be working closely regularly, it is important to like and respect your fellow members. The important thing is that we have the right mix of skills and share the same objectives and can collaborate. By sharing skills and ideas, not only will this enhance the art collective, but this may lead to having an understanding and appreciation of other members and their work. The art collective may be created purely as a business relationship rather than one just based on friendship, but the principles remain the same.
So who are the right people? Irrespective of its size, the art collective is going to require some necessary skills. The first thing to face is that there is going to be lots of paperwork, and yet more paperwork and artists don’t seem to like paperwork. Artists want to create, but there will be things to write about, artists’ statements, press releases, blogs, marketing, exhibition catalogues, letters to galleries and the bank manager. The art collective is going to need someone to act as an administrator, either internally or outsourced, as taking responsibility for this part of the business is critical. In a cooperative, where each member is equally responsible for all tasks, and each member should be required to perform this duty. It is not one that many artists can adequately fill unless one is extremely lucky to have the right person in the art collective. So the first job might be to find the right person or persons to take on the task of administration.
All members at all times must be working as a team to benefit the art collective. There may be times when individual projects are underway. Still, the plans of the art collective should take precedence, and all members must be willing to give one hundred per cent for the art collective. If working as a cooperative, each member must also adhere to the seven principles. main priority.
Communication and lines of communication are going to be critical to the efficiency of the collective. Within the art collective, communication is crucial irrespective of what role each member plays. Whether it is between two artists or the whole art collective, communication is vital to success. Excellent communication between the members when working on projects will be more effective than an individual working on their own. In the probability of there being a physical distance between the members, the use and knowledge of communication applications such as WhatsApp, email and Skype would be beneficial as would necessary IT skills.
Finally, is the need for self-development coupled with the ability to share skills learnt with others, within and outside the art collective. By process of self-development, the member should be able to bring new skills and knowledge into the art collective. Each member must be committed to a course of self-development that is beneficial to the individual and in due course to the art collective.
In summary, the art collective needs the following people: preferably with administrative skills, preparedness to be part of a team and to put the team first, excellent communication skills and the drive to develop themselves as artists and enhance their knowledge and skillset, and the willingness to share those skills inside and outside of the collective. Get to know the members, their communication style, their values, their interests, and their motivations and tell them yours.
The members have to agree on a way forward with an approved set of rules. A constitution is simply a document laying out the aims and regulations that the art collective or cooperative will use. It’s a statement of what the group is going to do and how it is going to do it. Funders and supporters often require a constitution. Although we need agreement on its content, the following is a simplified proposed constitution for consideration. It is bland and boring, but it does form a base upon which to work. AmityArt will endeavour to create a more original structure that reflects its manifesto.
The following items are the most common subjects that are in a constitution.
Name of the group
Objects of the group, which can be called aims, objectives, or purposes. These are generally a few brief, overall statements.
Powers – this is a description of how the group may achieve its objectives or purposes.
Committee – a description of how the management committee (people who run the organisation) is elected or appointed.
Membership – a description of how people can join NB – if the group is for the benefit of members the membership must be available to all those who could reasonably benefit, not just the people you want to join.
Payment or benefits – all expenses or other costs paid to any members require explanation.
Closing down – a description of what will be done with any surplus funds or assets if the group winds up; this is sometimes called dissolution. Some organisations set up for a social purpose – like a Community Interest Company or Charity – may have what’s known as an ‘asset lock’ to prevent individuals from benefitting from the organisation’s dissolution. An asset lock ensures that all the revenues for specific social benefit organisations stay with the community.
In the resource section, there is a step-by-step guide to writing a constitution for a small community group courtesy of the Resource Centre. The example can be a template for the members of the group to democratically agree on what their constitution will comprise.
The first 20th-century art manifesto was the Futurists Manifesto penned by F. T. Marinetti in 1909, followed by the Cubists, Vorticists, Dadaists and the Surrealists and many more. Throughout history, manifestos before the late 1800s were generally political. However, a manifesto can also be a personal statement of intent. An art manifesto is ideally a public declaration of the intentions and beliefs of the artist or artists. It may have political undertones or be blatantly political.
An agreed collective’s manifesto is a statement where we can share our art collectives’ intentions (what we intend to do as a group).
The collectives’ opinions (what we believe collectively and our stance on any particular topic).
The vision of the collective (the type of society that we dream about and wish to create).
Our intention may not be to take over the art world or cause an upheaval in the world of politics. It may be something simpler but writing the manifesto is a great way to get together and start by clarifying our individual beliefs. Each member should examine their motivations because if there is the potential for disagreement, this cannot be in the manifesto. The members will be allowed to introduce their policies if this fits with the overall objectives of the art collective. The big item on the list is identifying what type of society we want to create, or being part of, or not. Getting all these ideas down on paper will be the foundation stones of our manifesto. It will assist in the decision making and help when identifying opportunities that may arise with others that share the same beliefs and aims. The declaration will also be a fall back as and when conflicts occur amongst the collective. It won’t be written in stone so disputes can and should lead to revisions if required, and it will be reviewed as a matter of course, as the art collective changes and adapts.
The manifesto will be written with an open mind and with clear goals and the language used will not preach nor try and impose our views on others. It is there for others to discover what the art collective aims are. They may not agree with everything that we have set out but coming across as arrogant and condescending is not going to gain many admirers or supporters. When we are successful, then we can afford to be extreme and radical with our opinions. Still, a manifesto has a part to play in applying for grants and raising support, so initially, it will pay to tone down any ideas that will alienate people.
Manifestos come in many formats over a myriad of subjects. Most of the art manifestos from Marinetti’s Futurists Manifesto have borrowed from its predecessors, so we don’t have to “reinvent the wheel”. Throughout the history of manifestos, there have been crossovers in a manifesto from one group to another. Manifestos can be an image, a written document, a web page and even a YouTube video. A good source for inspiration for our manifesto that has examples of the different formats is website 391, which also has many of the manifestos from 1909 to the present day.
Getting the money
We need to raise money to put on exhibitions to sell our work, and that is going to be another challenge. We are not going to discuss what to do with the money once raised. Instead, we will discuss the avenues available for raising funds such as crowdfunding and grant applications. Crowdfunding is an excellent method as this involves a lot of people, and a lot of people is what we are going to need to be successful. Unlike funding through grants, it is not enough to complete a form and submit it. The energy and excitement of a project need to be communicated and conveyed to the community from whom we are seeking funds. We talked about finding the right people with the right skills, and if we are to run a successful campaign, then we are going to need to apply some of those skills. We are also going to need a written plan, whether we are crowdfunding or applying for grants. Crowdfunding and applying for grants require both a business strategy and online marketing tools and tactics that need ongoing management.
The (rough) Plan A
Build a project around a particular theme supported by the manifesto. The project needs a focal point or a rallying cry (raising funds just for exhibitions is unlikely to inspire sponsors apart from friends and family).
Duration of project – 12 Months.
Four exhibitions arranged during the year at different locations with artwork representing the same theme gleaned from our manifesto.
Duration of each exhibition of one week.
An agreed gap between exhibitions to give artists time to create new work.
Collective to arrange to curate, marketing and merchandising in addition to any services provided by the gallery.
The budget must be realistic, and all costs researched and documented. Don’t estimate.
Now that we have a project outlined, and costs forecast, we can start planning our crowdfunding strategy and an excellent way to do this is by following the guides on crowdfunder.co.uk. There are three comprehensive guides available on their website covering Planning your project, Creating your project and Running your project. Copies of these are also available in our resource library. Other fundraising websites that cater to creatives are on the Research page and the Hashtag11 website. One of these, Kickstarter, has a section devoted to students of art which include resources, guidance, and tools for students of art and beyond.
It pays to search for grants available to the visual arts regularly. Take the time to identify potential grants that match our goals. The Hashtag11 website article Raising Money and How to Do It outlines the steps for applying for grants for creatives. Themed exhibitions that link or support the local community are more likely to be successful in securing regional support and grants.
At the end of the project, unsold artwork? … have an auction.
We have now identified how we are going forward to forming a collective to collaborate on themed exhibitions and run on a cooperative business model. We have identified the individuals with the skills required and with their agreement written the constitution. We have a manifesto that is radical, inspiring and thought-provoking and researched our sources of funding. We will now apply for that funding and start planning our exhibitions.
Planning our exhibitions will require a severe amount of work and collaboration, plus it is imperative to get the timeframe right. At least three months of planning in advance will be needed so that we a fully prepared. Artists will need this time to produce enough work to sustain the amount of work required for each exhibition. Where possible we will want to work our shows around other events that will not detract from our event or will support it. Another exhibition will support ours if we promote it as an alternative event, so researching other events should be part of the planning process. Holidays, when the public is otherwise engaged, should be avoided.
Although we have looked at galleries to host our exhibitions, we are not limited to just these spaces. In addition to the traditional areas, we will also investigate the suitability of restaurants, cafes, community centres, churches and local business. There may be times when our preferred location is unavailable on the dates we would most benefit. We should consider any site that is clean, well-lit and large enough to exhibit the artwork.
We must start with a theme that gives the message that we want to convey and the more radical and exciting the idea, the higher the impact and interest. It is also essential that each of the artists work adheres to the theme. With the understanding that the concept may repeat throughout the year at each location ensures that there is sufficient time to produce work that follows the theme. The best, most recent and most impressive work only is acceptable for the exhibition. We will research other artists in the local area to see whether they would be interested in taking part in the local exhibition as a guest artist. Collaborating with local artists, or artists groups will promote our involvement with the local community ideology. Our focus will be on artists who tend to produce works related to the theme we are presenting.
The exhibition’s artwork will represent the diversity of the collective with works from artists, photographers, sculptors, and other types of visual artists. A wide-ranging selection of works will produce a dynamic atmosphere that gives the patrons more to enjoy. If the collective is shy in specific disciplines, we might also invite poets or musicians to perform at the event, especially if their work complements the exhibition’s theme.
The objectives of the exhibitions are not just to showcase and promote the art collective, the artists and their work but to sell it. All artists must think about how to price their artwork. Prices must be commensurate with the medium and the amount of time and labour that went into producing the work. There will be a range of prices and also a range of prices that some but not everyone can afford. It would be a good idea for artists also to have a variety of work available, either at the exhibition or accessible via a catalogue or online. Have something for everyone open for purchase at the exhibition.
With dates and locations finalised now is the time to start the marketing. Start creating the promotional materials, email lists, posters, flyers, pamphlets and informational ads that outline the nature of the exhibition and the artwork available. Include details like the time and date, the venue, and entrance costs where applicable. If the exhibition warrants the publicity, which it should, then arrange a press release and or an interview with the local news outlets. Get the publicity material into public places and the local universities and art schools, and community sites relevant to the theme of the exhibition. We need to be careful of advertising in places inappropriate to the artwork we are promoting. A catalogue and individual handouts of the artist’s bios along with photo examples of their work needs to be available. Each exhibitor also has to prepare an artists statement made available for visitors and advertising. When writing about the exhibition, and artists statements, we will avoid art speak but not dumb it down or patronise the potential audience.
Start making announcements through social media accounts and sending out email invitations. Encourage each artist to promote all the exhibitions that they are partaking in independently. Utilise media sharing apps like Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp and Tumblr to provide previews of the artwork that will be available at upcoming exhibitions. Finally have all your friends, family, their friends and families, classmates and colleagues help spread the news about the exhibition by using their social media accounts and by word of mouth.