Network Member Focus – Open School East
20th Jun 2018
Open School East (OSE) was founded in 2013 in response to spiralling tuition fees and student debt, the diminishing of studio spaces for artists and a desire to create a space for artistic learning that is free, experimental, collaborative and brings together diverse voices.
OSE has 5-part time staff: we’ve got two co-directors, Anna Colin is a French curator, writer & researcher – and Laurence Taylor who is a British producer and project manager; our communications manager Ayaan Bulale is a Danish born, Swedish speaking Somali with a background in audience engagement; Naami Padi, the Development coordinator is of Ghanaian British origin with a background in the Youth Sector; and Louis Palfrey, the Young Associates Programme Assistant, is a British music graduate and the recipient of a Weston Jerwood Creative Bursary. Our backgrounds, experiences and interests are invaluable assets to the development of OSE.
Becoming an Arts Council England NPO – coupled with the move to Margate – has given the organisation a real boost of confidence and new opportunities. As an NPO we’ve gained access to new people, organisations and networks and the verbal, practical, moral and occasionally financial support that accompanies this has been vital – as well as heartwarming – at this point of change and growth.
Margate has a number of qualities that attract artists to the town such as an existing artistic community, a growing cultural scene and relative affordability. These factors allow the associate artists to make work and study without the exorbitant financial and other external pressures that London brings. From an organisational perspective Margate provided new funding opportunities, more autonomy and opportunities for influence. In addition and quite frankly, London was getting more and more expensive for OSE to run effectively too.
Being based outside of London it can be challenging to stay relevant to London centric funders – especially private donors – who may be focused on the London art scene. In addition we’re having to find new strategies through which to disseminate our work (nationally) and new ways in which to create opportunities for the associate artists (regionally and in London). Being a seasonal seaside town employment can be an issue for some of the associate artists, particularly in the winter months.
Developing audiences in a new place has been a huge challenge, especially some of the cultural and language barriers. However, immediately on arrival young people local to OSE – mainly from Czech and Slovak heritage – knocked on our door and upon learning it was an art school asked if they could take part. Our response was to set up the Despacito Art School for Young People focused on 6-11 year olds. Always lively and productive – the sessions have been popular with local families and we are slowly developing these relationships with the help of outreach work and translation services.
The Thanet landscape has served as an excellent learning ground and space for events. Last year, we ran a workshop series with artist Benedict Drew reimagining the subterranean as a space of resistance, and this year the public have explored wild foods with Lucia Stewart and local ecology with Cooking Sessions.
Attracting artists from outside the immediate area contributes to the existing artistic community through the development of support networks, the emergence of collaborations and the growth in audience and peer support. In addition infrastructure grows with the sharing of equipment and the setting up of new spaces. The majority of artists who have moved for OSE have stayed in the region, most notably those that have set up Well Projects.
The proximity to other artists based at Resort Studios, Bon Volks, LIMBO, Crate and Northdown Studios, as well as the fact that Turner Contemporary, 1927, ClaySpace, Radio Margate and ArtsEdX are all within walking distance, makes for an exciting set up in terms of facilitating exchanges and collaboration between local and new artists.
We work in partnerships with various organisations, these relationships are essential to the delivery of our programmes and they function in many different ways. In terms of the public programme we’re developing new relationships with local organisations, such as MenCap and the Garden Gate Project, where we hope to collaborate on the delivery of art-making workshops. And currently, we are running an introductory programme into critical thought in collaboration with the Centre for Critical Thought at Kent University.
As a part of the Associate Programme we’re working with Limbo on a series of residencies and are working with Turner Contemporary to access artists working on their shows. Most recently OSE partnered with Whitstable Biennale on the first OSE Alumni Commission, which saw Josephine Sweeney and Kris Locke present The Vase in the Container at the biennale.
Offering artists ongoing support and development is crucial and this involves creating structures that involve continuing opportunities to engage in the work of the organisation, including employment. Creating space for young people to get involved in the arts and see it as a viable employment route is something OSE is working towards. In addition creating a free and accessible space, open to diverse voices in integral to our work, and as is diversity must happen at every level including in board, staff and audience development.