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Network Member Focus – Phoenix Brighton

6th Feb 2019

Sarah Davies, Executive Director at Phoenix Brighton, discusses how Phoenix supports artists in the region and works with local organisations, and the ways in which the organisation has evolved since its establishment in 1991.

“The changes have been immense! Starting as an artists’ collective, we were lucky enough to be able to buy the building in 1995. This has been an enormous advantage in allowing us to grow and remain in charge of our own space. Fast forward to today and we are now a registered charity with 12 part-time staff, a full board of trustees and over 120 artists who rent space in the building. We have a full exhibition programme, a lively calendar of events and a robust focus on community and learning.

“The biggest challenge in the region is of course financial. What is happening in Brighton & Hove, and across the region, is that areas are getting developed and gentrified, driving prices up and artists out. Phoenix exists to provide affordable studio rents to artists; that’s in our charitable objectives so it’s integral to our mission. It’s a continual challenge to keep rents low, while staying afloat ourselves.

“We’re aiming to have 40 studios, plus a café and gallery space in Portslade in 2020. We’re currently working with a property developer, as well as consulting with community groups and local residents. It’s a very exciting prospect. Watch this space!

“The opportunity, as far as Phoenix is concerned, is that our affordable costs allow for a huge variety of artists to rent studios in the building. Artists of all disciplines and stages in their careers can meet, mingle and network; some very fruitful and interesting collaborations have sprung out of chance meetings here!

“The Rocket Artists are part of the fabric of Phoenix. They play an important role in ensuring Phoenix is a fully inclusive space, both regarding our physical infrastructure and the way we plan and market events. We work with them on exhibitions (such as last year’s Art By Johnny) and events, and they have fed into training sessions for our staff. Ultimately though they are just Phoenix artists like any other, we don’t think of them any differently.

“Our Board of Trustees includes studio tenants as we think it’s vital to have artists on the board in order to provide a wide balance of views. Having a diverse range of skills and experience on a board is essential to good governance.

“Working with partners has always been essential to Phoenix’s strategy. Brighton is a city of festivals, which provides lots of opportunities for partnerships and collaborations! For example, we regularly show photography exhibitions as part of the Brighton Photo Fringe, as well as hosting their monthly meet-up, First Mondays. Holding exhibitions as part of Brighton Digital Festival allows us to tap into cutting edge developments in the world of digital art. Working with partners allows us to develop our audiences, share resources and skills, and develop conversations around visual art and culture in the city.

“The most important way that the visual arts sector can better support artists in the future? That’s such a hard question! In a word, I would say mentoring. Mentoring is vital to encourage young and emerging artists. We’d like Phoenix to act as a signpost for emerging artists. In part, this involves our collaboration with University of Brighton and CASS Art on the Cass Art Phoenix Prize, where we offer one year’s free studio to applicants from School of Art final year students. We’re currently hosting our first two winners, Sophie Hulf and Jessie Yates, and we’re pleased to be running it again this year.”

Image: courtesy Phoenix Brighton.

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