A response to being called ‘A Business’

The Art House is not free to use, not publicly funded and is based on a business model.

This leads some people to think we are just in it for the money – and it is a tightrope we have to walk every day!  Business is a dirty word to many people – but we don’t think it has to be.

Here’s what we think about being called a Business.

We are proud to be one.

We are very proud to be part of a growing social movement to show that business can work for the community and have high ethical standards.

It’s also great at this time of financial ‘austerity’ that we do not use much in the way of public funds but earn our own ‘keep’ – this means we aren’t reliant on how much there is in the government or Council coffers each year.    Aside from our Council Tax relief, and some other concessions by the Council, we pay the same as any other business for most things.

The Art House is a non-commercial business, registered as a Community Interest Company and 100% not-for-profit and aim to cater for a diverse range of people (and we do that very successfully, one look at our customer base or volunteer team will show you that).

Although we may not be exactly to everyone’s taste (hey, you can’t please everyone and we don’t try to!) we do bring grassroots arts to this city very, very effectively.

Some people are unsure where the volunteering fits in.  We are mainly staffed by crew of splendourvolunteers but have paid roles within the organisation to support the volunteering and keep us sustainable long term.  All of these roles are part time and some of our paid crew volunteer additional hours to their paid ones.

The most important thing about our business model is that we are first and foremost here to make a space for art, and the money we make is to meet that aim.

Trash Cocktail Garden Party (1)No private individual profits from what we do, but we do make money and we are totally fine with that – the money enables us to serve more and more people.   We are very transparent about our need to make a specific amount of money in order to keep running.  Around £4000 a week at the moment!

Rather than looking to the Council to provide – which frankly, it can’t after the government cuts, we love the model of the community all grouping together to create something ourselves with our own cash – it’s empowering and delicious.

Whilst some groups of people do need funded projects – socially disadvantaged groups – most of the people who visit The Art House do have the money to pay for creative activities – and they do pay, happily.  Our ‘Magic Hat’ donations system is one way we enable people on lower incomes to access what we do – but everything we do is cheaper than the ‘market rate’.

This year, we are also launching an ‘access fund’ to make what we offer more affordable to more people.  Watch this space!


It’s so yummy!

The fact that we can offer higher quality for less money is largely down to our volunteers, by the way, so next time you are enjoying an organic homemade lunch for the price of pre-frozen one made with non-organic ingredients, be sure to give them a smile, won’t you!

A word on our commercial business friends……

Although we are a nonprofit model and love being one, we also truly believe that commercial business CAN and DOES work as an arts or community space, particularly if they are properly supported instead of seen as negative for wanting to be financially successful.

I’ve found the recent unpleasantness against the Platform Tavern, who have bid to lease The Wool House from the Council, for being what they are – a great independent business owned by local people – very distasteful indeed.    There is nothing wrong with making money by providing a fabulous music venue.  Nothing at all.

We get that there’s a tension between the need to make money and supporting art properly, we are not naive enough to think that’s never a problem.  It’s not been a problem for us, because we are not trying to make a huge profit and we are supported by volunteers and donations.

Somewhere in the middle between public funding and commercial business, we sit very happily and have done for over 6 years, providing a space where people can meet, share and create.

About janifranck

Artist, activist, founding director of The Art House in Southampton.
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