We were recently approached by the Arts Liaison officer at Southampton Uni with some really good questions about what we do, so we thought we’d answer them here on the blog!
Students make up about 12% of our customers and 25% of our volunteers, so we are always keen to build relationships with both Universities in our city.
Here are the questions:
Quite simply, we (the four founders) created the place we wanted to go to!
There hadn’t been a community-led arts venue in the middle of our city since The Gantry (a community-created arts space behind the Mayflower theatre) closed back in 2001.
Even with plans for the new Arts Complex, we still felt that there was a need for a more fringe, organic space where local art could flourish.
Turns out we were right! Within 14 months of setting up, we had to move somewhere bigger and have gone from strength to strength since then!
On a more global scale, the world is facing some pretty serious challenges at the moment. We want to be part of the solution and we believe that purpose-led, heartfelt, ethical enterprise for and by the community is a force for positive social change in the world.
We like to say ‘we’re a small place, with some very big ideas’!
How do you decide your programming and how popular are the events?
Most of the programming is done by directors Bik and Jani – with Bik focussing on the performance and music events, and
Jani looking after workshops, talks, film showings, art exhibitions and special interest groups.
It’s a combination, really – we never book in anything we or one of our crew wouldn’t go to, that seems a good place to start!
Events here have to fit our aims of promoting the Arts, encouraging sustainable living and building community through shared creative activities, so we always refer to why we set up in the first place when choosing.
Most of the people who come here want something a little different from what you’d find in a bigger arts space or a commercial venue. We like to think we offer something for people who don’t quite fit in with the mainstream, who want to experience something a little out of the ordinary!
As a result of this approach, most of our events are well attended – although sometimes only a select few come, of course!
We try to get a good balance of world class acts and artists who are just starting out, or well-known local performers.
What is your proudest achievement to date?
Artists who get up and perform, or show their painting for the first time here. A maker who sells their first piece through our Boutique. A creative collaboration that springs up over a shared coffee. The people who say their lives have changed since finding this place – through volunteering, through learning new things, through showcasing their art or just through making likeminded friends.
For us, it’s the combination of all these personal stories that we are most proud of.
What are your aspirations for The Art House?
We’re a for-purpose business and have been very successfully not-for-profit for the nearly seven years we’ve been running!
All of the money we’ve earned so far has gone back into the day-to-day realities of keeping us open – it costs about £1 a minute to run the space.
At this point, we’d like to start generating a surplus which we can put back into the community in a wider way – through bursaries and free workshops for people on low incomes, through funding for new and smaller groups to use our space to meet, through getting bigger name artists into our little space and through making resources for other groups all over the world who want to set up a similar space to ours.
On a more practical level, we’ve always dreamed of creating a roof garden above our kitchen, to make our veggies even MORE locally grown!
Currently what relationship do you have with students / the University community?
About a quarter of our crew are students, many from the University, and we’re a popular venue both for students to visit and for groups of students to showcase their artwork, performance or to meet up.
Recently we hosted the fabulous ‘Shakespeare in a Week’ group, in the past SUSU’s Green Action has hosted ‘Power Down’ music evenings, as well as lots of other collaborations over the years, including students getting practical sound engineering experience, photographing our events for their portfolios and using us as a case study for small business.
We also have a lot of visitors and crew who work for the University – in fact, director Bik worked for the School of Engineering Sciences for 20 years.
You’ll spot our cafe in a few film students films, too, although over the past few years we’ve had so many filming requests we’ve had to limit saying ‘yes’ to people we already know!
Like any other group, there are some students who simply don’t find the usual places to go and things to do ‘for students’ suits them.
We find we attract creative people, people who are into environmentalism, vegetarians and vegans (although most of our customers are neither!) and people who are interested in positive social change.
In an ideal world if time and money were no issue are there any ways in which you would love to work with the student body?
We’d love to exhibit more students work – a few years back we held a post-degree-show-exhibition of illustration work, and many of the artists who show here are recent graduates.
We’d also really enjoy offering work experience for students who want to work in event planning, marketing or exhibition planning – so far it’s been hard to find the time to make this happen, but there is certainly potential there!
Most of all, we continue to offer an out-of-the-ordinary space for out-of-the-ordinary students, and people from all walks of life!