As we put out a call for Patrons earlier in the year, being very transparent with our finances, I thought it was time for an update on how that’s going.
The Art House will cost an estimated £188000 this year to run, in total.
Around £97,000 of that is fixed costs we need to have a building, services, basic staffing, licences and all the other things which are required to open the doors to the public.
The remaining costs are what it costs to run the cafe side of things, which also happens to be where most of the income comes from.
So, we couldn’t cover that £97,000 with ticket sales and donations alone, and have to run a cafe to generate the money needed to be here.
Also, having a cafe means more people come in – honestly it just makes sense to be a cafe rather than just a gallery, workshop and performance space. Food and drink are the solid foundation of our community, as well as the way it’s all paid for.
Which works well, for the most part, but consistently leaves us with a shortfall of around 7 – 8% each year, caused for the most part by us going quieter in the summer whilst many of our regulars are away, but also factors like the roadworks we currently have outside!
The catering industry is notoriously unprofitable, unless one is a large chain. Ask any small businessperson and they will tell you it’s a constant tightrope walk between staying open and going under.
So, earlier this year we asked our community to join together and help.
We did this this year particularly because, Bik and I are also supporting Bik’s Dad through cancer treatment, and our time and energy (which us usually ploughed into heroic measures to keep The Art House going when the income drops) have been split between work and family.
We’ve had a lovely, lovely response.
Our current Patrons are now contributing around £700 per month to help meet our running costs, helping us to plug a shortfall we were anticipating through the summer, as we do every year.
Most of these lovely folks are giving just £5 a month, some have expressed regret that it isn’t more but, as you can see, it all adds up to a nice figure! £5 a month is plenty, so generous and so appreciated.
The good news is, the ‘summer slump’ was less slumpy than usual this year. The bad news is – in the current financial year, we are running around an average of £300 a week short in our cafe income, needing an extra top-up to meet all of the costs of running the space.
The donations and Patrons have helped a lot with this, quite literally keeping the wolf from the door these past few months.
But costs keep rising and we must keep working to get that income flowing in consistently, without putting our prices out of reach of so many of the people who use us.
We also are working to bring all of our crew to the living wage by April 2016 – which means a series of increases so it doesn’t all hit at once. It seems impossible to run an ethical business when our paid workers, however dedicated and willing, are paid below the National Living (as opposed to minimum) wage – a wage calculated on actual living costs – and we can’t keep doing this.
Our target for Patrons is to get 300 people giving an average of £5 per month, which is £1500 monthly income we don’t have to count on cake sales for. This will cover both our current shortfall and the increase in wages, and most of all give us the secure footing we need to keep going, growing and adding to what we do.
Honestly? We need those extra 170 people. You could be one of them.
130 have signed up so far, and it’s helping immensely.
It’s so hard to say ‘but we need the other 170’ without sounding churlish and ungrateful for the generous 130 we have now.
We are SO very appreciative of every penny anyone spends or donates here. We are so committed to delivering the very best value for every one of those pennies, encouraging creativity and making a space where people can truly spread their wings and change their lives for the better.
In order for this to be viable, long term, as a space which is led by our hearts and not our bank balance, we need that extra income from Patrons.
We have tried everything else we can think of, trust us, but staying ethical, affordable and financially viable takes some extra, imaginative effort.
It’s also hard to say ‘it costs more to work our way’ without sounding like we are criticising our neighbours and the fellow venues and cafes around Southampton – many of whom are dear friends.
But the truth is: commercial venues operate differently to The Art House.
To run ethically and choose our suppliers and services with more than money saving in mind – well, it costs more. That’s why other places can’t do it and still be profitable, not unless they’re only serving the richer people in our community.
That’s why we set up as a not-for-profit and are supported by volunteers alongside some paid crew.
That’s why we ask for your help.
If you do want to make a regular donation every month please click here.
A little note to anyone who is now picking through the above figures and wondering why we can’t just pay our own flippin’ bills without asking for money from you:
I hope this makes sense to you anyway, even if you don’t wish to help. I hope you can respect our right to ask, and your equally valid right to say ‘no’.
It’s tricky to convey the complexities of our business model, costs and income in one blog post (our accountant takes £120 per hour to do it for us so it’s impossible to present every nuance to you!), but I think I’ve been as clear and honest as I can be.
This may not resonate with you. It’s a vulnerable (unbelievably vulnerable) thing to share one’s finances. Honestly, if you think it’s none of your concern if The Art House is not making enough money that’s totally OK – but if you can’t help, share or encourage, please do go peacefully on your way, with our very best wishes.
The support – financial and otherwise – we’ve had this summer as been tremendous. We couldn’t still be here without it.
Thank you so much.