Space for Art: Our business model

The Art House is a social enterprise – a for-purpose company that uses traditional business tools to address social needs.  

The social need we address is the need for space.  

* Independent, artist-led space to showcase grassroots art.

* Informal meeting and learning place where people’s creativity can flourish.

We are also run  on a not-for-profit basis, but like any business we need to make money in order to keep going.

Our space costs money – rent, utilities, licences, insurance and the hundred other little things that quickly add up to a lot of fixed expenses.

We don’t get funding from the Council*, or anyone else, for those running costs – but they have to come from somewhere!

Right from the start, we wanted to find a way for our community – the people who use the space – to fund us.  We wanted to set up an ecosystem, between the space and the people who use it.  The main plan was to allow the cafe to fund the space as much as possible, through food and drink sales.

This is how we do it.

  • Cafe income from food and drinks funds around 80% of our running costs
  • The Trash Cocktail Boutique funds around 2% of our costs
  • The tickets for performance events are break-even, i.e. they fund event advertising and artists fees only
  • The Art and Craft are below break-even so we need to part fund these in order to make our displays accessible to grassroots artists and makers.  This is fine as they are a big part of why we are here!
  • The Magic Hat (optional donations from events which aren’t ticketed) funds around 8% of our running costs
  • Our Patrons fund, funded projects or other fundraising are needed to fund the remaining 10% of our costs.

(All of the above figures are a rough estimate – they tend to change slightly each year!)

So, I hear you ask, if we are a cafe, why doesn’t the cafe just fund 100% of our costs?  Isn’t that what cafes do?

From the outside and on first impressions, The Art House is a Café.  But we’re a lot more than that.  

We were formed, and still run, however, as a space for creativity – particularly grassroots,

Art, food, drink - in gorgeous balance.

Art, food, drink – in gorgeous balance.

outsider and fringe art.

These often have limited affordable, informal space within traditional arts establishments, which is why we set up!

The Café is at the heart of what we do in many ways, not least because the food and drinks sales fund most of our running costs.

But, whilst many cafés will showcase art and music as a secondary activity, intended to add to their offering of food, drink and meeting space – we work the other way around.

The café is there to support the ART – simple as that.

Our idea at the start was to save what had been a commercial art gallery (which had not worked financially) by also making it a Café, allowing that to bring in the money so the art could happen in the space – without having to worry about whether the art would make money or not.

Working this way allows us to remain largely independent from funding, which in turn frees us up to showcase the art we love without worrying that it doesn’t meet somebody else’s criteria.  

It means we can take risks and stay true to what we hold dear.

The Café is set up quite differently from a commercial space.  We have about twice the physical space as most profit-making eateries or bars, allowing the rooms to be multi-purpose, comfortably accommodating all sorts of activities.  We are also a space that feels very safe, has quiet spots and comfortable seats so you can hang out for a long time!

So – in short – we are not set up to be a just-meet-costs community Café with cheap food and drink, but a space for art, funded by the food and drink sales.

We also aren’t a music venue which relies on high alcohol sales.

Obviously, some alcohol is consumed whilst the music is playing!

Obviously, some alcohol is consumed whilst the music is playing!

Instead, we run many ticketed events so that we can keep the experience highly focussed on the art itself.  Our performance events are kept to a small audience, quiet and intimate, with comfortable seating and a chance to really appreciate the artists up close.

So, the picture is:  café funds art, but never at the expense of the art!

But of course it’s more complicated than that!

To create a space which resonated with all we stood for, the food couldn’t just be pre-made stuff from the cash and carry, even though that would make the most money.

We believe that art is part of making life, communities and the planet a better place.

So our food and drink had to stand for that, too.  That’s why we serve almost all organic food (you can check our supply cupboard, it’s organic if we can get it that way!).  We also are committed to supporting local suppliers, and using Fair and ethical traders for the more faraway goods.

Last of all, our food is vegetarian (in fact most of it is vegan) – because this lowers it’s impact on the planet, and makes sure we are thinking of the welfare of non-human animals, too.

Our team of volunteers ensure that we are able to serve this very high

Volunteers - making it all possible since 2008.

Volunteers – making it all possible since 2008.

standard of food and drink at a price that compares with a commercial café that serves your usual fayre.

Our events, whilst not free (though some are by donation), are designed to offer a range of prices to include as many people as possible – whilst still acknowledging the value of the art on offer.

It’s a complicated balance to strike – keeping an eye on the money we need, whilst keeping the art front and centre (even though it’s not usually the art making the money!).

In an ever-changing world, we are always changing too – but some things will never change.

We will always be mainly about the Art.

We will always serve food and drink that nurtures people and planet.

We will always be not-for-profit.

To read more about our day-to-day running, challenges and principles, please visit the blog.

* The Council do give us a rebate on our business rates, which we are very happy about!  But no funding for any of the other running costs.

We do also run funded projects within the space, but these are for specific activities, not the day-to-day bills.