The Empty Shops Network – a big thank you

A couple of years ago I ran a small local arts organisation, the Revolutionary Arts Group, struggling with no resources to stage artist-led festivals and open studio events, and using non-traditional venues for exhibitions- an old bakers, a functioning church, and other community spaces.

As the recession bit, I was fielding more and more enquiries about how we did it – particularly using empty shops – so the Empty Shop Network was born. The aim was to start collecting information about work in the redundant spaces in town centres, and provide a central point of contact for anyone wanting to find events local to them. It was always a big ambition on no budget, but I realised that I was thinking along the right lines when Susan Jones from a-n offered me a small grant to produce a piece of research which became a ‘Knowledge Bank’ article. It laid the foundations for the Empty Shops Workbook as well.

I’m typing this on the train back from Gatwick, afterflying out to Belfast for an a-n AIRTime event where I was able to talk to 60+ Northern Ireland artists about using empty shops.

The last year has seen me writing strategies for local authorities, talking at national community conferences, spending timewith Central St Martins students at graduate week, hobnobbing with the great and occasionally even the good at the Conservatives Arts and Creative Industries Network… the list is kind of endless when you include all the conversations, BBC News interviews, magazine articles and other stuff that’s happened around the fringes.

I’m starting to earn a sensible (but by no means excessive!) wage as an artist and arts manager.
And it’s all because that small, early grant gave me the confidence – it was tacit recognition that I was doing the right thing.

That grant has helped us to access even more funding and set up a range of projects – and the thing I’m most proud of, we’ve already paid about twenty times the original grant to other artists and small creative businesses.

So thank you Susan, and thank you a-n for providing real support just when it was needed.

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