Common Practice


Public Assets: small-scale arts organisations and the production of value


Building on previous work on value and sustainability in the UK’s small scale arts sector, Common Practice invites you to a one-day conference to discuss the ways in which small-scale arts organisations produce artistic value beyond measurability and quantification, provide spaces for public experience extra to the market, and in so doing contribute importantly to cultural wealth. In this way, small-scale arts organisations provide ample evidence of the necessity to build rather than diminish state funding for the arts as a core public asset.

Speakers include: Jesús Carrillo, Kodwo Eshun, Charlotte Higgins, Maria Lind, Andrea Phillips and Lise Soskolne (W.A.G.E.). The event has been organised in collaboration with Andrea Phillips.

6 February 2015

10:00 to 17:30, registration 9:30

£10, coffee and lunch available

Platform Theatre
Central Saint Martins
University of the Arts London
Handyside Street
King’s Cross
London N1C 4AA

Priority booking for peer organisations until 12 January

Book online

Bursaries for travel and accommodation are available (up to £200).

Funds are limited, please send a short statement to: [email protected] with subject line Common Practice Conference Bursary to apply. Preference will be given to distance and budget limitations of the organisation.   

Deadline 12 January 

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‘Cultural wealth’ is a complex term. It is used by governments and cultural industries to describe the economic and ameliorative benefits of the arts but has a longer history in which wealth is understood not as a financial term but rather as one that names what is produced communally as a shared public asset. Changes in public arts funding leave small-scale arts organisations with the task of negotiating and consolidating these two meanings.

Over the past two decades public funding for the arts in the UK has become dominated by cultural entrepreneurial initiatives and schemes designed to ensure that arts organisations develop profitable relations with private funders and foundations. Like their larger cousins, small and medium-scale arts institutions in the UK are increasingly under pressure to develop private income streams in order to survive; without the development budgets and administrative infrastructures though which larger arts organisations negotiate the shifting financial landscape, small-scale institutions find this extremely difficult and time-consuming, even where there is a willingness on the part of staff and director to engage with the necessities of entrepreneurialism. Such a situation is made more complex by the competition that emerges between arts institutions, as each chases the same sponsors and patrons. As Common Practice has already proved in its report Size Matters, it is also made more complex by the lack of financial recognition of the deferred value produced by small-scale institutions, as they support artists and curators at the beginning of their careers. The naturalisation of this process has become endemic within the arts at all scales in the UK as elsewhere, but it is within the small scale arts sector that the values of supporting experimental and often non-commodifiable artistic practice is developed, promoted and sustained by curators and administrators. These values are difficult to maintain at the same time as holding on to the diminishing amount of funding available within the culture of financialisation.

It is not just the lack of administrative time that is at stake as small- and medium-scale arts institution shift their practices within this financial ecology, it is also the ethos of production and distribution. What gets made public in these institutions is also affected by what can be funded – and what gets funded is shaped by the same feedback loop.

This conference will address the ways in which it is possible to assert a non-financialised ethos within the current funding landscape of the arts, and will seek to develop a vocabulary separate to the one of instrumentalisation with which to argue for this ethos. It will examine national and international practices that are successfully working within the new funding conditions and delivering exhibitions and events that exemplify the arts institution as an essential public asset.

Turner Prize 2014


Common Practice is very happy to congratulate this years Turner Prize nominees on their exhibition, which open next Monday at Tate Britain.

A number of the nominees have long-standing links with Common Practice organisations: Ciara Phillips was nominated for her Showroom exhibition Workshop (2010 ongoing) (2013); James Richards had his first major solo show with Chisenhale in 2014, and in 2007/8 took part in the LUX Associate Artists programme; and Duncan Campbell also had a major show with Chisenhale in 2009. You can also read more about some of the artists work in Afterall: Campbell and Stuart Comer were in conversation for Afterall Online in 2010 and Melissa Gronlund considers Richardss project Disambiguation in the forthcoming issue of Afterall journal. Tris Vonna-Michell had his first major exhibition at our peer institution Cubitt in 2007.

As organisations we are proud to have been able to support these artists at crucial times in their careers and to give them the opportunity to make new works, and we are pleased that they have gone on to achieve recognition on national and international platforms.

For more information on the upcoming programmes of Common Practice members please click on the individual links to the organisations on our home page. We are also organising an event in November to explore the notion of public value specifically, the value behind public funding for organisations and we invite you to check our website for further information as the event gets under way.

Common Practice Statement on Electra


As members of Common Practice and of the London art world, we were saddened and disheartened to hear that Electra lost its NPO funding status in the latest round of Arts Council attributions. Electra plays a strong and unique role in the London landscape, occupying territory that is often overlooked or falls between other institutions, and the overlap of contemporary art with different art forms, such as sound, music or performance.

Their projects have often been long-term and had enduring legacies, such as Her Noise, a unique archive of materials investigating music and sound histories in relation to gender that brings together a wide network of women artists who use sound as a medium. It has been in regular demand since its foundation in 2001, major exhibition at South London Gallery in 2005, international conference at Tate Modern in 2012 and now has a permanent home in the UAL Archives and Special Collections at the London College of Communication, open to the general public and in regular use by students.

Electra have introduced serious international artists to the city and collaborated with a variety of institutions to do so as they did, for example, with Renate Lorenz and Pauline Boudry, whose acerbic, sensitive and critical work they showed at the South London Gallery in 201213. Connected to this was the conference Charming for the Revolution: A Congress for Gender Talents and Wildness, an experimental congress of artists, activists and thinkers in the field of contemporary sexual and gender politics, which was held in the new Tanks at Tate Modern in February 2013. The event created a significant moment for the communities invested in these specialised debates to gather together and exchange knowledge, with many people travelling from abroad to be there. It was heavily oversubscribed with audiences of well over two thousand over the two days.

The recent conference and screening event they staged with Queen Mary, University of London, Debout! Feminist Activism and the Moving Image in France and Beyond, provided a well-needed history and development of the contemporary relevance of feminist video collectives in France in the 1970s, whose substantial and highly creative activity has only recently come to light outside of French-language contexts. This project was intended to be the first in a series of public programming aimed at bringing more of these historical materials to UK audiences and beyond, and into dialogue with a range of contemporary practices.

Events and exhibitions like these serious in subject matter, quietly radical in politics and inclusive of all interested parties are what Electra has become known for, and we wish them all the best in finding ways to continue their current productions without guaranteed Arts Council support.