Working with Artists and their Pop-up Projects

Lara Torr from Renew Adelaide asked empty space coordinators to explain their processes for recruiting and managing the artists and creative practitioners who use their spaces. This booklet shares their responses to her questions.

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How do artists get involved in your initiative?

Renew Adelaide: We advertise a call-out with a closing date and participants complete an expression of interest form.

Art in the Heart Lismore: We have a database of creative workers who are sent regular updates and are encouraged to submit project proposals for specific spaces. We publicise opportunities in local print media and also advertise when necessary.  Interested artists fill in an Expression of Interest-Project Proposal form.

Anyplace Rozelle: Anyplace puts multiple artists and projects into the one space and has two types of residents:

1. Three-month artist residencies: we do a call out and application process with set criteria for eligibility.

2. Continuous/ongoing residency projects: these are hand-picked by the organisation and were sought out when we established Anyplace.

The Rocks Pop Up Project: We invite suitable, NSW-based stallholders from The Rocks Markets. Local creative organisations and networks have also yielded participants.

Renew Newcastle: We put a call out for expressions of interest with a closing date  and publicise through our website, e-newsletter, Facebook page and word of mouth. The proposal period is usually 2-3 weeks and our guidelines are available on our website.

Pop Up Parramatta: Expressions of interest from artists are received on a rolling basis. This is due to the limited timeframe for the project (due to conclude December 2012). Interested artists apply through our website.

How do you select your participants?

Renew Adelaide: We shortlist applicants based on the spaces available and any stipulations the landlord has made on the types of activity they would like to see in the space. Once shortlisted, applicants are given the opportunity to provide more information on their project and answer our questions. The property owner makes the final decision.

Art in the Heart Lismore: The Art in the Heart Coordinator does most of the work matching art project to suitable spaces, in consultation with the property owner and the six-person Art in the Heart Taskforce.

The Rocks Pop Up Project:  We use a high-level matrix to assess all submissions based on strategic objectives and pertinent factors to ensure participant accountability. Transparency of process is an important factor for us.

Renew Newcastle: Applicants are shortlisted and interviewed and then ranked into four categories: with 'Priority 1' given to those with a great idea who are 'ready to go' if the right space comes up up. These 'Priority 1s' are placed on a waiting list and when a space comes up we look at that list to decide which project will be the best fit. If multiple projects would suit the space, each one is asked to make a 'pitch' for the space (some may drop out at this stage). The final list is given to the property owner to make their decision.

Pop Up Parramatta: Applicants are interviewed, then ranked against a set of criteria. This includes goal setting, hand-made, not competing with existing businesses, long-term vision, business plan in development or otherwise and 'will this add life to the city?'. Our Working Group then review the applications and act on recommendations. The whole application process can take up to one month. Then artists are shortlisted for space best matched to their needs. Then, if required, the property owner is requested to select their preference.

How do you manage artist-participants' expectations for using a temporary space?

Art in the Heart Lismore: The limitations of a temporary space are clearly set out in our 'Information for Creative Workers' brochure which we provide to all artists (and we reinforce these in face to face meeting and conversations).

Anyplace Rozelle: We explain the Licence Agreement that we use to participants, ensuring they understand its temporary nature. We have also developed a factsheet  for studio residents. On top of this, artists are charged a key deposit - refundable at the end of their residency - to encourage them to keep clean and maintain the space.

The Rocks Pop Up Project: We have the licence agreement, a written procedures manual for users (which we keep up to date), ongoing verbal and written communication, and  a Space Manager who regularly monitors the tenancies and their conditions.

Renew Newcastle: We brief participants on the licence agreement, the 30-day notice period, project costs and expenses, and their responsibilities to the space and to Renew Newcastle. We work with them to agree on a date for occupying the space, an opening date, opening hours and signage for the space.

Pop Up Parramatta: Our website has Frequently Asked Questions that answer most participants' questions about the temporary nature of the project, the expected project costs and the responsibilities of occupying a space. We brief artists on these and also make it clear that retail shopfront hours are Wednesday-Saturday - this was agreed by the participants at one of our network meetings. Studio hours are more flexible. Some projects come under a license agreement and other projects use a contract drawn up by the landlord or property manager with the inapplicable items noted.

How do you manage the ongoing relationship with participants?

Renew Adelaide: We try to strike the balance between being approachable and helpful but hands-off enough to ensure participants learn to manage their own projects. The amount of contact we have at the start of a project drops away as participants 'get into their stride' but we make it clear that they can contact us with questions at any time.

Art in the Heart Lismore: One of the ways we have been able to build good relations is by raising the profile of individual artists involved through brokering regular media coverage.

Anyplace Rozelle: Our artist residencies are managed by Serial Space, an artist-run gallery in Chippendale. We have a close working relationship with Serial Space and trust their management capabilities, which they have demonstrated through numerous residencies at their own premises and multiple rounds of residencies at Anyplace.  

The Rocks Pop Up Project: Our Space Manager acts as the broker between the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority and creative participants. Her activities include: regular one-on-one sessions and mentoring support; weekly emails outlining upcoming events, useful references and other important discussion points; and marketing, events and operations support.

Renew Newcastle: We let all participants know we are there to support them. During the 'set up' phase we check in with site visits and, depending on the progress being made, we either leave them to it or help out with their plans.  We also make sure to visit the space when it is ready to open. We stay in touch using email, text messages, phone, Facebook and the site visits and check monthly for updates on their activities to include in our e-newsletter. We attend all project launches and most other openings and parties.

Pop Up Parramatta: We maintain ongoing written and verbal communication (by email, phone, text, facebook and so on) and check-in visits weekly or fortnightly. We ask artists to complete some planning prior to coming into the space and also attend relevant workshops. We attend events and network artists in the program encouraging them to keep in touch with each other.  The mentoring component of our program is very important, where industry specialists work one-on-one with artists in areas of need - for example visual merchandising/exhibition design, marketing, retail and artist-run initiatives.

How do you resolve conflicts?

Renew Adelaide: The small miscommunications that have arisen were resolved by clarification and clearer communication.

Art in the Heart Lismore: We listen to any concerns and try to find a solution to any particular issue that is sensible and fair.

Anyplace Rozelle: We had a conflict between studio residents over noise levels which was resolved by developing a timetable for when noisy work could be done and when the premises had to be quiet. We have also had to ask some projects to vacate the space when what they proposed did not eventuate. Resolving these 'failed' projects can be time consuming but we see them as a 'necessary risk' of offering space to start-up organisations.

The Rocks Pop Up Project: Honest and open communication with emphasis on the pilot nature of our project - where we don't expect to get everything right. We are at the stage of learning what works and what does not.

Renew Newcastle: If participants breach their agreement, we discuss the issues with them and then have a written record (usually an email) of that discussion and actions for the future. Most 'breaches' are non-critical - for example, not keeping shop opening hours. We work on a 'three strikes' approach which offers participants the fair chance to change behaviour or, after the third strike, the project is wound-up.

Pop Up Parramatta: For the shared studio space we have guidelines and requests of artists. For example: limiting visitor hours; no use of hazardous/toxic materials; and no excessive noise. We have noticed recently how many artists are banking 'everything' on the project to sell work. Encouraging them to develop other streams of income or getting other volunteer assistance to help them share the workload is critical. Opening hours are monitored and matching 'like with like' assists projects with keeping to these hours. Network meetings are conducted bi-monthly to discuss any issues arising. But, as we are learning, there are still many issues to resolve around such things as parking and event management.

Do you evaluate how well participants have activated a space?

Renew Adelaide: We talk to participants regularly and collect anecdotal feedback. Where time permits we attend events at the spaces to see how the activation is going. We also look at before and after images to track the impact projects make in an area.

Art in the Heart Lismore: We ask the artists to track visitation and to make note of comments by visitors and customers. We also talk to neighbouring retailers to find out if they've noticed more 'buzz' and activity as a result of the pop-up project.

Anyplace Rozelle: We are currently developing a questionnaire for artists who have been residents to evaluate their experience to identify what we are doing right and areas for improvement.

The Rocks Pop Up Project: Daily observation and reports including visitor numbers, event activation by participants (which we encourage) and participant feedback on sales figures.

Pop Up Parramatta: We request participants keep records month to month on visitation statistics, including demographic information on visitors. This includes the number of people attending the events. We request testimonials from participants, partners and Parramatta City Council staff. We conduct pre- and post-project surveys and use the results in reporting to funding bodies. We also conduct evaluations of our workshops. Our working group receive quarterly evaluation reports from the coordinator and targets have been set within the project's business plan to keep our goals on track.