The Work Room’s Anita Clark: ‘Artists need a seat at the table – currently they have the least power’
The arts sector needs to own up to a pretty fundamental failing, according to veteran arts administrator Anita Clark. “The people who are most important to us, the artists, are often at the bottom of the sector and they are the people whose voices are often the least heard,” she says.
“We need to be much more transparent as an industry and recognise that the way things are mostly run leaves those who make the work with the least power, and they are often the most vulnerable. We need to make sure that they get a chance to be at the table more than we often do.”
These are strong, and necessary, words from the woman who was previously head of dance at Creative Scotland/Scottish Arts Council between 2004-16 and who now heads up the Work Room, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.
For a decade, the Work Room has provided a space for Scottish-based artists working in dance, movement, physical and circus performance to develop their practice. It is based at Tramway in Glasgow, where it has a dedicated studio.
While it is funded by Creative Scotland, and run by Clark with support from Sara Johnstone, unusually its decision-making processes remains entirely in the hands of its members. Policy is decided by members – currently numbering around 140 – and then facilitated by the administration.
“If at the AGM the members decided they wanted the organisation to run in a different way, they could. There are the mechanisms in place,” Clark says.
Artists pay £20 a year for membership and in return they have access to a wide programme of artist-development opportunities.These range from advice on finance and freelancing, to trips to see members’ work and meetings with those who run and programme venues. It also offers the chance to meet up with each other.
“We talk about ourselves as a community,” says Clark. “It’s a community where lots of the members have very different practices and are at very different stages in their careers. The Work Room helps them connect with each other, and with the wider dance and performance sector. We see it as our role to amplify the voice of independent artists and support them.”
Most importantly, every six months The Work Room puts out an offer of supported residencies at Tramway lasting from a few days to several weeks. Any member can apply and it is the members who decide the artists to get those opportunities, which come with financial support. In 2017, the Work Room supported 48 weeks of residencies with 82 lead artists and collaborators in its studio while working with partners including Platform, Beacon Arts Centre and Cove Park.
Those residencies, which operate 50 weeks of the year, come with no expectation that something concrete has to be produced at the end. “We champion research as much as production, which makes us unusual. Some artists do like to do studio sharings,” Clark says. “But there is no pressure to do so. The Work Room is a place to research ideas and where artists can develop work on their own terms and in their own way. It encourages people to experiment and take risks, and it takes away some of the stress of doing that, particularly at a time when independent artists have to fight for every piece of funding and every opportunity.”
The Work Room facts:
• The Work Room was co-founded in May 2008 by Anna Krzystek, Diane Torr, Roanne Dodds, Kally Lloyd Jones, Linda Payne, Natasha Gilmore, Rosina Bonsu and Colette Sadler – who championed an artist-led ethos and commitment to artistic research.
• Choreographer Natasha Gilmore (now artistic director of Barrowland Ballet) undertook the first ever Work Room residency in January 2009, collaborating with a composer and the performance poet Tawona Sithol.
• The Work Room was a partner with Dance Base and Dance House Glasgow in hosting British Dance Edition 2014 in Edinburgh and Glasgow.
• The Workroom is just back from the Internationale Tanzmesse nrw in Dusseldorf, where it coordinated a Dance from Scotland presence at International Tanzmesse, including a delegation of 15 artists, producers and programmers and supported performances from Janis Claxton Dance, Rob Heaslip Dance and Shaper/Shaper Dance company.
Some residencies do lead to shows presented to audiences and the benefit in all cases is clear. “The immediate benefit is in the risks taken and what that might lead to,” says Clark. “The public benefit may take longer to emerge, but it does emerge eventually. It just may take time.”
At the last Dance International in Glasgow in 2017, no fewer than nine productions had been developed via the Work Room. It has played a significant role in the development of many major companies from Barrowland Ballet to Curious Seed and artists including Claire Cunningham and Mele Broomes, whose Void, a terrific physical riff on JG Ballad’s Concrete Island, was seen at Summerhall during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this summer.
The Work Room was founded by dancers and choreographers over their despair at the lack of suitable studio space in Glasgow to develop their work. Now it supports a broad range of artists and projects which have movement at their heart. A great deal of theatre can be researched and developed in any space, but dance and highly physical work has added requirements – they often need larger spaces and sprung floors to keep the performers safe and can be far harder to locate and more expensive to rent.
“What we can provide,” says Clark, “is a space that is there for artists to use and which is there for them to them to use solely. They won’t get chucked out at 5pm because the studio needs to be used for classes or something else. It becomes home to them for a few days or a few weeks. During that time it is their space in which to experiment and dream.”
The chance to experiment and dream is what every artist needs, and the Work Room offers a model that gives them the space, time and support to do it.
The Work Room profile
Director: Anita Clark
Number of employees: 2
Number of members: There are currently 147 members, find out more about them here
Turnover: Anticipated turnover for 2018/19 is £230,000
Funding levels: RFO funding from Creative Scotland 2018/19-2020/21 is £465,000 over the three years, with £140,000 in 2018/19. The Work Room is gifted its studio and office facilities at Tramway on an in-kind basis from Glasgow Life and receives £3,000 funding from Glasgow City Council annually.
Key contacts: Anita Clark, director: email@example.com T: 0141 423 3864/07429 693093
Sara Johnstone, studio and membership manager: firstname.lastname@example.org, T: 0141 423 3864