26th July 2020

Bow Arts Studios - supporting early career artists and creative businesses.

A case study from a recipient of the Creative Workspace Resilience Fund.

_In April, The Mayor of London launched a new emergency fund to help some of London's most at risk creative businesses. Creative Land Trust worked to administer £1.5m of the grant, going on to fund 82 studios across 18 boroughs, supporting nearly 11,500 creatives. This series aims to highlight how studios and creatives have been effected by COVID19 and how funding from the Mayor with investment from Bloomberg Philanthropies has worked to support them. _

For the past 25 years, Bow Arts has supported artists and communities across London through the provision of quality affordable creative workspace, schools educational services, public exhibitions and events, work, training and a host of digital opportunities.

Across their 16 Studio sites housing 500+ artist designers and makers, Bow Arts’ mission is to promote creative communities and support community renewal across London, by delivering arts and creative services through a financially sustainable social enterprise model.

Bow Arts takes a holistic approach to professionalising and supporting early career artists and creative businesses while improving access and education in less traditional or disadvantaged communities. Maintaining quality affordable workspace is key to Bow Art’s mission; “to achieve this we must ensure artists are recognized professionally, we need to work in partnership and to help them grow and thrive – and through this contribute their skills and talent back into our communities” states Founder and Chief Executive Marcel Baettig.

As the effects of the pandemic began making reverberations across the sector in March, the Bow Arts team turned to thinking about how they could continue to offer their support to the artists and communities they work with, “We made a pledge to all artists at the start of the Crisis that no artist would be forced to lose their studio or home due to Covid-19.”

However, even with this support the effects of the pandemic will hit the poorest, freelancer tenants of Bow Arts. As marcel explained,“90% of our artists are early career freelancers and expect to lose at least 50% of the income and work - the hidden additional impact caused by this drop in income, will be their loss of the tax relief on the cost of their studio. The result being, studios for the poorest most effected artists will suddenly cost them 28% more in real terms. We therefore expect a very high default rate by artist who are forced to go into debt.”

Operating as a social enterprise that feeds 100% of its benefits back into the arts and communities, the Bow Arts team had immediate concerns regarding how the lockdown measures would affect their ability to pursue their mission as a charity, “At our scale, business can change rapidly when income is effected and no longer matches our fixed costs –– it is also vital to understand the singularity faced by charities - we walk a narrow tightrope as a charity”.

“We are sensible so as an employer we follow guidelines and carry sufficient reserves to allows us to manage risk and fulfill our contracts of employment. Nevertheless the charity survives on very low margins - therefore turnover is vital, it creates cash flow and confidence.”

Marcel explained that his panic somewhat subsided when he became aware of the Mayor of London’s Creative Workspace Resilience Fund, “This fund specifically empowers us to target the most vulnerable and low income artists and as such is helping us fulfill our promise. The fund is specifically targeted at support with ongoing workspace costs, reducing the stress and worry caused by the situation and the possibility of losing their careers with the added threat of mounting long term debt.”

“For Bow Arts this support has taken the pressure off our depleting reserves and most importantly it puts us in a better position to weather a slow phased recovery and/or the potential of a second wave.”

Whilst the grant will only cover a fraction of the charity's losses, the targeted financial support for artists means much needed confidence can be restored, “Artists now feel more visible and acknowledged, and collectively confidence is growing in their own ability to afford and maintain their practice and careers.”

“The fund buys people time to start rebuild their practice’s. The impact on freelance work for most artists will last for at least 6-12 months and so it is vital that we have the capacity to support people across this period - artists pinch points will fall at different times” added Marcel.

But the key challenge to maintaining the affordability of creative workspaces for artists was one that existed prior to the pandemic, and will continue to exist afterwards, “another immediate threat in our sector lies in the proliferation of inexperienced workspace provision, who are property focused rather than understanding their future client base, they swamp the market and drive up rents in their clamor to grab property at any cost.”

“Developers with short term interests cannot have the long term view needed to include the people these spaces are built for. So now in order to achieve affordability and economic growth, there will be a need to write off some of this value in the short term and move towards working with organisations with experience and skin in the game.”

Thinking ahead to the post-pandemic world, Marcel believes, “there needs to be a strong voice advocating and championing affordability – explaining what it means – and showing how the benefits of a thriving creative business economy, across both commercial and residential sectors, out strip the race to increase value.”

To ensure the viability of sustainable communities and futures, he says, “we need a real understanding of what affordability is and its value to sustainable, thriving integrated communities”

“We need sustainable businesses, communities and futures – there is a growing and positive movement in this direction, but it is always a challenge to have to lead by example.”