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What’s changed? Own Art interview gallery members mid-COVID-19 lockdown

It’s been a unique and unsettling few weeks in lockdown, with businesses and individuals having to make quick and life-changing decisions. Unfortunately, the arts and culture industry has taken a huge hit, with a large amount of the workforce being made up of self-employed or freelance, as well as the restriction of vital activities of which they receive their main income.

At Creative United we work with arts organisations, creative enterprises, sole traders and freelancers in the creative sector to support economic growth and social impacts.

Own Art wanted to speak to a few of the amazing galleries on the scheme to see how they have overcome, or are dealing with, the current pandemic, and perhaps to share some inspiration to those who are still on the lookout for support.

Luckily, a wealth of helpful and free resources have been shared in the spirit of community to help both businesses and individuals deal with the COVID-19 outbreak. We’ve listed some at the end of this interview, however please do email any other links you feel would be beneficial to [email protected].

This interview is with special thanks to:
Richard Kalman
, owner & founder of the Crane Kalman Brighton gallery
Scott Phillips, one of the founders of Rise Art
Roy Tyson, Founder of Roy’s Art Fair
Sophie Hill, Director of Arts & Events at Nunnery Gallery, Bow Arts

If you would like to have your say or would like your gallery featured on the Own Art website, please reach out to us at [email protected]. We’re always on the lookout for fantastic content!


Firstly, how are you today?

Crane Kalman Brighton: My family and I are all well and trying our best to keep physically and mentally occupied, which is not always easy with three teenage children in the house! It’s a cross between an army boot camp (exercises routines in the garden, household cleaning rotas) and some retro board games club, like playing Battleships and Scrabble remotely with the kids’ grandmother who is home alone.

Rise Art: Doing well. Despite the dramatic shift in how and where our team is working, we have been lucky, and the team and I are healthy and contributing where we can to look after our families and the Rise Art community.

Roy’s Art Fair: Today is Friday 3rd April, I am all good. I think everyone is having good and bad days, but it is important to stay positive, active and focused and to do all you can to prepare for the other side of this pandemic.

Bow Arts: I’m very well, thanks; staying safe and working from home. 

How did the news of the Coronavirus outbreak immediately affect you?

CKB: Like most of us in the UK, I think with an ever-increasing sense of shock. Totally unprepared, always somehow imaging it could never get that bad here (as with previous outbreaks of Sars etc), until it then did, and still somewhat reeling from the daily developments of it. I have experienced nothing ever like it, so no frame of reference, no wise words from older generations with which to be guided. Just waiting and hoping, praying for those affected and afflicted and giving thanks for those on the front line trying to help, cope and heal.

RA: We were fairly early to allow and then require teams to work remotely. As most of our business is done online, it has been a relatively easy shift to a virtual workforce.

RAF: In the immediate outbreak, I don’t think many people could vision it getting to this stage. So whilst keeping an eye on it, we didn’t go to great lengths to change anything. We did, however, make plans for our event to be as active as possible in helping to ensure the safety of visitors, artists and staff during their visit. As the days went on and the situation got much worse, we quickly realised that by the time our event was due, the country would likely be in lockdown. We immediately worked with the venue and came to the decision to postpone our event, alerting all of the exhibitors, visitors, partners and staff of the change. As the situation has developed, it is our belief that there may not be any events such as ours this year.

BA: As it became clear how serious the Coronavirus outbreak was likely to be in the UK, the Nunnery Gallery team began scenario planning but I don’t think any of us realised that it would reach this stage. We began by cancelling events in the near future, preparing our staff for working from home and then closing our exhibition ‘Lightboxes & Lettering’ a week earlier than planned. We were working from home before the lockdown was announced, but the severity of the rules was still a shock – like I imagine they were for everyone.

Now we are where we are, what continuity plans have you got in place to help you through the lockdown?

CKB: It’s not so much having plans in place to help us get through, it is really just trying to keep the business ticking over. Trying to make sure our artists are ok and finding ways to help them get through this, whilst keeping some presence going with the gallery virtually while our physical spaces are shut down and fairs are cancelled or postponed. For me, the main focus is back-end things, redoing our website, better organising our database, planning future shows, researching interesting new artists and arranging the occasional online talk for the new pop-up permanent gallery space we have in London.

RA: Largely, we are focusing on our supporting community, helping artists and anyone with an interest in art. 

We have launched a number of initiatives, from waiving our revenue share with artists for a fixed period to hosting live drawing classes for anyone with an interest in art. You can see our upcoming classes at rise-art.eventbrite.com

I think that at this time it is really important to help artists, many of which have lost valuable routes to market. We are doing everything we can to help them and the rest of our community get through these challenging time.  

RAF: We immediately started to explore our options online and how we could support our exhibitors. So we are developing an online gallery platform exclusive for our art fair exhibitors to sell the work that they had prepared for the show. Whilst keeping costs very low, we can scrape through.

BA: We are trying to adapt some of our programmings online – for instance, some of our Bow Skills programme, which provides career development learning for artists, is going digital with free skills videos. Our first is ‘how to plan a social media strategy in 10 minutes’ – something a lot of artists will be thinking about at the moment! We are also trying to support our Bow Arts artist community by encouraging sales of their work through Own Art. Buying artwork is a great way to support freelance artists at the moment, many of whom will have lost most of their project work across the summer.

“Largely, we are focusing on our supporting community, helping artists and anyone with an interest in art.”

Scott Phillips, Rise Art
I AM COMPLETELY FINE! By VICTORIA TOPPING
I AM COMPLETELY FINE! By VICTORIA TOPPING Edition of 25 90.0cm x 61.0cm. Courtesy of Rise Art.

Are you in touch with any other similar businesses?

CKB: Constantly, yes. There is very much a feeling of everyone within the art world community going through a very shared and similar experience from the largest global galleries to small local players such as myself, the effects of the shutdown are the same. I get the impression everyone is looking to do whatever they can to support, help and steer each other (galleries, artists, fair organisers) through this as it is clearly evident (if it wasn’t already before), how much we all rely upon each other to make each part of this business work. We are – and should be – one community.

RA: Yes, we speak with lots of partners, and other businesses regularly. At this stage, I am really looking to understand more about how other companies are weathering the storm, and what issues they are having. Given our commitment to technology, there may be ways we can help or collaborate with others. 

RAF: Yes, we are in touch with many other businesses from events, fairs, galleries etc. We believe this is a time for networking, supporting others and staying positive to help get everyone through this time and have a business that you can return to when allowed to.

BA: Many of our exhibitions are collaborative; working with collections or universities, and keeping in touch is vital at the moment. This is a completely unknown situation, so talking cross-organisationally is incredibly important – sharing knowledge, advice and expertise. The arts and culture sector will be hard hit from this crisis, so it’s critical we collectively make a case for its importance and survival. A united voice is always better than one. 

“There is very much a feeling of everyone within the art world community going through a very shared and similar experience from the largest global galleries to small local players such as myself, the effects of the shutdown are the same. “

Richard Kalman, Crane Kalman Brighton

Is there anything you are doing as a community?

CKB: Again, yes and in large numbers. Many galleries are auctioning works to raise money for the NHS and other currently-affected charities or are giving peer-to-peer talks and advisory sessions with artists on how to manage to get through this crisis. We are working with a number of artists to offer exclusive prints for sale with all proceeds donated to the NHS.

RAF: Yes we are doing a few things. We are supporting our exhibitors with social media takeover days, giving them the chance to show their artwork for a day to our followers. We also launched ‘Roy’s Art Club’ which is a social media-based competition aimed at children, encouraging them to create something, tag #roysartclub and their work will be shared on our page and entered into the competition to win a weekly prize. This has been well received amongst parents who now have their children at home all day.

BA: Our community of artists is incredibly strong and we are trying to share their resilience, creativity and activity through Bow Arts’ online presence. Artists have been doing amazing things – Champion 3D, a 3D printer in our Catford Studios, has been printing PPE face shields for the NHS for instance. We want to spread the word about the important roles artists and makers play, and of course the pressure they’re now under financially.

“We want to spread the word about the important roles artists and makers play, and of course the pressure they’re now under financially.”

Sophie Hill, Bow Arts
Artist Spotlight: Haidée Drew, Courtesy of Bow Arts.

What has been the biggest surprise to you throughout this?

CKB: The degree of community spirit in what is often seen as a maligned (and often rightly so) cut-throat business such as the art world.

RA: I think it just has really re-enforced the strong bonds within the team and our greater community. We will get through this, and I think that our company will come out of it stronger.

RAF: The speed at which everyone has had to adapt. The moment that the lockdown was announced was the biggest impact for many businesses and employees around the country. That first week probably knocked everyone for six. But within a couple of days, people started adjusting, talking a lot, sharing resources, understanding situations and generally pulling together to try to move forward in a positive way. This has brought out the best in many people and perhaps made us all realise what is important in life.

BA: I think the biggest surprise is how quickly everyone has adapted to the situation. My team have been amazing, coming up with new ideas around how to translate programming online, and taking the time to reflect on how we can use this time to try and do things better in the future. I am also surprised – and humbled – by people’s spirit of generosity and collaboration; artists are sharing skills, videos and tips all over social media to help those at home. We now have so many new things to do, make, watch and listen to!

“This has brought out the best in many people and perhaps made us all realise what is important in life.”

Roy Tyson, Roy’s Art Fair

What positive outcomes have happened for you?

CKB: On a personal level, seeing the outpouring of support and appreciation for the NHS and all associated key workers. We finished our recent gallery live talk with photographer John Wright early just to make sure everyone participating had time to go out and clap in support of the NHS on Thursday night. It is great to see a street (I live on quite a busy main road) go and stand outside their homes and show their support. It’s not often enough expressed, and I hope it continues long beyond this current crisis and we start realising how dependent upon we all are on their services, and that the only we can pay for it is for the many of us to pay more in taxes to fund them.

RA: From a personal standpoint, it’s been really positive to spend more time with my two twin five-year-old daughters. The pressures of running a company often mean early mornings and late nights. It has been great to do family dinner every night, and be able to put the girls to bed each evening.

RAF: I’ve had many positive outcomes, mainly personal, however. Business for the majority is hard right now, so I quickly accepted that I just have to keep my head above water, ready for when we come out of this. But the positive outcomes have been great. Firstly, I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with my family. Secondly, the technology that we have has also allowed us to connect with family and friends in ways we didn’t do as much before, so talking and playing games with everyone has been a fantastic way to stay in touch. Then in a business sense, it really has made everyone realise that we are in this together and need to support each other. We are very lucky to have many amazing supportive artists that have stuck with us in this time, this means the world to us and is humbling that we have their support.

BA: I have gained some time to reflect – this is always hard to achieve in the office when we have exhibitions and events running constantly and the attitude is always go go go! I am also getting to know some of our artists better as we try and support their activity online or otherwise. It is amazing how communication can improve when we are isolated, positively driven by the need to reach out and support one another in a time of crisis. 

‘Watch Over You’ by Sam Hicks – Courtesy of Crane Kalman Brighton

Is there anything, in particular, you would like to share?

CKB: Yes, 8 PM every Thursday night, clap for the NHS! Also, make sure you keep an eye out for our weekly online live talks with industry experts.

RA: We’re launching new projects regularly on www.riseart.com to support our artists and community. You can see my note on our actions regarding COVID-19 here.

RAF: Just to encourage people to keep buying artwork from artists. Most artists are self-employed and this will be a tough time for them, however big or small the purchase, artists will appreciate all the support they can get.

BA: I’d love to share everything our artists and team are doing! But specifically, we’re spotlighting a different artist’s work each week and offering it for sale through Own Art, trying to encourage sales to support artists. If you follow @BowArts you can keep up to date.

Do you have any tips for the creative industry on what actions they could or should be taking?

CKB: I don’t feel I’m in a position to be giving anybody advice on what they should be doing. I think most people do what they can, when they can, to help those they are in contact with both personally and professionally. This is a time for science, medicine and engineering as well as a reminder on how essential it is for young people to want to and aspire to go into these professions. As part of the creative industries, I think it would be great if we could find more ways to do this and bring science and engineering into the arts and work collaboratively with those industries.

RA: I think right now every creative business can be asking their stakeholders what their greatest problems are, and trying to find ways to support this. If you are like our business, revenues have dropped and the uncertainty has led to cancelled events and projects. By using this time to strengthen relationships, and support others, I think we’ll all come out stronger. 

RAF: This is a time for networking: contacting any of your representatives; showing your support for them; offering help; speaking with any partners you may have connected to your work (and of course in personal life). It is the time when everyone wants to talk because of our lack of physical interaction with people. You’ll find that any support you offer is usually repaid in some way or another.

BA: We need to unite and work together as an industry. Arts and culture play a critical role in our society, and there is a very real danger that spaces will go under and artists will be financially crippled if they don’t receive the right support. We need to share expertise, prove value and keep talking to make sure the message is received. The Arts Council, Heritage Lottery Fund and others are admirably making emergency funding available, but it’s important to remember that this won’t be enough for everyone. It’s a great start but we need to make sure that doesn’t stop the conversation on what more we can do to ensure the industry’s survival.

“We need to unite and work together as an industry. Arts and culture play a critical role in our society, and there is a very real danger that spaces will go under and artists will be financially crippled if they don’t receive the right support.”

Sophie Hill, Bow Arts
RAINBOW By MATT ANTONIAK
RAINBOW By MATT ANTONIAK Paintings 50.0cm x 40.0cm. Courtesy of Rise Art.

Please continue to support our galleries by following their news and updates.

Please continue to support our galleries by following their news and updates.

Crane Kalman BrightonFacebook | Twitter | Instagram

Rise ArtFacebook | Twitter | Instagram

Roy’s Art FairFacebook | Twitter | Instagram

Helpful Resources:

  • Creative Scotland has an A-Z of funding and resources available to those in the creative community.
  • Arts Council of Northern Ireland has a page dedicated to the latest guidance for the arts sector on the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
  • Arts Council England has listed the latest advice, guidance and emergency funding measures they’ve put in place to address the COVID-19.
  • Creative Industries Federation – COVID-19 Guidance from the Sector
  • Local Government Association – Useful information for councils on novel coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • Arts Professional – CovidCulture is your space for news and information relating to the coronavirus pandemic
  • Gov.uk – Financial support for businesses during coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • London.gov.uk – Coronavirus updates and guidance
  • Our partners at the A-M-A have a regularly updated resource page.
  • Crafts Council has some fantastic posts on how to keep creating at home, as well as how to support the craft industry.
  • Free coronavirus resources for charities from Lightful.
  • a-n has collated a regularly updated news page of information and guidance to support and advise artists and arts organisers. They are also bringing the application process forward for the next round of a-n Artist Bursaries.
  • The Digital Culture Network is here to develop your organisation’s digital skills, find new ways to reach and engage audiences and help develop your business models.