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Cumbria Chinwag

I’ve worked with Short Supply in previous projects to help catch some of the critical thinking bits that get overlooked when you’re a limited company organisation of three. I’ll be coming along on Short Supply’s Goin Places Doin Bits road trip across the North West, nestled in the sidecar of the motorbike, chatting, reflecting and eavesdropping on all the important art talk. Short Supply has a clear mandate for Goin Places Doin Bits which if I’m honest, doesn’t always align with what I want the organisation to do - sort the art world out. Big job. Not their job. Short Supply’s larger goals are to help early-career artists from the North by providing opportunities in the form of exhibitions, advice, commissions and access to a lovely network - a bridge between early-career artists and the more established art world. Part of Goin Places Doin Bits is for artists to cross pollinate, to learn from different art organisations and see what other artist-led spaces are doing in the wider area. As Short Supply said during the announcement of the project, we’ll be visiting each county of the North West, asking how artists' needs are different in different areas and who we can shine a spotlight on to give a little more love.


Like most artists I’m juggling freelance work with other less arty work, which means I missed the Cumbria outings. To give me a flavour (and to make sure all our diaries sync up) we’ve come together for a post-trip catch-up and exhale before the second trip to Lancashire. Like most of our chats, we’ve spilled all our big art thoughts over drinks and managed to catch them on to paper.



James

Do you remember those old mobile libraries? Maybe you need a mobile gallery, like a big van...


Bek

We joked a few years ago when we first set up Short Supply that we were gonna get a double-decker bus and turn it into a gallery.


Mollie

That's actually where the Goin Places Doin Bits thing came from.


Grace

You wanted an ice cream truck for a hot minute, right?


Mollie

Yeah, an ice cream truck for A Modest Show! We were gonna do that. Yes, that's where it came from, from our bus gallery idea. Just imagine the private view in a fucking field!


Bek

We were like we should get some sort of bizarre mode of transport, like a bus or lorry or a canal boat, and we'll call it Goin Places because we will take the gallery to different locations so lots of people can see the work. Like a touring show but it's physically touring because we're taking it around in a box. It was a silly summer evening while we were just out on a walk. Lockdown walks. Cabin fever (laughs).


James

It'd be interesting to see you tour Made It around those places. That doesn't seem impossible to do, were there spaces that could host a show like that in these North West towns?


Bek

There were a few spaces in Kendal, wasn't there? There's Cross Lane Projects, but I don't know if that's just for the studio holders, and there’s The Brewery.


Grace

The councillor from Cumbria said the problem isn’t that the population is really low, it's that it's really spread out. So getting the visitor numbers for something is really hard, even in Carlisle. People live really rurally and that's the beauty of living in the Lake District, in Cumbria. There was an organization who commission artists to paint and give them a wall… I tried to ask them both a bit about gentrification and street art, but they said I just want like the average Joe to see some art, and engage with it. It felt like oh, you're not really doing what we do. They didn't tell us any of the graffiti street artists' names. They didn't tell us where they were from. They weren't clear about how they paid those artists or what the situation was.


Bek

It felt like tooting their own horn and the town's horn, but not the horns of the artists.


Grace

Which made me question whether those artists were actually… the artists become separate from the people that are learning, there are the professionals that do the walls and these are the kids that have a go. We didn't see eye to eye.


James

Has Short Supply ever specified what kind of artists you work with?


Bek

No. The only specificity that we use is more around the early career, emerging, graduate artist, but not an age range.


Mollie

Generally it would be contemporary artists, artists who want to be galleries.


Bek

We have also said visual arts as well, because I personally would argue if somebody applied for Made It as a performer, but they were a dancer, would we not still count them as an artist? I would still kind of argue the flexibility of the term contemporary visual arts.


Mollie

That person asked didn’t they, would you consider working with theatre people? And I said, not really. I don't know, I've not worked with theatre people before so I wouldn't know if you would get something from being in an exhibition. Yeah, maybe they would. Maybe that's wrong of me.


Grace

It's also, what have we got to give you? We've got access to a contemporary audience, a contemporary art network, art institutions and whoever else. If a theatre student comes in and they want to put on a play, we could put you in touch with a contact… ultimately, I'm kind of signposting you to other people.


Bek

We don't turn people away or say no we can't help you, okay we can't necessarily help you but we know x, y and z people that will know more about it than us.


Grace

Why don't we support people to make stuff happen in somewhere like Cumbria? but then you hear from those young people and artists, that they really want to show in Manchester and in some sense they need to do that in order to further their careers. That's about what Short Supply wants vs what I might want, and Short Supply is a bridge between artists and large organisations.


James

If the majority of people overwhelmingly said we just want to go into Manchester and get a show, help us do that, would you sack that off and just help them get into Manchester?


Grace

I want to go to these places because I want to support the art ecology there. I don't want us to always be going from Cumbria to Manchester, pulling people back to the city and just creating lots of wealth in the city centre. I think they [artists] got really excited when they were thinking oh, we could go on a trip to Manchester! If artists in Cumbria want a bridge to Manchester then that's what we're here for.


Bek

I think that's why they [artists] want to go to cities, to find something that they aren't seeing in their own towns. I think it's easier to find here, you can walk not very far in Manchester and fall over something artistic. Whereas you could be searching for a while in Carlisle and still not find it.


Mollie

I think the initial thing is well, it's shit here and there's nothing which we're gonna get everywhere we go. For us, it's that thing of getting the balance between oh, are we doing things to help initiate stuff where they are, or is it more about showing them how to get the knowledge that they need for bigger places?




Grace

I'm finding it really difficult to ask them, what do you want? when they’re like a big art gallery! You're not gonna get to show your work at a big art gallery, you're not talking about job opportunities for yourself, you’re talking about what you want to see.


Bek

Is there a different way that we could phrase that question? Maybe we can phrase it as what would help you develop your practice? Or what would help you develop your career?


Grace

If you tell me you want a solo show then great, but I'm also concerned about the long term effects. I think we've said before it's like we're building a bridge. Are we building a bridge where people could be dropped off the end? Whereas that grassroots level, where people are putting on shows together and doing stuff that's not as slick in a weird space or in a cafe, that is actually more sustainable in the long term.


Mollie

When I said we're gonna have a show, Made It, and we'd love you guys to come and we can chit-chat and you'll be able to meet other graduates from around the rest of the region. They wanted to do that and they were excited to do that… I’ve observed through this Made It cycle that students' confidence is low, they're terrified to make an application even for the HOME one which was basically just your name, a contact detail and your square.


James

Terrified of the application process or being judged by Short Supply?


Mollie

I don't know. I guess that's just a personality thing. Everyone's different, aren't they? Some people will just give something a go and other people will not want to do that. I don't want to put them all in one box, at the end of the day some are going to be more confident than others. Generally, there's just a real disconnect within education. It’s not prepared them at all to take these steps into being professionals, to not just empower students but look after them, encourage confidence.


Grace

The people that we're going to meet through this programme will be the people competent enough to Instagram DM us, email us, or get in touch. To comment on our stuff. I think the people that have turned up to speak to us have been a bit nervous and unsure and we're able to hold that conversation. We're talking about how we can't encourage those quiet people who sit at the back to come and chat to us and we can't make that happen, but we can encourage those people that are more confident to share that information.


James

I find that Infinitely frustrating though, that essentially the chancers and very enthusiastic or confident people are able to take up that space. I don't know how you catch those other people but there's a reason people are stepping forward. My instant thought is oh, you're looking for these artists. It's not me, it’s these other artists. These important, bigger artists who know things, which is not the case.


Grace

I can get really tied up in how do we be anti-capitalist? because those are my values, we are a bridge to these organisations, and I think what Short Supply does is subversive and has a lot of political power to it. The stuff that we’ve done in St Helens, felt really important. Some of Those people are not considered professional artists in the same way, Some of them have never exhibited work before. There's something really great that Short Supply can do, it's maybe a bit different to other things that we do but we can treat this art on the same level


Mollie

Lots of people asked about it as well. People were like that thing you did in St Helens, that was really exciting! I wish I'd come. I'm like yeah, you should have come!


Grace

We're going to keep doing it.


Mollie

We're trying to do things based on the feedback that people give us, but a lot of the time we don't see a return on it. Marketing is really important. You can't expect to get lots of people to come to something if you've only promoted it for a week, there's those factors that come in. It's not just that people aren't interested.


Bek

Is our next Arts Council going to be the rise of socialism and how to kill capitalism?


James

I hope so.


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