Artspace Lifespace and Covid-19

The COVID19 pandemic has presented new challenges to everybody.

We’re sad to announce that until December 2nd, at the earliest, we once again have to close for public events and gatherings, due to the new lockdown restrictions. Our artist studios will remain open for studio holders who cannot work from home. Our other hireable spaces will be open only for live streaming and rehearsals. All in-person classes and exhibitions are being postponed or rescheduled. 

The many challenges for Artspace Lifespace, as an organisation focussed on providing spaces, support, and logistics, have been varied and multi-faceted. During Lockdown 1, our board met virtually almost every week to make decisions with these values in mind:

  • The health and safety of our team, volunteers, tenants, and the public
  • The commitment to keep our team employed and financially supported
  • The ability for Artspace Lifespace to survive the crisis, and continue supporting the artist community into the future
  • Adapting and evolving to respond to the new needs of artists to create work, and to the greater community that we serve

It is through the tenacity of our staff, support of our community, and shared love of the arts that we have been able to meet the challenges of 2020.

Crisis Planning and Recovery 

On 18 March 2020, we decided to cancel public events until further notice at all our venues. Two days later the government announced the nationwide lockdown.

Our Board of Trustees, who are all volunteers, normally meet four to eight times a year – but when the crisis hit, it was important to engage in weekly emergency planning meetings. We commenced a disaster recovery plan based on minimising our outgoings and applying for grants.

We examined some worst-case scenarios. If our grants were disqualified, we expected we would need to start making redundancies without the support, and returning tenants deposits in July. 

However, thanks to the grant support received in April from Bristol City Council and emergency and cultural recovery grants from ACE we now are looking to a future beyond March 2021.

As we look to the future, we know many other arts organisations will struggle. This means we must continue to advocate for support to the arts sector in Bristol and across the UK.   

Financial Sustainability of Artspace Lifespace

The financial support we received during the last three months includes:

  • Bristol City Council Business Rates Support
  • Arts Council England Emergency & Cultural Recovery Grant
  • Donations of membership fee from space users
  • Continuing rent payments from tenants during closure
  • Furlough of PAYE members of staff
  • Waiver of rent at Ashton Court Mansion from Bristol City Council

Our planning saw us look at the possibility of zero income over lockdown and predict the possible cessation of the business, but thanks to the above grants & donations and the continued support of tenants, our financial position is stable as we move into 2021.

We continued to pay our rent for the Island throughout lockdown. During the lockdown we received notice that costly repair work was immediately required to make the building safe for use. Unfortunately due to the current pandemic and the immediate repairs required, the decision to award Artspace Lifespace a 25-30 year lease was shelved and we will instead be signing another short-medium term lease.

As a responsible charity we hold reserves to weather the risks we foresee but no one could have predicted this year. As part of the measures announced by government departments, all companies and charities were given the option of extensions to filing their annual accounts. We had this under consideration over the period of lockdown and were in contact with our independent examiners in order to plan for our annual submissions which normally fall at the end of June and July. As time went on we made the decision to apply for the extensions due to the pressures this work would have added at this time. The accounts for year end 2019 will therefore be published in November 2019.

Health and Safety

  • Assessment of risk across all our venues
  • Commissioned an artist to create safety posters for our venues
  • Providing Health and Safety Advice and support to studio holders
  • Following consultation with our tenants and assessment of risk, we made some adjustments in our venues including replacing taps and keypads on doors and installation of hand sanitiser at points across the venue. 

Supporting Staff / Team

  • Continued to contract self-employed workers
  • Provided support to our zero-hours contract staff who were unable to work
  • We updated our sick leave policy to support self-employed and zero-hours contract staff acknowledging some of the new risks involved
  • Where PAYE staff have been furloughed we have agreed new payscales for when they return to work, that were scheduled to happen at the beginning of April and the new financial year.
  • These payscales follow the NJC local government pay scales, which are extensively used in the voluntary sector. They are a result of negotiations between trade unions (Unite, Unison and GMB) and Local Government Association. In June 2020 the Board approved that where the NJC scale is lower than the Real National living wage we would pay the higher of the two.  We also monitor other local organisations to ensure our pay rates are comparable for similar roles.
  • At Artspace Lifespace, no member of staff earns more than double that of the lowest member of staff. Since 2017, we have been working towards decreasing the gap in pay between the lowest and the highest paid members of staff.  

Support for Artists and the Community

  • Providing more marketing support to studio holders
  • Providing fundraising training for studio holders
  • Provided a one-month online art class from Crafting Communities tutored by Rose Popay
  • Finalising our new Artspace Lifespace to offer better digital support to our artists
  • Offered rent waivers for shielding and vulnerable tenants who are unable to return to the Island
  • Donated art materials from the Crafting Communities class to Knowle Park School Food Bank. 
  • Continued to pay our rent for the Island and negotiating long term security for our tenants.
  • Finalised the Futur Ville Report
  • Our Inclusion Officer Ngaio’s contract came to an end in April. Ngaio is now focussing on her musical career and her song Blackbird helped inspired the #BeyondTheHashtag campaign which showed support for Black Lives Matter campaigns by people who could not attend physical protests. Our team members supported the #BeyondTheHashtag campaign and Artspace managed the finances of art print sales, the proceeds of which were donated to The Black Curriculum.
  • One of the last events in Bristol on Saturday 7th March before Lockdown was International Women’s Day at City Hall and The Vestibules. To mark International Women’s Day 2020 we commissioned CATO Press to create an image dedicated to the women and children who helped ensure the success of one of the most important strikes in American history. The Vestibules and Rosanna Morris released limited edition prints of our Bread and Roses collective relief print. Profits of £3000 generated from the print sales are being donated to The Smallwood Trust which provides grants to organisations and individuals and works with selected partners to help women overcome financial adversity and to improve their social and emotional well-being.

Reopening Spaces

On Monday 22nd June, we reopened the artist studios at The Island. 

We reopened our circus and dance training spaces in July and exhibition spaces in September. We continue to monitor safety closely and we closed our public spaces again on 5th November in line with the government guidance. 

We will work with our studio holders, hirers and exhibitors to reopen our spaces safely and in a socially-distant manner again when restrictions ease. We will also make use of technology to reach audiences who don’t feel comfortable going out. This also enables us to be more accessible for audiences who cannot access the first floor gallery. We are now looking at how we can support artists with more digital facilities, as well as space and physical ones. This will be something that can support artists well into the future.

Unfortunately, we won’t be able to invite you into our gallery to see the wonderful work being produced by our tenants at The Island. However, you can catch our digital Open Studios from November 19th, with excellent online classes and workshops, a peek into our studios and an online showcase of our tenant’s work.