There are cities where art is king, where the contemporary scene is such that it is easy to find resources as an emerging artist. And then there are places, plenty of them, where the contemporary scene is all but non-existent. Such was the case for Peter Dickinson, a contemporary artist and curator in Bath, England. Bath, as a world heritage city, had no shortage of classical and ancient art and artifacts, but there was little room for contemporary artists to reach out to the community and network with each other. So Dickinson, along with three colleagues from the art world, began reaching out to bars.
The concept was simple, find spaces that would allow the four artists to run evenings of art lecture and discussion. They landed at The Raven in the center of Bath, renowned for its excellent beer and pies. This reputation meant that the bar would have easy foot traffic drawing in visitors to what has come to be known as Artbar.
Five years later, Artbar is thriving. On the third Tuesday of every month, crowds gather to listen to experts from across the arts speak about their experience, to talk shop with one another, and, of course, to imbibe a little.
Artbar is a symbiotic relationship. While the bar itself may bring in a foundational crowd, the presence of Artbar acts as an additional draw pulling in more customers for the bar. Artbar events are open to the public and take place regardless of who happens to be in the room. This can make for interesting situations when it comes to those unaware they were arriving at an art event, but this dynamic makes it all the more interesting.
From humble beginnings, Artbar has become a fixture of the Bath arts scene. In a city devoted to ancient and classical art, the monthly meetups provide a much-needed outlet for contemporary artists.
The Artbar concept can be applied in virtually any city where there is a need for such things. The best first step is to gather founding collaborators and begin approaching local establishments. Highlight the potential to draw in additional customers on these nights and use Artbar as a model for your pitch.
Seek out presenters, including yourself and the other founding members of your burgeoning arts collective. Try to schedule six to eight weeks of presentations to get started, that way you have enough time to let your collective gain some momentum. As your art night grows, begin reaching out to presenters outside your core group.
Bath’s Artbar brings in presenters from the international art scene. Often the perspective they offer blows apart long-held notions about how the art world works. Artbar also brings in guests from outside the visual art world. One very notable presenter was Clive Deamer, one-time drummer for Portishead and Robert Plant, and recently on tour with Radiohead. Dickinson describes the hot summer evening when Deamer set up his drum kit in the close quarters that are The Raven’s second floor and, with windows open to the world, lay into the drums, talking the crowd through his practice.
Artbar is not a funded event. It is a combination of the goodwill of the pub itself and the awareness that Artbar is drawing in more patrons that keep the event going. Guest speakers are usually known in some way to the wider network of the event and are asked to present free of charge. This model makes the collective a true community effort. No one individual is cashing in on this, rather the entire event is predicated on the concept of collective and communal effort.
In general, it is the four founding members of Artbar who book presenters. Dickinson goes on to say though that they rely on the community of participants to suggest presenters for the team to reach out to and to bring them in themselves when they can. Additionally, after five years Artbar has a standing reputation that helps bring in more presenters and a bigger crowd.
When starting a collective like Artbar, it is important to take the long view. In the beginning you will work with limited resources in terms of who you can reach out to. Given time and patience, and with good exposure and management, your collective will grow and gain a reputation allowing for expansion of your presenter pool and a broader audience base.
Dickinson knows well that in order to achieve success in the art world, it is imperative to reach out to the community. Making connections is key, it is important not to exist in a bubble. He also realizes that, despite a lot of romanticizing, the arts are a competitive field. As an independent artist, building your network and your own brand as an artist are critical components. Founding an arts collective is not only a great way to broaden your network, it can also serve to bolster your reputation within the community.