Be Smart About Art

The birth of a collective

written by: Susan Mumford Nov. 12, 2017 1) RECOMMENDED-> Susan Mumford + Chris King's Blog 219 views

The birth of a collective

from our Sunday reading series - a weekly blog post (subscribe here)

In late spring 2010, my gallery had survived the worst part of the recession. By January 2009, the focus had become entirely on survival (this resulted in the idea to start a niche network for women art dealers, to help support one another, which later became an entity of its own). This had seen the ending of a weekly Thursday salon that we ran, and the slashing of every single unnecessary cost that could be identified. It also entailed me taking a retail job for a nine-month period, to pay the gallery rent.

As of April 2010, the new business model was beginning to see results, which enabled me to put an end to the retail management job. Unsurprisingly, I was exhausted, and accordingly went for a long holiday to the States to visit family and friends.

Upon returning to London, I wanted to get back to the creative side of being a gallerist. After all, according to research done for my M.A. dissertation, gallerists go into the profession to collaborate with contemporary artists and to create dialogue. Yet making ends meet is essential to pursue the aspects of the career that truly interest them.

I started thinking about how to get back to the making side of things, including working closely with creators, and came up with a concept that also provided a new income stream to the business and played to my strengths: I would set up a photography collective.

The concept was to put together a group of up to ten photographers who would meet on a monthly basis at the gallery, and after a period of time, would stage a show in the space. I brought on board a photographer who could help me, as curator, facilitate meetings and lead the collective to the exhibition.

What an experience it turned out to be! We did meet every month, and amusingly enough, after a few months, the photographer leading the group with me moved to Australia (where he’s remained ever since), so the rest of us carried on. Based on the artists’ practices, it made sense to split the two-week show into two themed one-week shows.

The exhibitions took place the following spring and honestly, if you’d asked me back then what the future held, I would have probably guessed that the collective wouldn’t have a long life. With so many changes taking place in my professional life, I didn’t proceed with the group and advised that they carry on, leading it amongst themselves. Little did I know what the future held!

Later that same year, I joined the collective as a photographer myself. When it started to die a death owing to lack of leadership, I scooped it back up with the realization that having someone steering the ship made all of the difference, and brought it into the Be Smart About Art programme. More than seven years later, it’s still ‘powered’ by the BSAA programme, with yours truly facilitating the monthly meet-up (an activity that I LOVE) and a Collective Coordinator who supports the group.

The collective is a superb example of a project that was started with authentic vision and has continued over time, shifting according to circumstances and carrying on because of belief.

What have you done that has survived the test of time (or at least did for many years), morphing along the way? What ideas do you have for new projects with long visions?

Feel free to add your own stories and ideas into comments below J.

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Well done. I've had similar experiences and leadership definitely makes a difference. With artists direct leadership doesn't seem to work. Neither does leading by example as it tends to create division. However setting visual written goals, with road maps to the goals does seem to work. Just my observation. Best of luck with the painting and photography.