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Artists deserve support to conduct research and development as much as any other valued professional. Lauren Healey explains how a scheme for emerging filmmakers is having a lasting impact.

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Over the past five years, Northern Film + Media (NFM), a former regional screen agency, has expanded its reach, incorporating support for artist filmmakers through various schemes and initiatives. We want to use our expertise over the past 20 years of developing writer, director and producer talent in film and TV, and incorporate creative business development and create valuable opportunities for artists working with moving image.

Part of the ethos of Connect/Exchange is how an intensive intervention in an artist’s career can have a long-term impact

While other NFM arts projects focus on expanding practice into narrative film, I felt it was important to offer artists opportunities on their own terms. Connect/Exchange is a UK-wide residency scheme in partnership with BALTIC and The NewBridge Project in Newcastle/Gateshead, Metal in Liverpool, Chapter in Cardiff and Stills in Edinburgh. It supports the initial research and development of a new artist’s moving image project and is funded by the three arts councils of England, Wales and Scotland and the European Regional Development Fund.

Ways of working

While there is an overarching framework, the scheme is flexible to benefit from partner expertise. It’s not a case of the same residency taking place in different geographic locations. This is how it works:

  • Artist selection: Through open call, we select ambitious and outgoing early and mid-career artists who are open to testing early-stage ideas. We were most excited by proposals which couldn’t have taken place without the support of specific host partners and without the Connect/Exchange framework.
  • Two-part approach: An induction week provides an overview of the city, artistic community and initial introductions. While some artists are able to commit to a solid two months in a different location, this isn’t always possible, especially for those with caring responsibilities. The second part takes a flexible, open-access approach, meaning artists can work around their specific needs. For some this is a solid block of time, while for others a few days every two or three weeks worked best.
  • Deliberate mix of partners: We value the range of expertise that different partners can bring to the overall project, be that a contemporary art gallery of international standing or an artist-led grassroots organisation currently housed in a disused office block.
  • Hosting and hospitality: We want artists to make connections through formal introductions and also from those incidental-yet-important conversations that take place over a pint or a coffee. The partners are the experts about the best people to meet and the best organisations to have contact with in their city. Metal developed a city tour for artists, while Chapter set up studio visits for artists.
  • Research and development: Our wider sector knowledge tells us there’s a real lack of support in this area, especially funded support. I’ve been clear from the start that artists will be paid for this residency, with an additional budget for travel, accommodation and materials. This is essential to our ethos – treating artists as valued professionals, and also allowing us to support those from a wider range of economic backgrounds.
  • Signposting and bringing everyone together: We want to support artists to continue their projects post-residency. During the year, we brought all the artists together for three discussion days with key figures in artist moving image production, distribution and exhibition. Wider regional artistic communities also benefited from the presentation and networking events.
  • Evaluation: We want to learn from everyone involved and develop future renditions accordingly. We therefore worked with Leeds-based artist and collaborator Lydia Catterall to facilitate a creative roundtable conversation involving both artists and partners.

Benefits to artists

Part of the ethos of Connect/Exchange is how an intensive intervention in an artist’s career can have a long-term impact. A year after their residencies, artists from the pilot rendition reported “…because of the carefully tailored programme of talks, casual networking opportunities and events… I was put into a context where collaborations developed naturally”.

In addition, it “…provided a direct test run for a research approach then used on a residency in China. This culminated in a solo show at the Chinese Art Centre, Manchester 2014. This in turn has led to showing work in HOME’s third exhibition in November 2015”.

Other feedback from artists looks promising. One said that “taking part in this residency has changed the way I’ve worked ever since”. Another said they “experienced the location in a listening, wandering way and I gained confidence by doing that”, while someone else “knows better what I need to make my best work”. One artist has already included work developed from Connect/Exchange in an exhibition and another is hoping to do so for a touring version of an exhibition.

Partners also value the scheme. Ben Harman, Director at Stills, cites the importance of connections between the moving and still image, the latter being the specialism at his organisation. Charlotte Gregory, Director at The NewBridge Project sees it as a key residency, bringing nationally based artists to NewcastleGateshead, and adding to their Practice Makes Practice programme.

Moving forward

We’ll think of Connect/Exchange as a year-long programme of artist development, including residencies, networking and mentoring. We’ll hold events for regional artists in all partner locations and there’ll be more meet-ups for artists and partners across the length of the scheme. We’ll also develop ways for partners to learn about all the artists’ practices, not just those they are hosting.

Lauren Healey is Artist Development Manager at Northern Film + Media.
Tw: @northernmedia

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