Farnham Maltings will gain expertise in creating connections in hard-to-reach regions while Visiting Arts secures a future for programmes it was struggling to resource.
Oast House Archive
International artistic facilitator Visiting Arts and Surrey-based arts centre Farnham Maltings have merged in order to combine their shared international ambitions.
After 40 years of operating independently, Visiting Arts will be absorbed into Farnham Maltings’ international strand of work, called ‘caravan’. Sophia Victoria, a consultant with Visiting Arts, has transferred across to continue two programmes. These are the Cultural Attache Network, which makes introductions between UK cultural workers and London’s diplomatic community, and an International Producers’ Breakfast which is held at Edinburgh International Festival each year.
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While the merger of a mid-sized regional arts centre with an internationally-focused, London-based outfit might seem an odd marriage, Farnham Maltings CEO Gavin Stride said the two have a long history of collaboration and “a perfect opportunity to ensure a legacy for the hard work” of Visiting Arts.
“They are saying, ‘we have the intelligence, but we don’t have the resources to sustain ourselves’,” he told ArtsProfessional.
Merger or closure?
Financial records for Visiting Arts show growing deficits in recent years. By 2018 the organisation’s income – £71,498 – was less than half what it was in 2013, and it had a deficit of more than £50,000.
Its accounts note: “the focus [of Visiting Arts] from 2018 onwards will be to consolidate and look at more sustainable business models. This might include merger, further reductions or, indeed, closure.”
Former Visiting Arts Chief Executive Yvette Vaughan Jones said they had been “looking for a solution for two or three years”.
“We had been in discussions with other [potential] partners so I think we have found a good solution … we’re keeping the ethos and the contacts going [by merging] with Farnham Maltings.
“We needed the infrastructure; we needed a secure institution to host our programmes in. They’re providing us with that and we’re providing them with that international perspective.”
But Vaughan Jones caveated that the merger is “an experiment” and may be revisited: “we will trial it for a year and then see. We’re not burning our boats – if it doesn’t work, we can always go back.”
Filling a gap
Stride said the merger and consequent expansion of Farnham Maltings’ international work feels appropriate in the “uncertain times” ushered in by Brexit.
“If you look at it as Farnham Maltings, you think, what is that [merger] about? But if you think of it in the context of caravan and our international work it makes more sense.
“What Visiting Arts has been particularly strong on in the past has been working in areas that the British Council can’t work in for various reasons.”
Stride said Farnham Maltings will continue its work in Iran – a country Visiting Arts was also involved in.
“We will keep that cultural dialogue in those areas of the world; we’re completely committed to sustaining that. It is a capacity issue – we will do as much as we can.”