Autograph ABP, a charity in London, is one of the world’s leading authorities in the development of under-represented visual identities of ethnic and cultural minorities. It runs a photography gallery and education centre at its base in Shoreditch and is focused on cultural identity, race, representation and human rights. Recent exhibitions have featured prominent work by photographers and artists such as Sammy Baloji, Shahidul Alam and Raphael Albert, exploring issues in Africa, Bangladesh and the UK.
Over the past 28 years Autograph ABP has built a significant collection of images, which has provided a steady but modest flow of income. The commercial potential of a wholly-owned image licensing agency points to long-term sustainability, as profits will flow back to the charity. Autograph Media, the trading subsidiary, will curate and market a much wider range of mission-related content, specialising in race and cultural diversity.
Autograph ABP was in need of £600,000 to cover the start-up and running costs until the venture becomes financially self-sustaining. Arts Impact Fund has provided £150,000, with the balance being provided by the charity, Esmee Fairbairn Foundation and Arts Council England. Money already advanced by the other funders has allowed Autograph to begin developing key partnerships with high-profile organisations such as Getty Images and Magnum Photos, and commence building its content portfolio.
The additional investment from the Arts Impact Fund will enable Autograph Media to allocate extra resources for marketing and developing the e-commerce platform. Those are expected to be critical for the venture’s success and improve its operational efficiency in the early life of the business. The due diligence process involved understanding the commercial potential and demand for the niche market identified as well as reviewing the business model proposed and the relationships between the charity and its content-providing partners. In this respect, the Arts Impact Fund was glad to see that the share of remuneration advanced to photographers and image copyright owners would be on the higher end of the industry’s average. In this way, Autograph Media complements the charitable mission of its parent organisation and helps to develop a fairer licensing market.
The involvement of a highly experienced consultant in the shaping of the business plan, the careful consideration of routes to market, the curatorial expertise and the robust brand of the parent charity were some of the key strengths of the proposal, which mitigated the inherent risks associated with a start-up. The growing demand for curated visual content, especially with the rise of digital media, makes this a viable and innovative investment that the Arts Impact Fund is happy to add to its portfolio.
The fund team also examined Autograph ABP’s social outcomes and theory of change. The nature of the charity’s work means that social and artistic impact are closely aligned. This is underpinned by a belief that exposure to high quality photographic art that challenges the status quo can empower audiences and the wider public to become producers of visual culture themselves, actively shaping the narratives around representation of cultural differences.
Autograph ABP’s exhibitions draw on original research and reach diverse audiences, many of whom are young people, first time attendees and people from minority ethnic backgrounds. The charity is already well above the national average in this respect and over the course of the investment will work to grow its live audiences and develop new ways of engaging with people using digital and social media platforms.
Autograph ABP has found an exciting route to financial resilience in leveraging profits from its own and additional intellectual property to cross-subsidise its artistic and social mission. Here, this idea is at its best thanks to the close alignment between the two: the charity will be taking its knowledge and years of experience to the new venture, which in turn will complement its work and objectives. This is an example of a more innovative model for organisational development that the Arts Impact Fund is enthusiastic to support.
Image credit: Actor Donald Brown. Photograph © Franklyn Rodgers.