Over the past two years, the Arts Impact Fund has built a varied portfolio of investments with different risk and social impact profiles. It has been our hope that, where our lending limits and investment guidelines allow, we support not only well-established institutions but grassroots organisations with entrepreneurial spirit and ambition to grow their operational reach and impact sustainably. We are delighted to add community interest company Fuse Art Space (Fuse) to our portfolio: an example of how an organisation can boldly capitalise on its creative credentials to move closer to financial sustainability.
Fuse is a volunteer-led art gallery and performance venue founded by James Birchall and Sarah Faraday based in a retail unit on Bradford’s high street. Part of a wider commercial development that had failed to attract new businesses to the area, James and Sarah saw the space as an opportunity to bring ground-breaking art to the heart of Bradford, making it more accessible to local communities and helping to revive the town’s struggling northern quarter.
Since opening in 2014, Fuse has hosted a range of exhibitions, live performances and arts events with a focus on pioneering, experimental and socially engaged art and music. Its work supports many emerging local artists and provides a platform for different voices to be heard; the organisation often collaborates with other arts organisations, informal creative groups and individual producers to program their events in its space. The organisation has also managed to get some of Bradford’s most vulnerable citizens through its doors. Its 2016 project Sanctuary Events, for instance, engaged over 250 asylum-seekers and refugees, helping them to feel included in the town’s cultural life and community.
Despite operating on a modest budget, the organisation has managed to achieve a lot in a relatively small space of time. However, its small capacity combined with recent withdrawal of funding from the local council led the organisation to look for ways to become more robust and financially independent. With fewer available opportunities in Bradford’s fragile economy, Fuse turned towards the idea of creating a viable commercial enterprise elsewhere and using earned revenues to cross-subsidise its grassroots artistic and community engagement work. The organisation came to Arts Impact Fund looking for investment of £150,000 to help it set up CAMP – a new arts facility in the French Pyrenees that will offer residential arts courses led by world-renowned practitioners, such as composer Gavin Bryars and environmental recordist Chris Watson.
Our loan will be used to purchase and refurbish the site for CAMP with the balance provided by the organisation itself from advance sales of its arts residential courses. Before approving the investment, the Arts Impact Fund team put to the test the financial and business model for CAMP, looking at how the cross-border project will be managed day-to-day and at a strategic level. We also had to understand and validate the assumptions behind management’s revenue projections and get comfortable with the cost base for different scenarios, based around the level of sales and number of courses that will run each year.
In addition to this, our investment was conditional on ensuring that the economic and social benefits generated by CAMP will reach in-need communities in Bradford. We were impressed by the transparency and motivation of Fuse’s management team and their commitment to investing in Bradford’s cultural future. The organisation’s strong roots in the local community meant that planning all aspects of CAMP tied back to its current venue and mission-driven work. Fuse will be in control of all assets associated with the new venture, so that profits will go back to strengthen its capacity, create new opportunities for paid work and offer more activities for Bradford residents to engage in art that is relevant and important to them. In addition to this, CAMP will as a matter of policy create linked opportunities for artist and staff professional development both in Bradford and France, creating many positive synergies between the two sites.
Despite the inherent risks in backing a brand new venture, Arts Impact Fund’s investment committee was encouraged to see Fuse utilising its creative expertise to develop an innovative and valuable product that will generate significant commercial revenue for the organisation. We will keenly follow CAMP’s progress in the course of the investment. If the project is successful, it will show how entrepreneurial arts organisations can draw on their creative resources to become more self-sustaining and boost their ability to serve the communities they are rooted in.
You can learn more about CAMP and book a place on one of the residential arts courses in 2018 here.