A Practical Guide to Setting Up Studio Space
Few artists can afford the expense of owning their own studio, particularly at the start of their careers. Working with a group of artists can be a viable economic alternative with the additional advantage of shared information, expertise, facilities and resources. Setting up a studio in Ireland today is a tricky business. Property prices are at a premium and even if you find a space, holding on to it may not be that simple. This practical guide is intended to equip practising artists with some general information and advice needed to set up a studio group.
Before you start looking for a space to develop, it is worth spending some time thinking about the type of studio you need. A great way to start this process, would be to read artist Alan Phelan’s text, ‘I’m thinking of getting a Studio’, which you will find in the Professional Pathways section of the info~pool.
Although it may take time to find the space that’s right for your needs, your budget will often determine the level of compromise between what you want and what you can afford.
You may have to respond quickly to an opportunity that arises unexpectedly, or you may have the time to research a variety of possible spaces – in either case having a relatively clear idea of what you really need from a studio will focus your search when looking for space. If you are planning to work with a group of artists there are some basic questions you may wish to consider in advance.
- Who is involved?
- Can we trust each other?
- Are there particular facilities or resources needed to develop work?
- What is affordable?
- How much time do I personally want to invest in the process of operating a group studio?
- Do I want the responsibility of managing a group studio or do I just want to concentrate on my own work?
It is worth considering these issues before you start, as they will impact on the kind of studio space you will create. Even though you may share similar interests with others in the group and you may be the best of friends, your needs may conflict with theirs depending on the type of work you do. If for example you work with chemicals and industrial equipment, you will have different needs from someone that works with photography, paint, digital equipment or whose practice is primarily research based. Dust, sound, smells and noise can be disruptive features of a shared working environment. It is possible to find solutions to these problems when designing your space so as to accommodate a range of work practices, however this will depend on the budget you have available and the time provided in your tenancy agreement to develop the studio.
Whilst a degree of flexibility is necessary, the sustainability of the project will also depend on the group’s ability to manage the studio effectively; how decisions are made and how the fundamental issue of managing responsibility for the project is dealt with. Consider whether you would prefer to share this with a group, perhaps go it alone or within a partnership agreement. Either way you will need to consider the long-term legal and financial implications of managing a group studio and how to balance the time needed to run the space with time for your own studio practice.
Visiting other studios will give you a sense of what is possible and the opportunity to learn more about what is actually involved in running a studio. An excellent way to test your ideas in advance is by talking through your project with someone who has either found solutions to problems or discovered mechanism’s to deal with some of the challenges you may encounter. Valuable information can be gained from the experience of existing studio groups. The legal and financial responsibilities for a studio workspace take effect from the very start of the project. Contracts have to be signed, bills have to be paid, common areas need to
be kept in order, studios need to be allocated, rubbish needs to be disposed of, things need to be fixed and conflicts need to be resolved.
Other issues might include:
- Health & Safety – By law, the studio is required to ensure the personal safety of anyone using the space and that adequate measures have been taken to enable people to exit the space in the event of an emergency.
- Having suitable insurance policies in place for Public Liability is essential.
- Monitoring bank statements and recording the studio bank a/c transactions can be time consuming work, yet elementary to any studio’s survival.
- Corridors and common areas often become unofficial ‘storage’ areas, which can be an on-going headache, as the studio artists’ output inevitably expands.
- Cleaning up after artists that move out and chasing after any upaid rent is not fun.
Talk with other artists about their experiences with studios both good and bad, in order to establish a direction for your project and to assess potential problems in advance. Knowing what doesn’t work as well as what does, can be useful information when deciding the structure of your studio.
When deciding to set up a studio, there are several options open to you, each with its own particular benefits and risks. You may decide to work with a group of other artists, with just one or two partners or perhaps on your own. In many ways setting up a studio can be like setting up a small business – you need to know who your partners are, the level of commitment they are willing to invest in the studio and their ability to take responsibility in a group venture.
The scale of your project and the length of tenancy available to you will inevitably influence a number of key decisions,
both in terms of the physical space and the number of artists involved. A larger space will require more artists being involved in order to spread the cost of operating the studios. Over an extended period of time there will be greater demands made on the studio administration to monitor both the financial commitments of the studio and the physical maintenance of the space. Maintenance responsibilities will involve addressing general wear and tear, electrics, plumbing, heating, keys, locks, security – all the usual stuff that comes with a building over time.
With less space to manage and maintain, smaller group studios will have lower overheads and will not be as exposed to financial risk should one or two individuals decide to leave the group. It will be easier to find a suitable replacement for the missing share of the operating costs.
Larger studio groups can experience a higher turnover of artists. This places a greater demand on the administrative resources of the studio to find suitable replacements for empty studios or to monitor sub letting arrangements. The administation must also monitor individual artist arrears in rent and utilities (Gas & ESB).
Good results are relatively easy to accommodate. It is when you have to resolve unexpected problems that the core structure and foundations of your studio group will come into focus and you will need to consider issues of power, responsibility, benefits and risks that are implicit within a studio group from the start.
Try to consider the early stages of the studio’s development and any associated ‘teething problems’ as an opportunity to discover how the studio will work best, given the circumstances and what’s available to you at that time. In Ireland the type of studio group structures in operation are as diverse and complex as the buildings they occupy. Generally they fall into five practical models or types of structure.
The responsibility of any studio group is to work out how you are going to operate the studio, the work that needs to be done regularly and who’s going to do it? Rather than go into too much detail, I’ve summarised the basic outline of a potential studio structure with examples for reference.
*Group Studios with Shared Responsibilities
Sharing equal responsibility with all members of a group can increase your immediate resources in terms of simplicity, budgets and people to work with. It may also mean that you are depending on each individual participant to contribute to the initial business of setting up and eventual responsibility for the workspace. For smaller groups, advantages can be found by creating simple systems to share the work involved in paying bills and keeping the space in order – for example by setting a fixed term for each member of the group to attend to the administration or offering reduced rent to a group member in exchange for work undertaken. Developing studios in a rural location using this model has its own rewards but can incur different pressures to its urban equivalent.
Cork Artists Collective, Cork
New Art Studio, Dublin
Visual Arts Centre, Dublin
Stoney Batter Studio, Dublin
Belmont Mill Artists Studios, Co. Offaly
*Artist-led Group Studios with a Board of Management
This can be a way of developing a larger space for studios with a core group, who take responsibility for the legal and financial management of the space whilst offering studio space for rent to non-members of the group.
Art Space Studios, Galway
Backwater Artists Group, Cork
Flax Art Studios, Belfast
* Independent Artist-Led Initiatives
Independent artist-led initiatives that are managed by an individual or partnership can be a way of responding to an opportunity to develop a space quickly without having to wait for approval from a large group of diverse and individual stakeholders. In this situation, the individual or partners take complete responsibility for the studio and will offer studio space to rent to other artists under their particular terms of agreement.
Broadstone Studios, Dublin
Common Place, Dublin
Pallas Studios, Dublin
*Partnerships with Other Organisations
Another type of development for studio space involves finding an organisation locally that is willing to barter space for services from the group. This could be with a local authority, a local business, a health centre or a community group. In this situation an agreement to exchange services for studio space within a specific timeframe can be negotiated with a host organisation that is willing to avail of the artist’s specialised skills and expertise. The group could offer the provision of services like workshops or classes, possibly organising an annual event or exhibition with specialised groups during the period of time the studio is housed by the host or partnership organisations.
Contact Studios, Limerick
The Dock, Co. Leitrim
*Specialist Group Studios
These are studios that are set up to provide resources or facilities for a specific art form. If your work requires access to particular equipment e.g. graphic and printing equipment, construction and fabrication equipment or expensive digital technology, then pooling your resources and sharing the equipment is a way to generate access to tools you may not be able to afford individually.
Black Church Print Studio, Dublin
Limerick Printmakers, Limerick
The factors that will affect the choice of structure / model you opt for are relative to the number of people involved, the resources you have available, the physical scale of the space and in particular the length of tenancy you can secure from a potential landlord. There is little point in creating an elaborate management structure if you can only secure the space for a limited period of time. Equally it would be unwise to invest a lot of time, money and energy into a space that you will have to vacate before you can get any realistic return from your investment.
In view of the limited availability of space within most urban environments in Ireland today and their associated prohibitive costs, working with smaller groups in the beginning can be a much simpler way of managing your project whilst establishing stability within the group. It is not necessary, and in many cases not possible, to know every detail of how you will operate the studios from the start – this is something that will evolve organically and is relative to the concerns of the group involved. However when renting space collectively it is essential that you establish from the start who is taking responsibility for the legal and financial obligations associated with any rental agreement or legal contracts.
When working with a small group of artists, it may not be necessary to formulate a legal identity for the group unless entering into legal contracts. The group can simply agree the ground rules of how you will conduct business together. Having a formal legal structure is advantageous if you intend trying to source financial support for the studio in the future. A formal legal structure presents a clearly identifiable legal commitment to mange any potential funding offers in a responsible manner. This equally applies when signing lease agreements; a building owner or property agent will normally request either an individual to sign or a group with a legal identity that can be held accountable for the terms of the contract.
Demonstrating accountability to potential funding agencies and the measures that have been taken to limit legal liability should things go wrong, is an essential requirement of all funding applications. The reason you need to demonstrate accountability is to assure potential stakeholders that you have taken the appropriate steps to safeguard the studio as an organisation; that the activities of the studio are legal; and that all financial activities are regularly monitored and recorded.
Choosing a legal structure is not of itself difficult, but it is not always clear what is most appropriate for development, and trying to change later on can cause difficulties. The issue should be thought out carefully and discussed with a professional adviser.
An excellent source of information in this regard is Create, the National Development Agency for Collaborative Arts. It provides a comprehensive advice and support service to artists and arts organisations working collaboratively with communities of place and / or interest, which in many ways is what a studio constitutes. They have a Professional Development advice and information service, as well as project management and consultancy services. You can arrange an advisory session with a staff member to help guide you through some of the basic legal requirements. Membership is recommended for on-going support services.
There is no standard organisational or legal form for non-profit groups in Ireland – there are different types of legal structure to suit different kinds of organisations and situations. A group needs a structure to work properly; it sets out basic rules and relationships for management.
The main options, and relative pros and cons include:
|Use own name for business as as self- employed sole trader||
|Adopt a constitution||
|Incorporate as a private company (single member)||
|Incorporate a guarantee company||
A group can trade under any name it likes, provided the name is registered with the Companies Office. Registering a name is not the same as having legal status. It should be kept in mind that the owners of the Business Name are liable for any debts. Opening a bank account for the studio will require a certificate of the registered business name, if you intend trading in that name.
The studio business name can be registered as a partnership with all the studio partners named on the business name registration application. Registration can be made via the CRO website at a reduced fee for on-line applications.
www.cro.ie – Companies Registration Office, Dublin
This is the simplest form of legal structure for a voluntary organisation. It does not require registration. A constitution sets out the rules of the group and includes:
- The name of the group
- The area of operation and activities
- Membership and voting rights
- Committees and officers
- Decision making
Any constitution can be easily adapted to suit the needs of another group, club, society or association.
The disadvantage of a constitution is that the members do not have separate legal status from the group. It is not really suitable for an organisation that intends to enter into contracts, to own property or employ staff. All the members can be held responsible for the group’s activities.
Other sources of information for draft constitution:
Revenue Commissioners: www.revenue.ie – draft constitution, draft articles, memorandum and lots more Irish Charities Tax research: www.ictr.ie – for up to date information on charities regulation.
The information on legal structures was generously provided by: The Irish Fundraising Handbook, 6th edition (2007), available from Create.
Finding a Space
To find a space that is both manageable and affordable will take some time and effort. As well as checking out all the obvious sources, like commercial letting agents, local newspapers, notice boards and e-bulletins; make sure to let people know you are looking as word of mouth can produce surprising results. Finding the right space may seem elusive, but by remaining focused you will eventually discover several possibilities.
When viewing potential studio space, you will need to know from the start whether you can afford it and if there are any hidden costs that you are not aware of, plus other important issues relating to access and safety such as:
- The annual rent and what that includes – light, heat or insurance?
- Are rates included or is that an additional expense?
- What are the terms of the rental – can you get a lease or written contract?
- Is there any heating or ventilation?
- In an emergency is there a safe way to get out of the space?
- Do you have 24/7 access to the space or is this restricted?
- What condition is the building in?
- Are there any parking facilities available or access to local transport?
- Is there insurance cover for the public areas, car parks, stairwells, entrance and exits?
- What security measures are in place?
- Who are the other tenants of the building?
Look at as many different types of space as you can before deciding which space will work for you and never sign any agreements or contracts on first viewing. You will need to look at all the costs involved and weigh up the advantages or disadvantages of the different spaces relative to your particular needs.
This obviously depends on where you choose to work, with different issues for studios in rural and urban locations. Circumstances tend to reverse for both; either you are in a rural environment which is much cheaper than its urban equivalent with lots of space available but limited access to resources or the latter where space is very limited and costly, but comes with extensive access to resources, facilities, critics, curators, galleries, institutions and other artists. You should think about the times when you use the studio. If you have other work commitments during the day and can only get to the studio in the evening, consider what it’s like to go there at night and how safe it feels. If you need to get large work in or out of the space, is there adequate access? Perhaps you will require materials to be delivered or work to be collected by transporters; are there any parking facilities or public transport services close to the studio?
Leasing / Renting a Studio Space
When you find a space that is suitable and before you sign any contracts, remember you may have room to negotiate the terms of the lease or rental before you commit yourself. It is highly recommended that you get the terms of the rental written down and signed by both the owner/landlord and the appointed studio representative. You may then refer back to this signed agreement or contract if issues of conflict arise. If you do sign a contract on behalf of a group without formulating any type of legal structure for the studio group, then all responsibility for the terms of the contract agreement will rest with you personally. Some guidelines to consider before signing any contract are:
- Read all contracts very carefully and do not sign anything before taking time to read the small print thoroughly.
- If you are unsure about any particular details of the contract or if there’s anything you don’t quite understand, then ask to have it explained and clarified in writing, or seek advice at one of the suggested agencies above.
- You can make revisions – if there are any unacceptable elements of the lease or contract, you have the right to ask for these to be eliminated before you sign.
- If the space requires a lot of work before it is useable, for example if it’s full of rubbish and it will take time to clean the space up, you could try to negotiate a rent-free period. In this case you are probably about to take on a space that the owner has had difficulty in renting to other businesses. This gives you the opportunity to either clean up the space or make changes to create a workable space, before you actually start paying rent.
- If you improve the property, then don’t hesitate in asking for a rent reduction in exchange for the improvements made by you to the landlords property, or indeed ask the owner to pay for any substantial improvements you have made to the space.
- If you plan to make any substantial alterations to the space, it might be best to get the landlord’s approval. It would be a shame to invest time and money into improvements only to discover that these changes present a problem for the owner.
- Avoid any verbal agreements and if possible make sure everything you have agreed verbally is written down.
Know your rights:
Landlord and Tenant (Amendment) Act, 1980
Potential Costs Involved in Setting up a Studio
Setting up the studio will incur costs at each stage of the development. Marginally overestimating the initial costs may prove more beneficial than underestimating potential expenses, as it will allow some room for unforeseen costs that you had not anticipated. These can be broken down into three basic stages:
* Setting up costs
This is when all the preliminary research takes place – travelling to view potential spaces, setting up meetings with the group or partners, appointments with agents, telephone calls, postage, internet research, stationary and the time spent communicating with your associates. Generally this takes the form of ‘sweat equity’, which refers to unpaid expenses and time invested in the research phase that is identified within the overall budget as a real expense. It can be recorded as a credit or attributed to individuals later in lieu of rent. You should consider checking out your local Enterprise Board who may support this phase of research with a feasibility study grant.
County and City Enterprise Boards
* Professional services
If you are able to secure a lease for the premises, there will be costs associated with that lease. You may require legal advice when negotiating the terms of the lease or to interpret particular details associated with legal contracts. If the space is bigger than 150m you may need the help of an architect to assist you with a design to get the best use out of the space, whilst ensuring designated fire safety exists from the building.
* Construction and refurbishment costs
The space might require construction work to be undertaken. Even if you can do this yourself or you have friends who will help, you will still need to account for the material costs of building individual studio units within the space, as well as electrical and plumbing services. If equipment needs to be installed you will have to look at where this will be located, as this will occupy space that may or may not generate income for the studio.
Apart from the monthly or annual rent, there are additional costs associated with operating the space:
- Insurance; public liability, equipment, employees
- Building rtes
- Water rates
- Utilities – heating and lighting, electricity, gas
- Telephone, postage, internet / broadband
- Waste disposal
- Maintenance and repairs
- Security – locks, keys, external lighting etc
- Provision for bad debts (5 – 7% approx. loss on unpaid rents)
- Management and administration
- Accountancy or book-keeping services
- Legal services
- Advertising, promotion and marketing.
Management and Administration
Once you have secured a space to develop as a studio, you now need to consider how you will manage the space. At its simplest, administration involves dealing with the day-to-day responsibilities of the space occupied by the studio group – controlling finances, creating a safe working environment, managing people, allocating space and making plans for the future in order to achieve the aims and ambitions of the studio. Managing the studio is about keeping it on track with your original vision for the space, defining a clear direction for what you want to achieve, whilst responding to various problems and opportunities along the way. Decisions need to be made and it’s important to know how you will deal with these issues as they arise.
You may decide on a democratic model where everyone has an equal voice; or you may identify individuals within the group with particular skills and expertise to act on behalf of the other members. As a group it is important to define your goals and build trust and support for one another. The decision making process should be clear to everyone involved. For this, you need to agree the ground rules for making decisions – will it be made by a majority vote or perhaps by two thirds vote? For a larger group you may consider setting up a management team or steering committee with a clearly defined brief of their responsibilities.
Communication is an essential component to either of these choices. If delegating responsibility on behalf of the group to a number of individuals then you will need to arrange regular meetings where the delegates can report back to the group on issues arising so that everyone is included and one individual cannot act on behalf of the group without the agreement of those involved. Simply meeting as a group will not guarantee an outcome and it helps to set a few ground rules, decide what exactly the meeting is about, distribute an agenda, limit the agenda to four or five specific items and agree a timeframe of one or two hours maximum. Having a clear agenda will focus the group and help produce positive results.
A lot of forward planning is required if you intend to make a funding application on behalf of the studio. You will need to plan for development in the following year, as well as provide a good record of how you have managed the studios resources in the current year. To do this you will need to prepare a mission statement identifying your aims and objectives, whilst recording all your expenditure and activities to produce a realistic analysis of estimated costs for future events or activities. This time consuming work is essential if you hope to secure any financial support for your studio. As a group you will have to decide how you will make these decisions and who will take responsibility for particular tasks.
Arts Council annual funding for studios is available by application, however applications from individuals or unincorporated bodies are not normally eligible. Equally, funding is normally only offered to organisations that operate on a not-for-profit basis. It is highly recommend that you contact the Arts Council in advance of your application for annual funding to seek advice.
You can find information on Arts Council funding on their website. www.artscouncil.ie
Contact information for all the Local Authority Arts Officers can be found in the Practical Listings section of this info~pool. Here you can source information on local authority support for artists’ studios.
The administration of the studio focuses on implementing decisions made by your management team and dealing with the day-to-day demands of operating the space. For a small studio group or studios with limited resources both of these work areas will overlap and it’s advisable to find a way to share the workload. Just leaving it up to the person who is good at these tasks is not necessarily the best solution, as there will be many demands on their time and the stability of the studio depends on it. General administrative tasks will include advertising vacant studios, showing people around, answering queries, communicating with the landlord and other tenants of the building, attend to repairs and maintenance, collecting rent and utility charges, dealing with the waste and rubbish, paying bills and keeping records of all the financial transactions and possibly organising group events and activities.
It is important to have a system in place for processing studio requests and applications. Studios with a strict application procedure do so in order to ensure a level of quality, commitment and professional practice within the studio. A standard criterion for studio applications requires three basic items in order to ascertain the suitability of a potential studio member, these are:
- A letter of application, outlying the intended use of
- A current CV, to outline the applicants professional history
- Documentation of their work, to indicate the quality
of their practice.
Having studio contracts in place is of benefit to both the studio artist and the studio organisation. For a new member entering a studio complex, it clarifies the terms of agreement between the artist renting a studio and the organisation offering the space – for example the length of time they will have in the studio, the monthly or weekly rent, a record of any deposit paid and what is required to vacate the studio. For the organisation it provides an agreed set of terms under which it will offer a studio, how and when the rent is to be paid, what happens if arrears or money due exceeds the deposit held against the contract and specifies the minimum notice requiried if quitting the studio. Adequate notice allows time for the adminisatration to find a replacement so that no loss of income will occur.
Although the term ‘rent’ is used in this instance for purposes of clarity, legally it is preferably to use the term ‘fees’ in studio contracts or licensee agreements. The term ‘rent’ can constitute tenants rights, which may create difficulties as the studio develops if new members are not involved with the core organisation.
When dealing with members of the public or renting space to other artists, it is essential to protect the studio by purchasing Public Liability insurance on an annual basis. Technically the studio is your ‘place of business’. Accidents can happen and, should an incident occur in the studio, you are liable if an individual needs to sue for damages.
Public Liability insurance covers any awards or damages given to a member of the public because of an injury or damage to them or their property caused by you or your business. It also covers any related legal fees, costs and expenses, as well as costs for hospital expenses. Premiums will depend on the type of work you do and the level of exposure to hazardous chemicals or dangerous equipment. There are excellent offers available from a number of companies in Ireland that work specifically with the arts sector. These companies are familiar with the type of risk associated with studio groups. It’s not as expensive as you may think, but essential should anything go wrong. Equally it is worth insuring your equipment, as often these resources are hard earned facilities and its best to protect your investments.
The personal safety of anyone entering the space and evidence of appropriate insurance policies are required by law. Emergency lighting and fire access routes should be clearly marked. Equally, corridor space and door exits need to be reasonably free of obstructions.
- Get a studio group bank account
- Draw up health and safety procedures
- Keep detailed records of all financial transactions
- Arrange for monthly Standing Orders to collect studio fees
- Pay rent promptly to your landlord
- Allocate a common area for artists to meet and talk
- Set up a large sink area for work purposes
- Introduce recycling facilities
- Keep the space in order
- Find space for shared tools; cleaning materials,mops, ladders, recycle bins,
- Enjoy the company of your fellow artists
By Jacinta Lynch
Director and founder of Broadstone Studios Ltd. 1997-2008. Arts Council Advisory Panel – Research on Visual Artists’ Workspace, 2008. Director Roscommon Arts Centre, multi-disciplinary public venue 2001-2005. EU Culture 2000 Brussels – Visual Arts Selection Panel 2005. IETM – International Network for Performing Arts, Belgrade 2005. EU Culture 2000 Brussels – Visual Arts Selection Panel 2004. Danish EU Presidency – International Conference on Mobility in the Arts, Arhus, 2002.
Assistant to International Architect & Designer Ron Arad, London, UK 1989 -1993. Craft worker with Fornasetti Srl, International Design Studio, Milan, Italy 1989. Artist-in- Residence, Villanuova de Jiloca, Zaragoza, Spain 1988. Masters Degree in Fine Arts, New University of Ulster, 1984.
There’s a lot of information available on studios from a variety of sources. Researching some of the discussion papers on visual artists’ studios and workspaces will keep you informed on policy documents relating to studio spaces.
Arts Council Publications
- Visual Arts 2005 – background discussion paper identifying studio space as priority areas for immediate action.
Strategy Documents: Consultation papers – Artists Studios May 2005
Irish studio network set up to share information and support for visual artists’ studio providers.
Artists Studio Network Ireland
Arts Council of England
Arts Council of England funded Studio conferences in 2003
Supporting Artists’ Workspace’ June 2003:
- Creating Places, 8 July Tate Modern
- Opening Doors, 15 July Persistence Work
- Making Spaces
Supports the development of Fine Arts practice and provides artists with affordable studio and living space
Promotes participation and access to the artse
Studio organisation working in partnership with Newcastle City Council.
Provides affordable artists’ studio space in Scotland
Studio organization, Berlin, Germany
Bik Van der Pol – Nomads in Residence, a mobile workspace for artists
The Artists Information Company
New York State Artist Workspace Consortium
Worldwide network of artists’ residencies
The professional body for organizations providing affordable studios for artists in England.