7 JULY 2017 - INTERVIEW WITH BRANCH DIRECTORS
Branching In: A new kind of arts consultancy, Branch Arts, has been launched by Flora Fairbairn and Susie Lawson who come from different corners of the cultural domain.
What is Branch Arts, is it concerned with all the arts or specifically visual, and how did you come together to create it? Branch Arts is an umbrella organisation. It brings together two core services: Creative Branch, an art advisory service for private clients and organisations, as well as curating and producing art projects around the world; and Branch Out, offering specialist arts communications and access to an extensive network of creatives. The idea behind Branch Arts grew from previous projects that we collaborated on. For these we tapped into multiple networks each had built up over our combined 30 years in different areas of the industry. It seemed only natural that we should pool our resources to establish Branch Arts.
Both of us have worked across the arts but have concentrated on visual arts. Since establishing Branch Arts, projects we’re working to include curating and producing a national arts project to raise awareness and funds for a blind children’s charity, building an art collection, establishing a sculpture park and co-curating an exhibition in Venice for the 2019 Art Biennale.
What is your background? Flora first...I am an independent curator and art advisor, with a background in architecture. I have curated over 30 exhibitions in the UK and abroad, most of which have been non-gallery locations usually in special architectural settings. I also advise collectors, artists and gallerists.
Since 2000, I have worked with 100s of artists, producing exhibitions in various non-gallery locations. Exhibitions locations include La Casa Encendida, Madrid, The Museo del Ron in Havana, Cuba, a derelict building on the river in Kings Cross, London, the vaults underneath the courtyard of Somerset House, and currently an exhibition which runs until 26th November in the Iglesia di San Gallo in Venice.
My reputation grew for spotting new talent and for launching the careers of a multitude of artists, many of whom have gone on to become house-hold names. I sit on various arts industry panels and committees and have always been passionate about identifying and supporting talented artists whose work should be seen by as wide an audience as possible.
And Susie? I have worked in arts PR and communications. Past clients include the RA, the Photographer’s Gallery, Frieze Masters, The Art Room and The Ashmolean. My parents are both artists, and before them my grandparents. Having had the privilege of being brought up surrounded by creative people, creativity is in the blood. I dabbled with the idea of going into law after a history MA but instead chose to explore the world of private galleries. It was a natural progression into communicating the brilliance of artists I was working with. Years at The Photographers’ Gallery, RA and on individual campaigns such as the inaugural years of Frieze Master and with the Ashmolean have resulted in over 15 years as a specialist arts PR and marketing consultant.
It was when I found myself running the Australian Festival of Chamber Music in 2005 that I realised that it wasn’t limited to communications but destined to produce projects and organise cultural events. Branch Arts encompasses all my passion for creativity.
What was missing from the support network for artists that you were working in? It is a very competitive market. We were both regularly being approached by artists for advice, those seeking the tools to carve out a career as an artist. Quite simply, artists were missing the “network” and the means to find spaces, commissions, collectors and gallery representation. It is these areas of support that both of us have an affinity for, Flora with a strong network of creatives and interesting spaces loaned to her by architects and developers over the years. We’ve both built up strong relationships with galleries, collectors and the press over the years.
Arts funding has swivelled in the last ten years with subsidy cuts, austerity and financial caution. How have artists and arts organisations coped? On a practical level, the changing climate in arts funding has squeezed artists out of central London studio spaces. The new hub of artist communities has shifted from East London to South East London. Many have moved out of London altogether to places such as Berlin, where rents are much cheaper. This migration of artists in recent years to more easily habitable places has threatened London’s position as the beating heart of the international art world - even if it’s still the centre of the art market.
With government funding cuts, organisations and artists have had to rely more heavily on brand sponsorships, corporate partnerships and philanthropic foundations. Much in the style of the US but, the UK still lags behind. Foundations and philanthropists have become increasingly important. It is now the means to connect with these funding streams that has become more crucial.
Artists have had to become more accessible and savvy with their networking and profile and to some extent, better able to adapt their work to meet the needs of sponsors or corporate messaging. Negotiating a company’s CSR policy and establishing links with philanthropic individuals is where Branch Arts comes in and is well placed to match artists with the right funding streams.
Has publicity become more important for artists as a result? As funding streams have narrowed, the need to have a good public pro le has become imperative. Many buyers and cultural audiences are swayed by reputation and name and the influence of good publicity has a direct correlation with the financial security of the artist or organisation. This scenario has not changed in recent times; it is the focus and nature of the media that is changing.
Traditional media (newspapers and broadcast) provide a platform for fantastic critics and art correspondents, but the space dedicated to the arts has shrunk. Audiences now rely on more immediate social media and the tastes of influencers.
Understanding and utilising the changing nature of press attention is critical to artists and we have witnessed the careers of some artists being made on the back of their social media presence. The practice of selling work directly from the studio through Instagram pictures or twitter posts has become widespread. Collectors like to have a personal connection with the artists and social media has broken down many of the boundaries of traditional gallery settings allowing the collector to get under the surface of the artist’s world. Galleries and organisations like Branch Arts play a role in further endorsing artists through these channels.