Starting a CIC can be an extremely daunting task, and a huge step to take, especially as young social entrepreneurs at the start of our careers. Graft Collaborative CIC was started on the basis that cooperative partnerships can achieve more than individuals, and that by pooling together our time, energy, skills, knowledge, networks and resources, we could better achieve our own goals and ambitions, whilst helping other creatives to achieve theirs.
With all the paperwork done and red tape crossed back in March, us three ‘Grafters’ were a little unsure about where to best place ourselves, and have since dived into the many communities that make-up the dynamic cultural web of Leeds. A New Year is bringing us the opportunity to now be more transparent and open about our work, mission and journey, to hopefully share some of the lessons we have learned, the mistakes we have made, and how other creatives can get involved in making huge changes at a local level.
We announced two initial projects at the beginning of 2019, based on our interests and to better understand the areas we would be working in as well as those we would be connecting with. Both have since become unfruitful, and we have made the decision to step away from these projects to pursue other opportunities. Rather than leaving things unsaid or hiding in shame, something that most creatives experience when their projects ‘fail’ and are left unfinished, we have decided to use this blog space to share with you all the reasons for this decision, and what comes next.
The as untitled “Holbeck Community Project” saw Liam, Artistic Director, and Beccie, Creative Director, connect with residents and leaders in Holbeck to discuss a potential performative piece exploring the effects of the U.K’s first decriminalised/managed zone for prostitution on the area. After initial consultation and a number of interviews, it became to clear to the team that this was not only a delicate and tense subject, but that the community was torn and in clear need of restitution, healing and grassroots action. It was also clear that a number of creatives and journalists had previously engaged the community, with conflicting results, leaving some in Holbeck feeling abandoned, misrepresented and used. We also discovered some fantastic individuals and groups who were working ridiculous hard, full of passion and a desire to help fix this community, trying desperately to find a middle ground, building bridges and finding solutions that are effective, concise and bring about lasting change. You can find out more about this work following the links below:
Slung Low: https://www.slunglow.org/
Joanna Project: https://joannaproject.co.uk/
Basis Yorkshire: https://basisyorkshire.org.uk/
Graft was established to help tackle and hopefully solve social issues at a local level, using our power, voice and position to help other find theirs. Holbeck is an incredible community, with a strong sense of heritage and pride, but is also a fragmented community, in need of leaders who can empower and heal; Holbeck has those leaders, and we do not wish to add Graft to the long list of group who come in promising change only to leave as soon as they have gotten what they desire. We do not wish to do more harm than good. We do not wish to upset or alienate anyone, or to cause offense, making an already difficult subject even worse. It is clear to the team that this is one social issue us Grafters are not going to be able to solve, especially not within our first year, so are humbly and honestly stepping back. We hope to continue to work within the Holbeck area, and would love to hear from any early-career creatives in the area who have ideas or are in need of some support.
We would like to thank Slung Low at Holbeck Working Men’s Hall for providing us with space, guidance and the opportunity to explore this issue, for allowing us to learn, and for their inspiring, honest approach to arts-based community engagement. We wish everyone currently engaged with this extremely important issue the best of success this year in their missions, and hope that Holbeck continues to be a strong, resilient community.
Our other project, “Insert Here”, was set-up by James, Creative Director/Secretary, as part of their ongoing studies in MA Curation Practice at Leeds Arts University. An online archive using Instagram, this project was designed to help emerging arts to showcase their work, and create a network for young creatives to connect with each other. However, after a few months of inactivity, it is clear that setting up a space and actually running, maintaining and marketing one effectively is another!
Using social media has been a big downfall for us in 2019, and with little education and knowledge in the way of digital design, it is extremely difficult to create engaging, cheap and aesthetically pleasing marketing, something that any avid user of Instagram will know is pretty crucial when it comes to building an audience and gaining followers. This combined with the standard stress of being an early-career creative trying to move towards self-employment has meant “Insert Here” has been unsuccessful in its mission, failing to connecting with Leeds-based artists and performers.
James is committed to trying to keep “Insert Here” active, and will be looking at ways to improve the space and hopefully engage in a more meaningful and effective way. If you are a designer or have an interest in digital marketing, and would like to get involved with this project or Graft in general, please visit our contact page or drop us a message on any of our social media sites. Your help would be much appreciated!
For more information about MA Curation Practice at LAU follow the link here: https://www.leeds-art.ac.uk/study/postgraduate-courses/ma-curation-practices/
This brings us onto another important lesson learned, which is giving away your creativity for free. As a non-profit organisation, all us Grafters are committed to ensuring that any finance we raise, be it through funding opportunities, donations or our Pay-As-You-Feel events and workshops, goes towards helping the communities and creatives we are working with, not our back pockets.
Anyone who is currently self-employed, or is on that journey, knows that there is a great deal of giving up your time for free, often taking unpaid opportunities. Rightly or wrongly this is a reality for almost all emerging creatives in Leeds, including all of us Grafters. But in order for us to maintain this CIC in a meaningful and sustainable way, we must work to ensure that our time and energy is balanced, coordinated and rewarded. We are therefore making steps to ensure that future members and directors of Graft Collaborative CIC are properly paid for their dedicated work. We have a responsibility to ourselves seriously, to respect those who work with us, and to find a sustainable model to ensure that Graft can continue to survive and thrive. More details to follow.
So where do we go from here? Beccie is continuing with their studies at LIPA, and is developing a new performative work, as well as continuing their passion for growing female representation within the creative industries, especially those from Northern, working-class backgrounds. Liam is also developing a new performative work, as well as engaging in their own personal development, furthering their skills and diving into new challenges. James is working towards completing their MA, and is developing a new series of interdisciplinary exhibitions exploring different social issues, as well as continuing as Co-Optee for the Inner West Community Committee, focusing on creating projects in Armley. We hope to be as transparent as possible about the creation and development of these projects, so follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook to share in our journey. All three of us will be undertaking Safeguarding training, and we will be posting our policies and more about our structure over the next few months.
Our first year is almost over, and with plenty of mistakes and failures under our belt, we are more than prepared to move onto successes. Huge thank you to everyone who has supported us so far and helping us to get to where we are today. We are excited for what awaits us in 2020, and as always, will continue to work towards supporting all Grafters working hard to fulfill their dreams as collaboratively and creatively as we can. If you wanna join us or have any suggestions on how we can make our CIC more accessible and successful, please get in touch!