Islington Mill is a Victorian cotton mill in Salford (Greater Manchester). The building was purchased by Designer Bill Cambell in 2001 after renting a floor of the building as part of a collective. Over a number of years the building continued to be used as live/work and became notorious for parties and gatherings. In 2007 Musician Mark and Artist Maurice Carlin became co-directors (alongside Bill) of Islington Mill Arts Club, the company founded to formalise programmes and manage all public facing events, exhibitions and residencies. Arts Club has overseen the growth of an organic and ever evolving programme and successfully raised 100k investment towards the refurbishment of the ground floor venue and gallery project space in 2010. This year they have been awarded major capital funding from the Arts Council England to realise their long term ambition of developing a 9 room residency and large scale, flexible, working and showing space within the building.
Islington Mill is rented as studios to a mix of businesses and artists. Bill is the outright owner and rents the ground floor for peppercorn to the separate not-for profit entity ‘Arts Club’. The ground floor includes venue, recording studios, gallery and courtyard. Bill is currently legally responsible and alongside co-director Maurice Carlin, a host to the temporary community who pass through. The directors are currently researching new strategies and models of funding, finance and organisation that will enable the renovation and expansion of services and a distribution of asset and responsibility beyond the directors.
With the current development of additional residency space, via funding applications and pitches, I have become fascinated with the process of articulating values in order to demonstrate worth and formalise the informal stewarding of the organisation. The community includes long terms studio holders alongside short-term b&b guests, residencies, and satellite Islington Mill associates such as myself, reflecting a fluid temporality of communities and individuals moving in and out. Those who are present define the activity- comparable to the strategy of open space technology. In 2012 the directors attempted run a more ‘professionalised’ organisation with a conventional staff structure and an open-call selected residency programme. This failed to work for them, hence a return and confidence in the fluid and self-selecting nature of their community.
I first encountered Islington Mill in 2007 through their library and quickly became involved in their peer-led art school. I have programmed projects over the years and am currently working with them on the #temporararycustodians R&D platform. This platform combines my interest in both Islington Mill as an asset and art works as assets, subject to a shift in the economy of ownership, towards independence (beyond state and market) and share economy.
#temporarycustodians, is a term that evokes responsibility, guardianship, and care taking. As a legal function it speaks to ‘holding without owning’, a feature of the collaborative commons.
The starting point for the project was Maurice’s Performance Publishing: Regents Trading Estate, an optimistic proposal for an artwork as distributed share ownership across a community of ‘custodians’. The share economy is often framed as an efficient and inevitable future, one example being Jeremy Rifkin’s Zero Marginal Cost Society- firmly in a tradition of techno-utopianism. Then there are many sceptics, who claim “the sharing economy epitomizes the deployment of technology to intensify inequality, in this case by creating monopolies that aggregate and co-opt the effort and resources of many users, who are pitted against one another within the platforms” (Share economy and self exploitation).
Temporary ownership is an aspect of precarity. Does the future hold a two class system of those who own permanent, stable real estate value and those who do not, and operate according to nomadic circulatory? In what way is permanence and sustainability increasingly violent in this context? Can we share and hold property temporarily without being exploited by those with permanent assets? Bill, holds a permanent asset in Islington Mill and is facing the challenge of how Islington Mill might be established beyond his holding it open as a benevolent landlord.
Having worked with public art collections since 2011, the Victorian top-down philanthropic model of collecting artefacts for posterity, represents the slow moving institutional model in contrast to share economy based on temporal distribution of attention and ownership. The first commission for #temporarycustodians is Erica Scourti, So Like You. The commissions consider the way in which artistic research might define an art collection, as opposed to the artwork necessarily being defined by an outmoded Victorian municipal model or art market. Alongside commissioning artworks I have also been looking at organisational share models for the development side of my work for Islington Mill, mostly in UK but some outside including Robin Hood Co-op, V22 Collection, Mayday Rooms, The Ivy House (example of ‘Asset of Community Value’), And other stories (example of Community Interest Company), Picture Lending Library. Most of these are in the context of the culture industry, therefore I’m keen to learn about sharing of assets in other industries through Edgeryders and others. These examples above are not ones that I promote without question, but they begin to describe a picture of the current share models in order to ask how we might improve on them in the development of Islington Mill.
Over the past eighteen months Islington Mill have experimented with enabling transparency in their organisational development through projects WERQ and CONSTANT MEETING. As you will see on the Constant Meeting website the physical meetings that turned into more formal programming for the Liverpool Biennial 2014 took priority over the online conversation.
WERQ reimagines ways of both presenting and rethinking organisational development by making the internal processes visible and communicable to those who may visit either Islington Mill physically (and witness / participate in the process via the gallery space) or online. In essence this is a developmental project challenging conventional norms of organisational development. The ethos is to place the people (audience, artist, participant) at the heart of the Mill and allow a window and public interventions onto ongoing conversations which have direct impact on the future process of the Mill. It is a place to experiment and do things, and test if people understand, agree and can help. An open-all-hours drop-in office installation in Islington Mill’s gallery space, the plan was for Constant Meeting to form of on and offline meetings and conversations with people able to inspire, nurture, fund and support the future independence of Islington Mill, for example, our tenants could be incorporated as a type of expanded ‘board’ or committee to support future programming and functions.
WERQ and Constant Meeting form a more challenging, time-consuming and ultimately open way to renegotiate development and are in keeping with the ethos of the organisation. It enabled them to communicate and discuss our mission, vision and values with a direct audience. Placing themselves in the gallery space on the ground floor of the building enabled tenants, stakeholders, partners, future investors, collaborators and the public to join our conversation and contribute to ongoing discussions. Constant Meeting is a longitudinal interactive and action research performance aimed at finding practical answers to the question: how do we stay independent? Ultimately the time consuming nature of these projects meant they were not fully realised.