Step-by-step plan starting an artist-run initiative

A common form of collaboration among visual artists is the artist-run initiative. This is often a foundation that offers affiliated artists the opportunity to exhibit their work, collaborate on projects and productions or present themselves to the outside world in other ways. Autonomy plays an important role in the artist-run initiative and there is often an activist approach.

1. Determine the goal

Why do you want to enter into a collaboration? Which shared goal do you want to achieve? In practice, an artist-run initiative starts on the basis of a certain necessity: the need for an exhibition space or studio. There may also be a substantive reason, such as an ideology. In the eyes of municipalities or project developers, an artist-run initiative is a more substantial discussion partner than an individual artist. To gain a clear picture of the variety of initiatives in Amsterdam, you can view the examples at the bottom of this page, such as W139, Sexyland and De Ruimte.

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Exhibition spaces


2. Which artists does the initiative consist of?

If you start with a number of like-minded people, you should immediately think about the development of the group composition as well. Is the goal to remain together with the same fixed group? Is there also room for other people or for guests? For which period of time will you make arrangements? You have a click with the people with whom you start, but which requirements do new members or guests have to satisfy ? There may be an area of tension between the group interests and the interests of the individual artist. Articulate that as much as possible.

3. Identify and list what you need

Discuss what you need and compare the costs between hiring and buying. If you use other people’s equipment, properly document who the owner is and who is responsible, for example, for the maintenance and the insurance.

4. Determine the type of enterprise

The type of enterprise has an influence on the powers and liability of the people involved, taxes to be paid and funding possibilities. You can also collaborate as individual self-employed professionals (a group of sole proprietorships), but if you want to invest together or apply for a grant, it is useful to opt for a joint type of enterprise. Carefully examine what the pros and cons of the different types of enterprise are.

Most artist-run initiatives are a foundation. The board of a foundation bears ultimate financial and legal responsibility. Think about what you expect from a board and look for board members with the right knowledge. Be careful when drawing up the articles of association that you keep them concise and that you do not rule out too many activities.

5. Draw up an allocation of duties

Determine what needs to happen, what you can do yourselves and what you need to outsource. Examples include duties such as management, bookkeeping, publicity and production. Agree on who is responsible for what and how decisions will be taken.

6. Arrange the business side

You can arrange the business side of the initiative yourselves and increase your autonomy. That also entails risks, so consider outsourcing these duties. Take the following aspects into account:

  • Laying down agreements: Make sure that you make clear agreements with the members and with all parties with whom you do business. Put down as much as possible in writing, if necessary in the form of contracts.
  • Arranging finances: If the artist-run initiative also has a studio space, the members will often pay a monthly contribution for that. Other income can come from grants. That often concerns local and regional grants from funds of larger municipalities. The national Mondriaan Fund has grants for the programming of arts platforms: small arts initiatives, collectives and visual arts organisations without collections, aimed at the public presentation of innovative contemporary visual art.
  • Taking out insurance: Figure out which insurance is relevant to the artist-run initiative and/or to the individual members.

7. Present yourselves to the outside world

On the basis of the above choices, you can formulate from an artistic and organisational viewpoint what you want to achieve, why you want to do that, how you are going to do that and with whom. Place the initiative in the broad perspective of your discipline and your environment. The way in which and the degree to which you want to make the existence of the artist-run initiative known depends on the goal. Do you want to present yourselves to the outside world? In that case, ensure that you make it clear on your website and social media accounts what you do and what you stand for.