Creative Conversations No7: Carolyn Black freelance producer for exLab

8 Mar

Creative Conversations 7 sees me talking to Carolyn Black, freelance producer for ExLab. On this weeks show we hear Carolyn explain about ExLab and its structure.

exlab logo

ExLab had seven commissions shown across Dorset over the summer of 2012. They worked with a wide range of partners to put the project together.

ExLab was set up by seven organisations, who formed together under the umbrella of Big Picture. This is made up of Artsreach, b-side, Bridport Arts Centre, Dorset Visual Arts, PVA media lab (which is now diva contemporary), Sherborne House Arts and Walford Mill Crafts. They all came together to look at ways to strengthen the visual arts in the county and try to push things forward, to extend their practice into the public realm and investigate ways to work collaboratively. These organisations were supported by Carolyn, whose role was producer, whilst their roles were of curators/commission managers. The external partners for this project go even further and included support of Dorset County Council, Arts Council England, and National Trust, to name a few.

Right click (or Ctrl click on a Mac) on this link (Creative Conversations with Carolyn Black) to download (Save Link As). Or subscribe to our podcast, or subscribe via iTunes to have it automatically appear in your inbox.

About the show

The whole idea behind ExLab was about arts and science on the coast; of bringing scientists and artists together; of artists using the tools scientists use and re-imagining the data that scientists collect in their research. It saw five artists in seven locations and also included three bursaries for local artists to research new areas for their practice.

We hear how ExLab was part of Maritime Mix programme of events. ExLab was also part of London 2012 and included on London2012 website, which gave them extra publicity.   But the paperwork that was needed doing proved to be very onerous for a small organisation to complete. There were also a lot of meetings to attend (during the planning stage people had more time to attend meetings, but later it was challenging). And the question was asked; why?

However it was an exciting opportunity to be involved in the large high quality body of work that made up Maritime Mix.

In retrospect, it was a very difficult task to attract people to visit your art shows during the Olympics. All the media focused in on the sport and what was going on around the sport. This meant that most people’s free time would be spent on the beach, looking at the big screens and watching all the sporting activities. However, it would probably have been unlikely that the project would have received the funding it did if the Olympics hadn’t been going on.

Many lessons were learnt, the artists learnt a lot as many had not worked in this field before; Carolyn learnt a lot and all the organisations gained a great deal from running this project.

Each location, each artwork was very different. Carolyn worked really hard to keep it all together but found the audience had difficulty gaining a real understanding of the whole ExLab project.  One big reason for this was the geographic spread of where all the artworks were placed. Personally, I struggled to get to see all of the work and only managed to get to see three out of the seven locations. Carolyn was so involved in ExLab that she missed a lot of the other cultural Olympiad work that went on.

We talk about one of the drivers behind ExLab was that Dorset doesn’t have an established venue or an established gallery-going audience, this made it harder to attract a larger audience across the project. Some locations were very well attended and had a massive audience, and many of this audience were not a traditional artgoing audience. This was amazing, it was great to see people wandering in with dogs, in wetsuits, not what you’d usually see in an art gallery.

Carolyn goes on to talk about presenting work, about doing up the buildings in which the works are to be shown beautifully. Of having funding which allows you to present the work in a respectful way that suited the space and the artwork.

Carolyn learnt lots and lots. The skill sharing that when on between the organisations, between the artists and the scientists. But she could have done with an extra person who handled just these communications, the building up relationships, would have been a benefit. Not only was the artwork geographically scattered, but the artists and the scientists were scattered nationally. All of those relationships have to be engineered and brokered, getting everybody together in the same room is a time-consuming business. These relationships have to be cared for.

You could not see all the artworks in a day, even if you have a car! They were too spread across the county. If they’d been closer it might have helped, and might of helped with a large audience from one venue travelling to the others, and help bring understanding of the overall project together. It was therefore interesting seeing the works shown later at Bridport Arts Centre, where a selection from each location was shown together.

Carolyn is a freelance producer and we talk about any advice she can give listeners. Ways to earn a living, pay the bills. Carolyn was an artist, it was about 10 years ago when she moved over to ‘the dark side’ as she calls it. A top advice really is that artists should see themselves as a business. Galleries, curators, need to be given a professional service. For instance every artist needs a website, they need an online space where people can see the work. Most people who work in the arts have a problem getting out to see shows, so a website, an online profile, is invaluable.

A professional service

We go on to talk about working for free, about the difficult decisions of when you should work for free and when not. When is it viable, when is it worth it to work for free? To show your work where you might sell one piece of work? You have to do make a business decision on the worth and weigh up the advantages against the disadvantages of not owning income. If you offer a professional service already then you have a leg up already. I then talk about how it’s interesting that universities don’t offer bookkeeping and writing a five-year business plan in the first year of a fine art degree. Carolyn agrees, saying it will be very good to do a five-year business plan so that you have some idea of what you’ll be doing once you leave university with a large debt. How will you manage that debt? How are you planning to get where you like to get; what is the plan?

Carolyn did a Masters and had to pay for that and would pay again to do it, as she found the experience to be invaluable. Your course should increase your understanding between what makes good stuff and/or bad stuff; it should increase your intellectual capacity and understanding of the art world and your artworks. Art is not just about how to paint a painting, how to draw, how to sculpt. Carolyn can still draw, she can still do a pretty good representation of a scene, but she does not see what she does as art, but as relaxation, as a meditation.

Cultural Olympiad legacy

We then go on to the difficult question of the legacy from Cultural Olympiad – is it too early to say yet? Carolyn thinks that what was shown was of a top quality, high value work and that this will have many benefits over the coming years. Hopefully this will build a new audience that might fund some new art creation and younger artists creating new works, but in reality with the current climate, we are all undergoing cuts and competing with each other for shrinking funds. Dorset was never renowned for its visual arts. There’s no flagship gallery in the county. The feedback from their audience was that they really valued the art and science collaboration, the coming together of these two was really interesting. Ideally they could have done with more time for research, more time for collaboration and building relationships. In an ideal world it would have been nice to have run it for an extra year.



2 Responses to “Creative Conversations No7: Carolyn Black freelance producer for exLab”


  1. Creative Conversations No7 with Carolyn Black freelance producer for exLab - JOE Stevens news - March 20, 2013

    […] You can hear the show at; […]

  2. Overview of Series 2 of Creative Conversation | creative conversations - June 26, 2013

    […] episode 7 sees me talking to Carolyn Black, the than freelance producer for ExLab. We hear about the structure of Exlab and the seven commissions shown across Dorset over the summer of 2012.… […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: