Situated close to the railway station, Aid and Abet is located within an area of the city that is currently undergoing major redevelopment.
The space itself is a large former railway workshop, which has an amazing character and atmosphere. The size of the warehouse and its unique architecture inform how we programme our projects, from monumental sculptures made specifically in the space through to performance and screenings with projections directly on the walls.
The space is sub-divided for specific purposes, including a gallery, project space, studio, film room, office and the purpose-built Bibliotheque for the presentation of work for sale - each one fluidly interconnecting under one roof.
We have recently established an Associate Artists scheme that has been formed through a core group of local artists who have supported us by volunteering. We are also developing a membership scheme alongside an artist professional development programme. The whole space becomes activated by the people who use it: this is when it feels the most alive and relevant.
Lesley: What are the advantages of being artist-led?
David: Despite the economic downturn, there is a real strength in artists coming together, and making things happen for themselves in the face of adversity. Historically artist-run spaces have provided a significant context for artists to maintain a certain amount of autonomy, often in reaction to the established system and creating a crucial space for challenging and considering the continuingly shifting cultural context that surrounds us.
We are a part of a much larger art network as Aid & Abet, which enables us to pro-actively respond and consider what Aid & Abet can do to mutually support artistic development of ambitious projects.
We can provide opportunity for artists to really explore their practices and be able to make work that they may not normally have the ability to do, within an environment where the work is always being critically engaged with by other artists and a wider audience through a ‘live’ public programme.
L: What is your place in the local art 'ecology'?
D: We met at Wysing Arts Centre where we all had studios and benefited from being part of a lively community of arts professionals. It was a pivotal time in our careers and we were all selected for the Escalator Visual Arts Scheme. Without the support of Wysing and other visual arts organisations like Kettle's Yard and Anglia Ruskin University, it would have been much harder to set up a space from scratch.
One of the key goals of setting up a project space was to bridge a gap in the Cambridge arts ecology, recognising the need for an artist-run space within the city to connect with other local visual arts organisations and education establishments.
We also wanted to become part of the national network of artist-run spaces and support contemporary visual artists based outside London and help to retain emerging talent in the eastern region. Ultimately, we want to bring artists who interest and excite us to a Cambridge audience.
L: How has the organisation developed over the years?
D: The plan to inititate an artist-run space was supported by the Arts Council and we quickly negotiated our first grants for the arts in early 2010. We then took the project idea to the CB1 station area developers and pitched the project for inclusion within their public art programme, which enabled us to get our fantastic building.
We are now into year two and had to develop a second round of funding. This has been challenging in a ever changing funding landscape, and we have had to learn to juggle delivery of the programme alongside longer term stategic planning and fundraising along the way.
L: What have been the highlights and low-points?
D: There have been many highlights during our short existence to date, too many to mention individually, but every time a new person walks into the space and gets excited or is curious about the things they encounter, that's when we know our efforts have been worthwhile.
When artists see the space and creatively respond, it’s exciting to see each new transformation, from temporary interventions to permanent builds like the Bibliotheque.
Equally there have been some low-points, such as the painful wait for funding applications. As many arts organisations know, it is a difficult time to operate in. We have each invested loads of time and work over the past three years and it has been testing and challenging at times. This year has seen the project hanging in the balance and dependent on a successful second Grants for the Arts, which took two rounds to secure.
L: What have you learned along the way?
D: Effective ways of being part of a group, at times shouldering responsibility and working as a collective, sharing skills, recognising strengths and weaknesses. You have to trust in each other and to learn to enjoy the experience and stop and acknowledge what you have managed to achieve.
L: How does it affect your individual work as artists?
Aid & Abet is complementary to our individual practices. We have formed and are part of a lively community, which is social but also involves discussions around contemporary arts practice. We benefit from the formal and informal critique of work and from being in a position to be challenged and supported, but also from constantly being engaged with art and its wider position within society and not operating in isolation.
L: Is there anything exciting happening soon?
D: Yes, we are now starting to see our year two programme come alive. Jem Finer has been making new work in one gallery space and will show a 20 x 8 x 8ft three dimensional diagrammatic thread drawing of his public artwork, Supercomputer. ATOI are building a large-scale sculptural and performance-based intervention in the project space, we have Transition Gallery exhibiting work for sale in the Bibliotheque and later in the month ROAM collective will be showing an ambitious series of new commissions.