Yes, it’s the title of my next collection, to be published who knows when, but this is not about that…

No, this is about those others who say one thing and do another, who are there for a time and then disappear, those others who distort the marketplace and damage arts provision in Cardiff whilst proclaiming to be a collective, inclusive and all bout networking and community…

It came to my attention some time ago that yet another provider was delivering Life Drawing in Cardiff. This time with a donate what you can price tag, this time with no rent to pay for their space, this time with no stated aim of paying a great rate to tutors and models.

These new sessions come and go, undercutting Cardiff Life Model Collective with a good rent deal or by not paying their models or tutors a decent rate. One such, Broadway Drawing School, many years back admitted they could not afford to pay the going rate for models as they were building their business. Good for them, not the model…

Cardiff Life Model Collective have ALWAYS paid the leading rate for both models and tutors and if we can do it we ask why can’t they?

Before you read on we would like you to ask yourselves should you be supporting arts organisations that pay less than adequately. We hope that you think no you should not. But many do. Think Chapter relying upon free intern and volunteer labour, the end result of mismanagement and over expansion, paid for in part with Arts Council grants. They sucks out the money from the system and offer artists nothing of tangible value in return.

Anyways, here are my more recent exchanges regarding Umbrella Art Collective who’s stated aim is to work with their community but it would appear are more interested in castle building and presiding over low wages. I’ve called for a cease and desist on their provision in Cardiff for which they pay no rent for their space (a clear market advantage) and for which they certainly fall far short of our requirements for tutor and model remuneration.

ANDREW LAMB

Hi, I have been in touch with the Capitol Centre in Cardiff and the letting agent at Workman LLP and that was a difficult process. Everyone is. so cagey… But I finally tracked you down and see that you are the funders/organisers for the letting of the unit in Cardiff’s Capitol Centre for Umbrella Arts. 

I’ll be brief. Umbrella Arts have not fulfilled their remit by reaching out to artists and existing arts organisations in Cardiff. They appear to be a clique and one of an ongoing series of disruptions to the marketplace that will go the way of others and be a thorn in the side of bonfire arts providers. 

I deliver life drawing in Cardiff and I have been doing so for well over ten years now. I have a good team of professional models who I pay well for their time. I have occasional tutors who are also paid well for their time. I also rent the property where we deliver life drawing drawing. I pay £20 an hour and our Tuesday evening session is 2 hours so usually the session costs £120 to deliver. That is the economics for the provision of life drawing in Cardiff. Then Umbrella decide they want to do the same and at ‘pay what you can’. So, are they paying the tutor a proper sessional rate? Are they paying the model a proper sessional rate? are they paying a proper rent for their space? 

Of course, their espoused remit is to work with Arts providers but it would seem to me that they are castle building, not a great look during these difficult times. 

What impact assessment have you done regarding existing arts business when you let space and what are your thoughts on the possible displacement of an existing business by a group who must be being either a) subsidised and so are unsustainable OR b) are paying a far from adequate rate to their employees. 

If been pursuing a response to those questions for some time so would appreciate a swift response. 

Further – are you solely subscription based or do you in turn receive funding from any arts councils or arts funding bodies? 

Thank you 

Andrew Lamb
Cardiff Life Model Collective. 

MARK SMITH

Dear Andrew

Thank you for your email and taking the time to outline your concerns regarding the activity being undertaken by Umbrella Arts.

First to give you some background. Axisweb has been a registered charity since 1991 and one of our charitable objectives is to support artists and improve the conditions in which they operate.  

We are independent and operate without the need for public subsidy. We have received no public funding from Wales to support the initiatives happening in Cardiff.

Our programme of occupying empty commercial properties on a temporary basis seeks to support and stimulate growth in regional arts by providing resources, advice and empowering artists. By providing access to empty properties we can help artists to grow and connect with a wider local public. The engagement doesn’t always happen in the space, but the space does provide a springboard.

We have been taking on space for artists to use since 2015 and in Cardiff since 2018. Our first concern when considering taking property is the need for artists and what local provision already exists. When approached in early 2018 about the possibility of taking on space in Cardiff we contacted out Cardiff members and approached Chris Brown at G39. The demand was overwhelming with many of our members also involved in running artist led spaces and projects telling us there was a lack of space and opportunities. It was from this demand we decided to take on property to support our members and their local initiatives.

Our ambition is to enable local artists / artist-led to take the lead and develop their own programme. Our role is to protect artists / artist-led groups from the demands and nuances of landlords, allowing them to focus on a practice driven agenda. 

We do not charge for use of our spaces.  All individuals using a property must be a member of Axisweb, this ensures they have adequate Public Liability Insurance to cover their activities.

In Cardiff the artists have self organised and formed collaborative groups through the use of the spaces. Groups include: TactileBOSCH, SHIFT Cardiff, Sull, and RUG, with new groups forming out of the opportunities offered including such as Klatch. 

From our experience the activities in Cardiff are underpinned by a multidisciplinary research approach exploring the idea of developing arts spaces. Collectively they offer space and support for artists to develop their artistic practice. 

You can see an example of activities in a file we made with the Cardiff based artists:

Axisweb Film about SHIFT, Sull and RUG in Cardiff

We appreciate your concerns and the perceived impact on your business. We cannot speak on behalf of Umbrella Academy with regards to their programme. They are self-initiated and directed. We can raise your concerns with them and ask if they would be willing to enter a dialogue with you.

Kind regards,

Mark Smith (He / They)
Executive Director, Axis

ANDREW LAMB

Thank you for your swift response, refreshing and unexpected. 

I do believe that space for artists to show is at a premium and for young and developing artists to be seen the use of vacant spaces is key. However, where those artists, in receipt of free premium location space, then deliver pay for programmes that are already in existence in their location and that are being delivered by established providers then I think you have a responsibility for the losses and any obvious undoing of work and campaigning by those existing business’. 

I have worked tirelessly to increase pay and conditions for both models and tutors and it is clear that Umbrella cannot be paying the rate that I pay. Indeed I would go further and suggest it’s unlikely they will even be able to cover a minimum wage for both model and tutor. Further, they have no rent to pay. This is a warping of the marketplace that I have come across before. Over the years I have always remained in business and these projects come and go but they damage both the campaigning work and the sustainability or potential of growth of my provision. 

‘Our aim is for Umbrella to become a central point where we connect individuals and organisations… as we believe working together makes us stronger.’

Screenshot 2021-08-25 at 09.14.33.png

Above you will see a screen shot of Umbrella’s web page where life drawing is a KEY aspect of their provision. 

In offering a free space to artists I have to ask again what impact assessment have you undertaken with regards to existing arts business’ in Cardiff? This is important as there really ought not be any adverse effect on existing business when offering free accommodation, it’s just not ethical. 

Please have Umbrella cease from delivery of life drawing in Cardiff for the reasons outlined in this email. 

Alternatively please have Umbrella show that they are spending £120 per session of life drawing, so with a £40 donation to an arts charity for ‘the rent’ and through payment of £40 for the tutor and £40 for the model.

Or have Umbrella, as espoused in their statement of intent, reach out to existing arts business’ and have these provide the services that they wish to have at their gallery.

Andrew Lamb
Cardiff Life Model Collective

ANDREW LAMB

A couple of pokes, the second containing a threat, were needed to gain this response…

MARK SMITH

Dear Andrew,

Thank you for your patience. I wanted to speak directly with Cardiff Umbrella and some of our Cardiff contacts prior to responding to your concerns.

Cardiff Umbrella is an art collective and voluntary initiative with a socially driven agenda to support the local community. They have demonstrated in a short time an approach that is collaborative and inclusive. They have many partnerships with many local artist-led initiatives, galleries, universities and the Capitol Shopping Centre.

Life Drawing is one of many activities they support. It was a scheme born out of an approach from a local individual who wanted to work in collaboration to facilitate access as part of their teacher training qualification and to support their local community. It was established as a social event where people donate an amount (that is attainable for them) to attend and experience Life Drawing in a safe space.  All that money goes directly to paying the model and tutor. 

The scheme is a grassroots community development programme not a commercial enterprise. Many of the participants involved have never experienced Life Drawing, and would typically not be able to afford to attend.

It is our view the activities of Cardiff Umbrella including the Life Drawing scheme are well considered, inclusive and respond in a sensitive way to a clear need. 

Kind regards,
Mark

Mark Smith (He / They)
Executive Director, Axis

ANDREW LAMB

Mark, you’re just not getting it. I don’t want the platitudes. We are a socially inclusive, collaborative and sustainable business. We deliver weekly sessions to a range of artists, students through to working. We have delivered exhibitions with over forty participants. We, have been at this for over ten years. You see – we can all do that… We have had recent teacher training tutors work with us for experience and our current tutor is a degree student. 

Donating to an event where there are standard minimum wages for the ‘workers’ and then underpaying them when the donations do not meet the wage bill is, in my world, unforgivable, especially when just a few buildings away there is a business offering exactly the same provision but that business is paying said standard. This is a matter of principle and one that you have seemed unable to grasp. The arts suffer from underpaid workers and goodwill and this is simply another example of that. Just pay the staff a proper rate!!! How can you support low and likely, on occasion, illegal rates of pay? 

I want you to understand economics. The bottom line is Umbrella are delivering sessions at no cost to themselves, which you facilitate by giving them rent free accommodation, and are not working to the wage which Cardiff Life Model Collective has worked hard to gain and maintain or indeed, very likely, not even working to the national living wage  (which of course is way below sessional working rates). 

You are facilitating a distortion of the marketplace that can only damage the arts in Cardiff. 

The ‘local individual’ could well have approached us and could well have tutored our sessions. Again, Umbrella could have done exactly what they profess to do and have reached out to their community and worked with them, in this case, us. 

Please say with a hand on your heart that this is not castle building, is not duplication of provision and is not unfair subsidy of a business. 

I would have no complaint, as I have previously stated, for Umbrella to be funding the cost of the life drawing to a weekly total of £120.

That’s my bottom line. 

I therefore ask for evidence of intention and as and when able evidence of fact that this is taking place. Outside of that and outside of any other solution I hereby require you to instruct Umbrella to cease and desist their provision of life drawing in Cardiff. 

I require notice of your intention by the end of this week. 

If I do not have an agreeable response by the end of business this coming Friday I will over the weekend instruct for a small claim in Cardiff Courts against Axis for perceived losses, for costs in the case and for my time at £20 an hour in the case. 

I am sorry that we have got here and I would dearly have wished for a swifter and more amicable solution

Andrew Lamb
Cardiff Life Model Collective

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Let’s wait and see what Mark says in response. If court it needs to be court it will be. There is a principle here that I hope you can see and support.

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Outdoor Professional @ Wales Outdoors, Model @ Cardiff Life Model Colective and Published Poet @ Self...