A lot has changed in recent weeks and things are beginning to feel more concrete – although a great deal remains up in the air. Nevertheless, despite the lack of any certainty, the growth in clarity feels fantastic.
There are two big game-changers: High Cross House and the ongoing financial uncertainties at Schumacher College.
We are all tremendously excited by the real prospect of occupying High Cross House with a potentially self-sustaining business model looking quite possible. Those who have been the budgets (few!) seem reasonably convinced; those who have seen the proposal all seem very excited by the prospect and no-one has yet looked sceptically on the possibilities. Nothing will happen now until after the summer, although a meeting with Rhodri Samuel is set for Sept 1st. Although this is before the next Trustees meeting in September, it’s unlikely that he will present this to that meeting as we’d hoped. There is likely to be an internal process to go through before the proposal is accepted – if indeed it is accepted.
However even the possibility has made me think differently and with more confidence about the kinds of things we can offer, and our ‘place in the world’ as a result of occupying an iconic building. This despite all the usual fears about what happens when an organisation becomes building-based. In this instance, the business model (which is basically the budget, not a drawn-out business plan) insists that occupying a space is an essential ingredient, and without it art.earth and its constituent parts could struggle to find a future given that without the means to generate an income all still rely heavily on a subsidised model that now no longer seems tenable.
I’ve now been told officially that Schumacher College will not be allowed to offer the MA Arts & Ecology for autumn 2017. This is not so much because of a lack of enthusiasm for the award but rather a complete lack of confidence in postgraduate programmes at Schumacher to be financially viable. More of the programmes are running into trouble – including Holistic Science which until now has always recruited well (although I can’t for the life of me think why). Only Economics has met its targets for next year and the future of postgraduate teaching the College does not look bright. So in that context there is no hope at all of receiving the investment necessary (as the College sees it) to launch a new programme.
Knowing this, I met with Plymouth University to discuss options. It seems the best option would be to remodel the delivery of the MA into a much more flexible and innovative offer, and offer it at High Cross House (using the College’s accommodation and catering). This seems a real possibility: offering the core modules at CPD modules taken at any time, and then adding the final 90 credits as a full- or part-time MA offer. This is more like an American model – a truly modularised approach – and also gets around one of the biggest hurdles of offering the award independently. Because in theory Their 4 students would not have to be in the country for more than six months at any given time using this model, they would not have to apply for a visa.
However if we were to deliver the MA as art.earth, a new partnership (let alone a new validation process) would have to be negotiated with Plymouth and as we are an entirely new organisation I’m unsure whether this could happen. Instead the partner should still be the Dartington Hall Trust, but with Arts as the primary lead and with no financial commitment of risk from the trust – the award would simply be sub-contracted to art.earth to deliver. That, at least, is my hope. We have a first meeting to discuss this on August 8.
This is just one example of how High Cross House changes everything.
I’m now utterly convinces that art.earth needs to incorporate. The only question (as I’ve probably already said) is whether to incorporate as a CIO or a CIC. If a CIO I would have to find Trustees other than Mark and Camilla because both would hope to be paid to work for the organisation. If a CIC we would potentially be liable for Business Rates on any property leased, AND we might find it difficult applying for funding to help with the initial investment fundraising push. So this is still to be explored, and this is feeling relatively urgent.
I would much prefer any lease agreement for High Cross House to be with art.earth and not CCANW, with CCANW being a constituent part of such an arrangement.
Bookings are slower for Feeding the Insatiable than for the Landscape symposium – but this follows a trend that was evident with the callout. Nevertheless bookings are coming in, and as the Early Bird deadline closes in a couple of days, I expect more. I’m nervous, and less confident than with the previous events, but there is still much marketing to do and it seems worth pursuing further. I will have to make some decisions in early August about releasing some accommodation bookings back to DACS, but that doesn’t bother me particularly.
I must however find some sponsorship for this event. This would relieve the worry.
The relationship with CCANW feels particularly fruitful, with all manner of international conversations going on, and following a very successful visit from the Koreans in July. There are definitely some excellent projects now on the table for 2018 – 2020 and much fundraising to do to make them happen. If our ACE Research Grant proposal is successful (which we find out towards the end of September) then we can relax a little about immediate income. In particular I can relax about a personal income which otherwise will run out in October.
We’re really hoping that the Trust will allow us a ‘meanwhile’ use of High Cross House with no charge or with a nominal ‘per event’ usage charge so that we can crack on and test a variety of things under both CCANW and art.earth banners.