Loyal supporters

Membership organisations provide designers and designer-makers with valuable business advice, as well as offering opportunities for networking. Angus Montgomery considers the value of the groups

Membership organisation Hidden Art was facing closure last month after the London Development Agency, which had provided funding since 2001, withdrew its grant.

Hidden Art has avoided immediate closure through an interim plan that will see it funded through a temporary loan from its private arm Mazorca. It is also overhauling its membership scheme – introducing a new category for service providers – and focusing on its e-shop and collaborations (DW 3 February).

The organisation is still seeking a long-term source of funding, but chief executive Dieneke Ferguson says, ’Overall, we are optimistic about the survival of Hidden Art.’

Hidden Art is part of the London Design Consortium, set up last year, which also includes Cockpit Arts, Craft Central, Design Nation and Metropolitan Works.

Although each organisation has a different focus and funding situation, they are all working together to campaign for financial resources to allow the individual groups to keep going.

With many designer-makers fulfilling the stereotype of a lone creative beavering away in a studio, support organisations offering business and financial advice, a platform for work and a chance to network with peers have proved invaluable to many practitioners. Most acknowledge that the organisations are most useful for people starting out – once you become established less practical support is generally needed.

Hidden Art is the only organisation that is purely for designers – everything you need as a designer is there.

Furniture designer Jake Phipps, who started creating his own pieces in 2005, says, ’I joined Hidden Art in 2007. I’d been struggling to get an idea of my competition and where I saw myself in the marketplace. They’re very good at providing you with help with things such as press releases, exhibitions and getting in touch with manufacturers. They also gave me the ability to sell my work.’

He says, ’I probably could have picked up all the support and information I needed without joining Hidden Art, but it would have taken me a lot longer and I would have had to go to lots of different sources.’

Robin Farquhar, co-founder of People Will Always Need Plates, which set up in 2004, says the company signed up to Craft Central and Design Nation – later joining Hidden Art to take advantage of the organisation’s Select scheme, an annual programme whereby a number of individual designers are commissioned to produce a product. He says, ’Through Craft Central we got in touch with a business specialist we now work with. She looks at wider strategy, new business and other things. Craft Central is very good at offering subsidised sessions looking at areas like this.’

Farquhar adds, ’Design Nation is good at connecting designers with manufacturers. We got a few projects with it, including one with Royal Doulton. Design Nation used to have an annual drinks networking party at the Victoria & Albert Museum and we used to say that you could drink your membership fee – which was about £100 – in champagne.’

He says, ’If I was advising designer-makers starting out now I would say join any and every group you can. The membership fees are not huge – £100 or so is the order of the day – and a lot of what they provide is heavily subsidised, so you can easily get your money’s worth.’

Jethro Macey, who set up his company in 2006, has worked with Hidden Art, Craft Central and South West skills development agency Arts Matrix. He is also aiming to develop connections with the Hospital Club in London. Macey says, ’Hidden Art is the only organisation that is purely for designers – the thing about it is that everything you need as a designer is there. You don’t need to pick and choose from other organisations. If I hadn’t joined Hidden Art I’d probably still be making individual ceramics pieces.’

He adds, ’Obviously, it’s very tough at the moment for new graduates and people setting up in business. If you’re looking at joining an organisation I’d advise you to do your research well and just focus on one thing. It’s worth looking at the regional organisations as well – I did some work through the Insight Out initiative, which was run through the regional development agencies for the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts.’

Macey says he got involved with Hidden Art through its franchise in Cornwall. Ella Doran, who has been involved with the organisation since its inception, says, ’One of the ways in which I think Hidden Art has been pioneering is in its franchising. There are preconceptions – justified or not – that a lot of organisations can be London-centric.’ Doran says, ’For those looking to join membership organisations, I’d recommend as exemplars Hidden Art, Design Nation and Cida, which covers a broader creative spectrum.’

Andrea Stemmer, who co-founded Kay & Stemmer in 2000 with Sarah Kay, says, ’The organisations we’ve belonged to offered us the sense of being part of a forum. Working as a designer-maker you’re often by yourself. I’m sure you can operate as a designer-maker without belonging to any organisations, but it would be so much harder to market yourself and to find out where you sit in comparison to your peers.’

Who to join?

  • Hidden Art – established in 1994. Membership costs £60 a year in London and £40 outside. Has supported more than 1800 designer-makers since being established
  • Craft Central -formerly the Clerkenwell Green Association, which was established more than 25 years ago. Membership costs £42 a year. Has more than 550 members
  • Design Nation – based at London Metropolitan University. Has more than 150 members

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