How do we survive? – this is a question I have been asked a lot lately and I think the answer always surprises people a little. I am not sure how we look from the outside, we are not an affluent organisation at all, there are no paid staff on board, all that you see is pulled together by people who contribute time and energy in something they believe in – that arts and culture, no matter who you are should be accessible to all.
We have been here for 20 years and I say we because even though the nugget of an idea came into my head, it has been nurtured and grown and encouraged by so many people, not only people that have "joined" jelly for days, weeks, months or even years but by the people that come along, join in, write encouraging things and those who criticise us, it all shapes the way we are and the way we grow.
Why are we still doing it? – because those needs and wants still exist, Reading still struggles in visual art space, we have moved from building to building, dreaming of one day having a more secure home but realising that unless we can generate enough money to pay the rents, business rates, utilities, liabilities and generate regular streams of income this isn't going to happen. So we hop from venue to venue, learning something new, growing and shrinking, emerging again, just like "jelly" moving to fit a mould or shape or space that is available for us.
Jelly has never had core funding, we used to get rate relief as a charity but just over 18 months ago it was decided by our Local Authority that charitable arts organisations would not be eligible for this discretionary relief. So we have to work a bit harder and yes, even though we would like a shop front the real truth is we can't afford it.
Times are tough for everyone and regularly we are asked to deliver workshops for free. Each request we are met with, I then send the same email explaining that our charges are the same as they were in 2004 (could you imagine not increasing anything for 9 years), that each artist is paid the same amount, there are material costs travel costs (unless local), plus we have to have insurance and CRB fees. These are there to protect the participants and even though on a session of 2 hours, the fee that comes to jelly would be somewhere between £8-10 to cover the admin, insurance and a proportion towards CRB fees we are still asked this question. We would love to be able to deliver the workshops for free but the artists need to earn an income somehow to survive and without funding it is not possible.
It feels sometimes not that different from the people who negotiate down hard on buying artwork – sure everyone loves a deal but sometimes this makes me wince little and wonder if every day for them at work starts the same way, a negotiation down on their pay.
So where to go now? Keep doing what we do, making things, trying to change perceptions, giving people a chance? There has to be a change in understanding about the role of an artist, it's not a 9-5 job, it's a badly paid vocation (unless you are one of the lucky ones) but it's an all consuming passion. It's a lifestyle choice that I and others have made. Will we be able to pay artists what they are worth (that includes all artists, writers, musicians, actors, performers, sound artists,visual artists). My life feels better because of them, does yours?
Founder and Director of jelly
Registered Charity 1100730
Jelly is an energetic charity championing the creative arts. We have played a strategic role in Reading’s cultural life since 1993 – enabling art to appear in unexpected places and creating opportunities for people to look on and join in. We believe in the power of the arts to delight, intrigue, challenge and enrich, and we're committed to forming creative alliances and partnerships that encourage art and cultural life to flourish.