The Future of the Satellite Programme: What Next?

This seminar took place on 4 July from 3-4pm at the Little Blue Hut. It was the last seminar of The Endless Seminar series, thank you to all of those who came and took part in the conversation, it was a lively discussion and a lot of good ideas came out of it. We were joined by guest curators Polly Read, a local artist and curator of 2008 Satellite Programme and Matthew de Pulford, curator at the Herbert Read Gallery.

The purpose of this seminar was to reflect on the Satellite Programme this year and to discuss the various successes and the lessons learned. This conversation will be useful for the organisation of the next Satellite, as well as provide thoughts on supporting the local art scene in general.

As a way of introducing the seminar it might be helpful to reiterate what the aim of Satellite Programme is. The Satellite Programme was established for local artists who could take advantage of the Whitstable Biennale as a platform to promote their projects, which also meant providing a built-in audience who had come to see the Biennale. In 2006, the first year of the Satellite Programme, 25 artists participated. It has steadily grown and in 2010 over 75 projects were involved with over 100 artists in total participating. This year the Programme included artists from Whitstable, the broader East Kent area and London. Although the Biennale does not of the capabilities of supporting the Satellite artists financially, we were able to create a Satellite Publication and this website as marketing and documentation tools.

Overall the feedback from artists and visitors has been very positive. Unfortunately we ran out of the Satellite Programme newspapers quite early on which was completely unexpected, and we did not have a budget to print anymore, which I know was a disappointment and inconvenience to many people. Signage and maps were also something that people wanted more of. The dozens of Satellite projects spread from Seasalter to Tankerton, therefore it was too much of a challenge to create a map that was big enough to pinpoint each project. There were some suggestions that the Main Programme brochure also include the Satellite Programme; this leads to a broader discussion about the relationship between the Main Programme and Satellite Programme.

A few artists expressed that they would have liked more support from the Biennale – either with funding, logos, signage, marketing…however the Biennale has only ever acted as a platform for the Satellite and due to funding and resources, hasn’t been able to offer more than that. Over the past three Biennales, the Satellite Programme has grown, and it is becoming an event that people look forward to in its own right, separate from the Main Programme. The Satellite programme offers something quite different to the Main Programme and it is developing an independent and unique reputation amongst artists and visitors. The sheer diversity of the programme is in itself exciting, and includes artists at all stages in their careers. One point that was highlighted during the Seminar was that the Satellite Programme allows for experimentation. There is no curatorial impetus that the artists are obliged to follow, and a more direct connection to the Main Programme might limit the scope of the projects that are enabled by the Satellite. Many of the artists fedback that they felt the structure of the Satellite Programme allowed them to experiment with new ideas and pursue projects that diverted from their normal artistic practice. This is something that I believe is integral and unique to the Satellite Programme, which should be celebrated and encouraged.

Part of why I think the Whitstable Satellite works so well, is that it exists independently but alongside the Biennale, rather than in opposition to it. As Matthew brought up with the example of Art Sheffield’s ‘fringe’ programme, sometimes when events are organised as a reaction to or in opposition to, the artists feel obligated to make work that references that, rather than making the work that they want to. However, this is not to say that a link between the Main and Satellite programmes could not be an interesting exercise. One artist suggested leaving Kieren Reed’s Biennale HQ for the local artists to use throughout the year. Although this particular suggestion isn’t possible for several reasons, it might be something to keep in mind for next time. It could take the form of a collaboration, a reaction, inspiration or an adoption of work between a Satellite and Main Programme artist.

One point of concern for the Satellite Programme is how it has grown and the sheer volume of artists participating. Not only is finding venues for all of the projects quite difficult, it makes it near impossible to see everything you would like to see. One suggestion was to perhaps hold it during a different time from the Biennale, but most people agree that losing the platform of the Biennale would be a disadvantage. The local press have taken a great interest in the event, and this year reported on several Satellite projects as well as the Main Programme. Another idea was to extend the run of the Satellite on either side of the Main Programme. This might well be a solution, especially if the numbers of participants and audience continues to grow.

Many people fed-back that aside from their professional development, the event was a good networking opportunity. Several artists were approached with new opportunities, and some simply had the chance to meet many other artists and exchange ideas and contacts. The Satellite as a network in its own right is something that could well be extended and established as a permanent presence that exists year-round and not only every two years. One thing that I recognised during my own research and work in Whitstable is that there aren’t mahy established organisations that represent local artists – either acting as a networking site, or listing opportunities and exhibitions. However, one good example of a new site that is trying to establish itself is I AM LOCAL.

One thing that I aim to do is keep the Satellite website running up until the next Biennale. People can send me updates about their work and the blog format can allow for updates for artists’ projects. Catherine Herbert, the Biennale evaluator and Seminar attendee, brought up an interesting model for the Satellite artists, which is that of a cooperative or collective. Satellite artists could band together so that they can organise and participate in other events beyond the Satellite Programme, but do so under banner of the Satellite. This would allow for continued support and development and a momentum that can be built off of events at the Biennale. This would no doubt involve a lot of organisation, and brings up the issue of administration and money. However much the Biennale might be interested in supporting the extension of the Satellite Programme, it would need someone who could really dedicate time to establishing the infrastructure and fundraising to pay themselves and organise events. The Biennale doesn’t have the funds to do this, and that is in part an argument for a local organiser or curator – someone who is really invested in the local art scene.

I am interested in further exploring these ideas about the ways that the Satellite artists can be supported and promote their work beyond the Biennale. Arts activity in Kent is a topic that I will be exploring further throughout the year with Matthew de Pulford at Herbert Reed Gallery and Sian McMillan at Stour Valley Arts, with several more seminars and a large symposium in 2011. Please let me know if you would like to be be on the mailing list for these.

I encourage you to continue this conversation, and leave comments here about how you think the Satellite Programme can grow.

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3 Responses to The Future of the Satellite Programme: What Next?

  1. Matt Rowe says:

    It was a shame to of missed the seminar. the are a few points i would of like to have raised.

    The is genuine need to develop county wide strategies that will help join up the pockets of existing fringe activity happening around the county.

    Iamlocal.net can help by indexing creatives and fringe activity in kent.
    Club Shepway intend the site to act as a Catalyst for Kentish arts networks to develop. Providing a snap shot of previous events.

    however one big problem that Kent will always struggle with, is its bad transport links. All too often people are inclined to hot foot it straight in to London rather than travel to see a show at the other side of the county.

    One possible solution could be to instigate first Thursdays style galley visits. alternating the venues around Kent. http://www.firstthursdays.co.uk/

    The key to this working, would rely on larger organizations with established programs, busing in critical mass in from Kent and London area. This would provide fringe groups with regular opportunities to curate exhibitions that show case emerging contemporary works. to new audiences.

  2. I agree with Matt.

    From where I’m based in North East Kent, I can easily get to Canterbury, Whitstable and Margate using public transport.
    However, getting to other parts of the county is tricky. For example, I can get to London in half the time it takes to get to Folkestone, which is half the distance – and the service is very limited.

    It’s a shame. Because of this I often miss events in these harder to reach parts of the county, particularly if they take place in the evening.

    Maybe a First Thursdays scheme would help to link up Kent’s artistic community. Matt says that the problem at the moment is that it’s hard to organise when there are so few organisations operating a regular programme – probably true. So does this put the impetus for organising this scheme onto these organisations (bearing in mind that they are the best informed about the scheduling of there own programmes)?

    And could (or should) educational institutions play a part in this? It might assist the integration of their graduating (in the case of HE institutions) students into the local arts community. Certainly a lot of graduating artists look to London as Kentish audiences do.

    On the other hand, does this ‘mothering’ approach encourage passivity and laziness?

  3. ukpr says:

    I love the idea of First Thursdays and would be very happy to support it. How can we start? I do not feel that this is a “mothering” approach at all – audiences need to be developed in each district of East Kent as well as across East Kent, particularly if we are asking people to travel. East Kent can feel hard to traverse for those who do not wish to drive, but the distance fosters diversity and identity – it is a strength as well as a challenge. They still joke in London that it is hard to go “below the river” or to Hackney – we are not the only region that struggles with distance.
    There are a lot of networks working across East Kent within different art forms. East Kent Live Lit is the network for writers and artists who work with text in East Kent, as well as producers and venues who programme live literature. Visit http://www.livelit.co.uk for more. Escape to Create works with artists along Kent’s coast and each district has a local arts development officer. It would be terrific to have a forum that would allow all these networks and individual artists and writers to come together.
    There are a lot of us here, but because we are so spread out it feels like nothing is happening. It is not true. A lot is happening, all of the time. But it is hard to get the word out to the people who would benefit from knowing. How can we combine our resources? If we can all find each other, we will be constantly aware of who is here and how much is happening.

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