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The Work Room at 10: How the artist-led practice has developed over a decade

Back in 2008, The Work Room was founded by a group of artists who agitated for space and resource for dance in Glasgow. With a base at Tramway, The Work Room’s studio was created as part of Scottish Ballet’s capital development.

Now, ten years on, The Work Room is still working with choreographers from across Scotland to research and develop new creative projects. And with the big tenth birthday on the horizon, the team are planning to celebrate with an event at The Art School on Thursday 7 June.

We spoke to Kally Lloyd Jones, a Director and Choreographer and Chair of The Work Room to find out more about the event and The Work Room's plans for the future.

The Work Room is one of Creative Scotland's Regularly Funded Organisations for 2018-21.

What were the main goals for setting the organisation up in 2008?

The goal of the organisation from the start was to be a space for artists to develop their practice, and research and create new work. It was important to those artists that the organisation was artist-led and that ethos permeates how we operate.

The Work Room was established by a group of dance artists working in Glasgow. They had been advocating and agitating about the lack of resource for dance as an art form to develop in the city and particularly the lack of suitable space to create space in. The opportunity for The Work Room studio space came about with Scottish Ballet's development to build new headquarters at Tramway, and the vision for this, encouraged by the public funders (Scottish Arts Council & Glasgow City Council) was for this to include a resource for independent dance artists.

We talk about our mission being 'to empower artists to lead in their practice, enabling them to make high quality, pioneering dance for diverse contexts at home and internationally'- Kally Lloyd-Jones, Chair, The Work Room

This represented a huge opportunity to define what we collectively considered to be our ideal working conditions and ethos. The fundamental idea was that artists would have a place to work that would be their home for the period of their residency.

The space would not be used for anything else or by anyone else. Hours would be set by the artists themselves and, crucially, there was no expectation on the artists to necessarily produce or show any work, although of course, they could if they wanted to.

When we began to look at what the organisational structure around this space would look like, it became very clear that what everyone wanted was an artist led model so that decision making processes would always be in the hands of the artists who became members. The Work Room was born out of a process of discussion and research by the people who were going to use it, and I think is genuinely admirable in its insistence on keeping the process of creation at the heart of its ethos.

Do you feel like the organisation still has the same aims and goals ten years on?

Yes it absolutely does.  And of course, it has grown as an organisation both in terms of the size of membership and in response to the numbers and diversity of those members.

The priorities of The Work Room’s members continues to inform the organisation’s artistic programme and policies which have expanded to include activities and opportunities beyond the residency programme. We talk about our mission being 'to empower artists to lead in their practice, enabling them to make high quality, pioneering dance for diverse contexts at home and internationally.'

The programme and organisational structure exist to facilitate the artists work but it is the ethos of these artists is what gives The Work Room meaning. Members recently articulated the values which underpin the programme as being;  Experimentation, Generosity and Inclusivity.

What projects have you been most proud of over the last decade?

The nature of The Work Room being artist-led is that ultimately what we are proud of is the achievements and successes of all of our members whether they are just starting out or established artists.

At our recent AGM, I felt so proud of the warmth, thoughtfulness and sense of community generated by the members which is a testament to the success of this model. Our wonderful team, Director Anita Clark and Membership & Studio Manager Sara Johnstone achieve the most brilliant balance of leading and facilitating whilst placing the artists at the core and I think our fabulous new website really reflects this - the diversity of the artists who are The Work Room which is now an idea and not just a space.

What have been the biggest challenges the Work Room has faced?

I think over the years, the essentially inward facing nature of The Work Room has created challenges in terms of attracting funding but we are really fortunate to have some security as a Regularly Funded Organisation, as well as the generosity of Glasgow Life.

This may always be a challenge, as it is for many, but the growth and success of The Work Room has meant that our profile has been building and I think there is a huge amount of respect for what The Work Room is doing.

And what have been its greatest rewards?

For me personally, the reward is to be part of something that is greater and more important than yourself. As a freelancer with a small company, a lack of continuity often feels difficult. So my belief in the importance of The Work Room, and knowing that it is constantly growing the work and careers of artists and creating a sense of community gives me that continuity. I am sure many of the members feel this way too.

How are you celebrating turning ten?

Big plans! For which I can’t take any credit. In keeping with our ethos, we are having an evening of live dance, music and installation programmed by The Work Room members - Claricia Kruithof, Jer Reid, Skye Reynolds, Lucy Suggate and Aniela Piasecka.  This will be at The Art School, Glasgow on Thursday 7 June, 7.30pm til late.

The evening is called Beyond because we will also be launching a new way to support and nurture artist-led dance projects beyond our dance studio. I think it will be a brilliant evening and is not just for dance fans! So please do check it out and come along.

What are the Work Room’s plans for the future?

The Work Room is in a really good place to be looking forward. We were successful in securing RFO funding for the next three years and with this we will be able to consolidate our programme of residencies and support, as well as taking a lead in promoting the work of Scotland's independent dance companies and artists internationally. At the end of August this year, we are co-ordinating a Dance From Scotland presence at the Internationale Tanzmesse which is the largest showcase of contemporary dance.

Working with others is key to how we operate and central to our future ambitions. We are an instigator and connector - both through and on-behalf of our members. We want to excite and enthuse venues, festivals and presenters about dance and particularly the work being developed by our members. We are instigating collaborative projects, creating space for dialogue and building relationships with other organisations who share these ambitions including Platform, Cove Park, Take Me Somewhere Festival, Dance International Glasgow (DiG) and the Touring Network.

Key to all our future plans though is is staying true to our ethos and continuing to be a radical, artist-led presence for dance in Scotland.

Kally Lloyd-Jones is a director and choreographer and chair of The Work Room. The Work Room is hosting an event at The Art School to celebrate its 10th anniversary on Thursday 7 June - performance, film, music, installation, DJs - to book tickets please visit: theworkroom.org.uk/events/the-work-room-10-years-beyond.

This article was published on 01 Jun 2018