A guide to artist-led organising

Artist Beth Emi­ly Richards shares a guide to artist-led organ­is­ing for ear­ly career artists. Com­mis­sioned by VASW and Uni­ver­si­ty partners.



Self-organised and artist-led projects can allow us as artists to have creative freedom, to set our own rules, to work with the collaborators we want to work with, and to model fairer working practices that place artists at the heart of projects. This guide will focus on artist-led models in the UK, with a series of topics to consider if you are contemplating setting up your own artist-led project.

I have worked on artist-led projects pretty continuously since graduating from my BA in 2009, and while there have been some downsides which I will outline, they have often been some of the most joyful and exciting elements of my creative practice.

My artist-led projects have included:

Project Space 11: (2010-2011) an exhibition and residency space in a small shop unit within Plymouth City Market, co-run with artists Bryony Gillard and Scott Daniels.

Come To Ours: (Sept-Dec 2011) a programme of activity and events that celebrated and showcased the work of emerging and established artists and curators. This programme temporarily occupied unusual and unconventional sites around Plymouth, running alongside the British Art Show 7. Come to Ours was devised and delivered by myself and Rachel Dobbs, Bryony Gillard, Mark James, Hannah Rose, Christopher Green, and Neil Rose.

Video Social Club: (2017-2018) a peripatetic experimental moving image night with dancing and DJs, often held in social clubs, co-run with Rachel Dobbs and Steven Paige.

Rame Projects: (2018-current) an artist-led contemporary visual art project space in a Napoleonic Barracks Block in South East Cornwall, with residencies, projects, and off-site performances, co-run with curator Lucy Elmes.

Multi-Species Meet Ups: (2022- current) a walking/ reading/ talking group led by myself and my dog Obi, using multi-species texts as a starting point to consider our entanglements with other living creatures and our local environment.

Flock South West: (2019-current) an artist-led contemporary art production agency which works with and advocates for precariously employed art workers. Flock produces ambitious and high-quality art projects with small teams of art workers; allowing practitioners to collaborate with others in order to best serve the project and to also prioritise health, caring, and other workers’ responsibilities. Currently co-directed with curator Lucy Elmes, producer Phil Rushworth, artist Llyr Davies, and art technician Ryan Curtis.

A group of people are sat in a circle and nearby in a large field. There is a wooden picnic bench nearby and views of fields and the coastline in the distance.


There are almost too many examples of artist-led ways of working to list! Below is a list of recent and current projects ranging in scale, all of which are fascinating and brilliant approaches to artist-led projects.

Nomadic, sporadic, and one-off exhibitions
-Cabbage is a nomadic artist-led initiative for contemporary visual arts that centres a transdisciplinary approach to making. Based in Glasgow, Cabbage programmes regular events and exhibitions throughout the year, as well as running a resilience programme for marginalised and early career artists. Cabbage aims to test out the ways in which individual artists and freelance curators can mobilise together to run their own projects which in themselves, prioritise artist development and sustainable support.

Exhibitions programmes -Transmission (B.1983) is an artist-run organisation that supports and is supported by membership and surrounding communities in Glasgow and beyond. As a long running artist-led organisation, Transmission is an example of an artist-led organisation that runs almost like an institution. It is a registered charity, and is run by a board of 6 directors who hold their positions for two years. Other examples of artist-led spaces with an on site exhibition programme include studio collectives such as Collective Ending in London

Residencies - Rame Projects offers 6 - 8 week residencies with a fee, production, and travel and accommodation budget. The residency asks that the artist engages with the local context of rural South-East Cornwall and its communities via a series of workshops. There is no pressure to produce a large ‘finished’ body of work, instead there is an informal public sharing at the residency finish which may comprise of an exhibition, performance, film screening, discussion group etc.

You can find national and international residency opportunities at Res Artis and Artist Communities but be wary of the ones charging rather than paying you for your time!

Community studios - Rabbits Road Press is a community risograph print studio and publishing press founded and run by OOMK. The small-scale publishing press is based at Old Manor Park Library and provides printing and book binding services for artists and community groups in Newham and beyond.
A responsive programme of workshops and events explore a contemporary model for community publishing, bringing together artists, designers, writers and local people.

Performance - 37 Looe Street recently hosted Gullfest: a weekend of art, moving image, performance, spoken word, music, and ritual, celebrating Plymouth’s vibrant gull scene, which culminated in a gull parade performance

Peer networks - Contemporary Art Membership Platform (CAMP) is a member-led support and professional development network for artists, arts workers, and other creatives. CAMP collectively promotes and supports doing, making, and sharing contemporary art across Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

Reading groups -Since 2016 artist Barry Sykes has hosted The Sauna Reading Group, which started as a deliberately absurd proposition: Forcing one traditional format (reading group) into another (sauna ritual); Asking participants to think and talk whilst sweating it out in 85+°C humidity; Considering isolation at a communal event; Breaking conversation every few minutes to cool off in the shower or outside, before returning to the heat; Laminating all printed material in advance; Taking notes on a slippery whiteboard or sweat-drenched paper.

Education - School of the Damned is a free and peer-led alternative art education programme, sometimes called an alternative Fine Art MA.
The school was created as a response to exorbitant fees for art-schools and other institutions, with the idea to bring artists together to exhibit, collaborate and develop their practices collectively. They have no teachers, no set structure, or physical space and work moving across the country, collaborating with different spaces around the UK. The school is peer-led, meaning each year is very different to the last.

Research group - Res. is a mutable project based in a gallery and workspace in Deptford, South East London. They seek to be an associative working environment from which to share and develop research. The Res. programme is built around the research-based curatorial practices of its three curators – Sarah Jury, Helen Kaplinsky, and Lucy A. Sames – spanning Feminisms, ‘cybernetic mysticism’ and distributed ownership structures. These thematics unfold through a constellation of reading and research groups and around projects proposed by Res. Associates.

Festivals or other large scale events - Jamboree 2018 was developed by LOW PROFILE in response to their position as artists who struggle to meet other artists, curators and programmers for a range of reasons including money, geography, time, other work and family commitments. LOW PROFILE invited the event’s participants (artists, curators and programmers from across the UK) to co-deliver a 4-day programme of presentations, micro-exhibitions, activities and discussions to share practice. Jamboree 2018 also offered the chance to stop, engage, interact and recharge in a positive, critically-engaged environment.

TOP TIP: see LOW PROFILE's 'how to' micro version of Jamboree and free guide to make your own version

Sales models - ARTIST SUPPORT PLEDGE is a movement, a generous culture and a dynamic economy open to all artists and makers anywhere in the world. Essentially a hashtag project which encourages more affordable art sales direct from practitioners which also charges artists themselves to purchase art when a certain sales income has been met.

Peripatetic projects - The Genius Treasure Collection is made up of approximately 300 artworks collected from car boots and markets by artist Huhtamaki Wab, often displayed in a horse box or in non-art spaces. A collection and artwork in and of itself.

Archive - The Digital Archive of Artists’ Publishing (DAAP) is an interactive, user-driven, searchable database of artists’ books and publications, that acts as a hub to engage with others, built by artists, publishers and a community of creative practitioners in contemporary artists’ publishing, developed via an ethically-driven design process, and supported by Wikimedia UK and Arts Council England. DAAP is supported by another interesting artist-led project, Banner Repeater. Banner Repeater is an artist-led contemporary art space: a reading room, and experimental project space. The project is driven by its location, on Hackney Downs train station with a footfall of over 4,000 passengers a day. Banner Repeater works with artists to develop new works, through an ambitious programme to introduce discussion and encourage debate of key issues in art today. The reading room holds a permanently sited public archive of Artists’ Publishing alongside a digital archive of Artists’ Publishing; an interactive user-driven database that constitutes a working research model - a tool as well as an electronic commons for the exchange of detailed information.

Other - There are so many artist-led projects which can fit into the ‘other’ category, but one that I want to highlight for its sense of playfulness and community is artist Georgia Gendall’s Worm Charming Championship, delivered annually since 2021

A person wearing a pink h-vis jacket with 'Worm Judge' printed on the back, have their back to the camera and hand in the air talking to people gathered round.


Artist-led projects can offer a lot of opportunities but they can also be stressful, time-consuming, and sometimes low or no-paid. It can be useful to ask yourself some questions before embarking on an artist-led project, and check in on what you may gain from it.

A. What are your goals? (Ie what do you want to achieve with this project?)

  • Showing your own work - Perhaps you want to share some work in progress to get feedback while it's in development, maybe you want to get some great documentation of your work, or you may be proud of what you have made and want to get it out there. Artist-led can be a way to share your work without the permission of an organisation.
  • Showing the work of artists you admire - whether within your peer group, or an artist whose work you have been interested in but not yet made a connection with, artist-led projects offer a great opportunity to present the work of other artists (via exhibitions, publications etc) and build connections/networks with them.
  • Flexing your curatorial muscles - do you want to explore an idea via exhibition-making? Are you lacking the opportunities to be creative in your day job? Do you want to gain research skills? Curating shows can help you with all of this and more.
  • Learning new skills - Running an artist-led project offers hands-on ways to learn so many skills which are transferable to both art and non-art jobs: marketing, fundraising, budget management, employing people, working in a team, admin, risk assessments, access assessments, evaluation and much more.
  • Networking - artist-led projects offer opportunities for expanding and consolidating your network of art practitioners - whether by inviting them to be an integral part of the project, or as an audience.
  • Community-building - artist-led projects also have the ability to expand your community in wider ways: you could invite a particular community of geography, of identity, or of interest to work with you on the project or to be part of your audience. Who do you want to engage with?

B . What are your values? (I.e. what kind of impact do you want to have with this project?)

  • What do you want to celebrate? - This could be something tangible - e.g., a commemoration of a historical event, it could be something community-focused, e.g. a project that ties in with your local Pride celebrations, or it could be wider - celebrating artists at the heart of the project, celebrating the place that you are making work in etc.
  • What do you want to critique? - This could be macro or micro, specific or more encompassing, an overt critique or something more subtle. A good example is artist Ellie Harrison’s Bring Back British Rail.
  • Who do you want to engage? - Is there a specific community that you want to support or collaborate with? Do you want to give a platform for underserved communities to showcase their work?
  • What kind of (art) world do you want to build? - Consider how your artist-led project can differ from that of art institutions e.g. Flock South West was founded in response to our own experiences as precariously employed art workers who often felt undervalued by organisations. We created an organisation to create a strong collective voice and fair working situation for us all. Consider how you could do things differently.
  • What do you want to get from the project? - You might have a range of motivations for taking on an artist-led project (developing your skills, network, prioritising joy in art-making etc) but check in with what these are and build this into the project.

C. What are the practicalities?

  • Do you have time? How will you balance other responsibilities around this project? - work, caring responsibilities, health, friendships and family, etc? Be realistic about how much time you can give and what’s achievable..
  • What do you need to make it happen? Do you need funding? Could you downscale the project to make it happen without funding? Do you need to learn some new skills before starting? Or do you need to find some collaborators who can bring these skills to the table?
A group of people are roller skating around a room each holding onto a long length of rope, There are people sat on chairs around the edge of the room watching.


Whether as collaborators or participants, it’s highly likely you will be working with other people on your project. So who could these be, and how can you find them?

Find like minded people - you’re likely to work better with people who have shared goals and values - these can be as simple as wanting to continue to make and show work post graduation, or more complex, such as wanting to create a project which supports utilising food waste and working towards a circular economy.

How and where to meet people - you will already have a network (even if you feel it is small). List the people you’re connected to and you will realise that you already have many potential collaborators. You may include people on your list who aren’t artists but could bring something interesting to the project, e.g do you know any youth workers who may be able to help support you working with young people?

Places to meet other art practitioners

  • Art events such as private views, performances, artist talks etc.
  • Art membership groups - perhaps run by galleries such as Castlefield Gallery’s Associates scheme, or those that are artist-led themselves like CAMP
  • Connecting with artists within studio complexes (by having your own studio, asking to visit one, or attending events etc).
  • Setting up an artist-led project which encourages discussion - I have met lots of new artists (and animals!) via my project Multi-Species Meet Ups.

Skills audits - what will you and your collaborators each bring in terms of skills and experience? Are you an engagement whizz and your friend has a great head for book-keeping? Or do you have the same strengths and weaknesses? If there is no one in the team with confidence in a certain area, e.g marketing, is there someone you can invite into the project who can bring this experience? Or is there training you can access to address this?

Personality, temperament, and different working styles - this is often not addressed at the beginning of the project and can scupper progress if you aren’t transparent with your collaborators. Are some of you focused on the big picture and others very detail oriented? Do some of you prefer to work late at night and others schedule work on weekends? Will you share the workload equally? How will you each be credited in a way that feels fair? If there is funding will you all be paid the same? How will you deal with stress? How will you manage intense working/ workloads? How will you manage disagreements? It is good to discuss how you are approaching the management of the project upfront to avoid stressful situations and keep checking in with each other throughout. It might be that you have a manifesto, ground rules, a team project calendar with tasks assigned - or just an informal discussion at the start, but it will be beneficial to iron these things out before they arise.

A chalkboard sign with the words "JARSQUAD: What's Cooking?" written on it. Below is a chart of produce in a cooking process.


Pros -Not having funding means that the project can be a lot more fleet of foot, you don’t need to worry about a funder’s agenda or investment principles, you don’t need to spend time creating mid and end of project reports (unless this is truly useful for you), and you won’t need to spend days of unpaid labour writing a funding bid. Sometimes the truly unique projects are very difficult to get funding for. It may be possible to pull together the resources you need in other ways (selling tickets, getting venues for free, running a paid bar etc).

Cons - Without funding you’re unlikely to get paid for your time. You may have assessed that this feels O.K. (you have another job that covers you; you will get a lot from it e.g new skills etc) but it can be difficult to ask others to get involved if you can’t pay them a fair fee. You could mitigate this by offering a skill swap, a split of ticket sales, or by finding people who feel comfortable with this exchange through sharing the goals and values of the project. Think about the time and energy needed to realise the project if you cannot pay yourself - maybe it feels manageable for a small/one-off project but not for something long term?

Non-negotiables -There are some things that will need to be paid for even if your budget is zero, to ensure the safety of participants and audience e.g. if putting on an exhibition or performance with public attendance, completing a risk assessment and having public liability insurance (PLI) is paramount. You can get low cost PLI in two ways which also supports arts organisations:

  • a-n membership - £10m Public & Products Liability insurance and £5m Professional Indemnity insurance cover is included with a-n Artist membership and a-n Arts Organiser membership.
  • Artists Union England membership - Up to £5m Public & Products Liability insurance cover is included with AUE membership.

Weighing up whether to do a project funded or unfunded -This will be on a personal case by case basis, but here is an example of how I make this decision:

  • My Multi-Species Meet Ups project is completely unfunded, and I’m happy to do this as it aligns with my goals and values and isn’t time-intensive to run
  • It keeps me engaged with an area of research in which I’m really interested
  • I get to walk, talk and make with other practitioners
  • I get to be in nature which helps my mental and physical health
  • There are no other project outgoings (other than printing and petrol)
  • I can run as many or as few sessions as I like
  • I don't feel the need to do a big marketing drive or spend a lot of time (other than chatting with people) getting evaluation data
  • It is fun, engaging, and not a huge energy suck

In contrast, with Rame Projects, I would never do this unfunded. Firstly, the invitations to artists are for residencies for at least 6 weeks - I would not feel ethically able to ask another artist to do this without payment. Secondly, it is a huge amount of work. Although I have a wonderful collaborator and the projects we deliver are creatively fulfilling, we spend a lot of time doing things around the art projects themselves which don’t offer me new learning experiences, and are frankly quite dull - we run as a CIC which means a lot of record keeping, book-keeping, admin, etc. As we are funded on a project by project basis, we also do a lot of work fundraising with no payment. This is an unavoidable aspect of running a project space with larger scale and more ambitious projects than something smaller and more agile.

A person holds an open book close to the camera whilst a golden retriever dog looks back at them. They are at the edge of water.


As with considering practitioner collaborations, you should return to your goals and values and consider if you could work with organisations to help support your project - do you have shared values? They could help with advice and mentoring, by delivering elements of your project with or for you, by supporting with funding - whether with cash or with in-kind support (giving time or resources for free).

Network mapping - Return to your network list or map, start to add organisations to this - they could be art organisations, museums, community-serving organisations etc. E.g do you have a link to a primary school who could work with you on delivering workshops for children? Is there an art organisation who could give you advice, or organise the permissions for putting on an event in a public space?

Open calls from other artist-led spaces
Sometimes other artist-led spaces and projects may have open calls, these opportunities may give you ideas for multi-sited collaborations. Good places to look for opportunities and other artist-led spaces are:

Although created some years ago, Kevin Hunt’s Artist-Led Hot100 lists (version 1 and version 2) has some brilliant artist-led organisations listed some of which are still active.

Cold-calling organisations - This usually isn’t a great idea as it often results in a lot of wasted energy and not much response. However, if you do your research, and can identify a shared approach to art-making or community engagement, shared values and ethos, etc then it may be worth a very personalised approach E.g, sharing a proposal with another artist-led space because you recognise that you’re both working on common themes. If someone you know has an existing contact with the person/organisation you’re trying to build a relationship with, can they offer an online introduction?

Non-art organisations - Consider what expertise is missing from your project and what organisations could support you with this E.g, you may want to contact a disability access organisation to support you in thinking through how you can remove barriers to access to audience members with disabilities. What can you/your project offer them in return?

A digital map showing diverse connections between various nodes and networks.


‘In-kind support’ are ways that other individuals or organisations are helping support your artist-led project, as a non-cash contribution. Examples include:

  • Marketing support - sharing information about your project on an organisations’ social media channels
  • Resource sharing - waiving room hire fees for you to hold meetings in, borrowing AV equipment for an event
  • Mentoring - receiving advisory sessions from curators or other artists in a mentoring capacity
  • Materials - a small business may be able to donate materials for your project for free, for example drinks for an event, paint for a project
  • Volunteer support - peers, friends, and other volunteers may help to run an event with you, for example as stewards.

Utilising in-kind support is brilliant for artist-led projects as a way to continue to grow your network of support. It is also invaluable when applying for funding as it demonstrates others’ support of and belief in your project. It is good practice to acknowledge the in-kind support you receive on your marketing and promotional materials, for example by including organisations’ logos.

If you are applying for funding, the funders will want to know how much money the in-kind support equates to. Heritage Fund have developed a good example for this.

They also recommend calculating volunteer time at £20 per hour per person. For other people’s time, ask them directly what they would charge you if you were paying them.

A person stood on a red step stall looks into a peep hole located on a shop shutter. The shutter has the words "LOOK HERE" and an arrow printed on it.


People - Returning to your network map, you can consider what skills, equipment, advice, resources, and experiences you may need to bring into the project to deliver it successfully. You may want to create an action plan to contact people in your network to ask them if they’d like to collaborate with you formally or informally.

Place - What does the context in which you are working offer you, the artists you are working with, and your audience? Are there empty shops or public spaces that you’d like to show work in? Are there public or green spaces that could be inspiring or unusual sites for artist-led projects, that are also a draw for audiences?

If you are interested in using an empty shop or office as a site for your project, you could consider Meanwhile Use. Meanwhile use of empty buildings is an established model and has been used extensively by artists in the UK. Through meanwhile use, practitioners and small organisations occupy temporarily unoccupied spaces transforming them into community hubs, workshops, galleries, museums and theatres. Find out more about Meanwhile Use.

Time - Are there any events coming up in the local, regional, or national calendar that make sense to tie in with for your project? For example, if reaching a wider audience is important, could you schedule your exhibition or event to tie into a community-wide event (e.g. a summer fair)? Or do you want to respond to an event in your region’s arts calendar (e.g. organising a fringe event during a large arts festival (e.g. Manchester International Festival)? Doing this allows you to share resources by ‘piggybacking’ on event marketing and audience. Often funders are keen to support projects which are savvy about capitalising on other events.

Two people are stood on top of a stone extension of a building, leaning against the main buildings wall. A woman is leaning out of an upstairs window watching them.


Public spaces - If showing work in a public space where an audience is being invited, you need to consider who the landowner or land manager is and seek their permission. If this is a green space such as a park, it will likely be managed by a local council who will need to be contacted and may have policies and procedures that you need to follow. If you are unsure who owns the land, you can search HM Land Registry.

Empty shops - Some local councils actively manage a variety of empty business properties and make them available for Meanwhile Use, details above. Some private landlords may be open to discussion about Meanwhile Use. To find out about who owns the property you can search HM Land Registry. You may also be able to contact the landlord via estate agents if the property is up for lease.

Road closures - You may want to apply to temporarily close a road if it is important for your event, for example if you are holding a street party. This is a government guide on how to contact your local council to do this

Event licences - If your project will be doing any of the following as part of a one of event you will need to apply for a Temporary Event Notice:

  • selling alcohol
  • serving alcohol to members of a private club
  • providing entertainment, such as music, dancing or indoor sporting event
  • serving hot food or drink between 11pm and 5aM

There can be no more than 500 people in attendance, and you can’t run more than 5 events with a Temporary Event Notice at one location in any one year. This page tells you more on how to apply to your local council for a TEN.

Copyright - If you are sharing an artist’s work without their permission, you may be in breach of copyright law. For most artist-led projects this will not apply, but some useful links about showing film or music and how this relates to copyright law and any licence fees you may be required to pay can be found at:

An artwork installed on the side of a building consisting of text made from white lightbulbs spelling out the words 'there has to be'


Consider who it is that you want to engage with your artist-led project?
Is it other artists? Do you want to reach certain demographics or communities? Consider how your different audiences can be reached in different ways - for example, Instagram story re-posts from artists with large followings across the UK may help you build a national arts audience, but if your projects is specifically relevant to local LGBTQIA+ young people, then you may want to ask local LGBTQIA+ groups and other youth groups to share flyers, or ask if you can come and speak to them at a session.

Creating a wider marketing strategy can be a good way to think more deeply about the different ways of reaching your different audiences. Some useful how-to resources are:

Arts Council Wales’ Guide to Writing a Marketing and Communications Plan

Arts Marketing Association practical hands-on guide to writing a marketing plan and building audiences

How do you want people to engage?
How can you make people feel welcomed? What do you want their experience to be like? Have you considered your audiences’ different barriers to access? Example barriers to access:

  • can they afford to travel to where your project is?
  • do they feel comfortable and welcome in the space that your project inhabits
  • is the event at a time when they can visit eg does it clash with work or caring responsibilities?
  • are they physically able to access the project - are there public transport links, is the building wheelchair and pram/buggy accessible, is there an audio description for people with visual impairments etc?
  • is the marketing and exhibition text available in other languages or in easy read versions?
  • how are children made to feel welcome?
  • how will people with severe allergies be kept safe if food is served?

When planning your project, it is important to think about how your project can be delivered in ways which are inclusive of as many people as possible, but particularly of the key audiences you are trying to reach. You may want to create an access audit or assessment of your project to think about how you can amend delivery to better welcome engagement. A good strategy is to market your event as early as possible, and to encourage your audience to get in touch with you to tell you about their access needs ahead of time, so that you have the time to make any delivery changes as needed.

Some starting points to learn more about access include:

A video game machine in a room that has graffiti painted on the wall. Above the machine is a TV mounted on the wall and a DVD player on a shelf below showing a film.


Once an artist-led project has come to an end, it’s often useful to reflect and evaluate and think about what other things it could lead to.

Evaluate - Go back to your goals and values - did you achieve what you wanted to with this project? Has it posed new challenges you want to meet? Did something go wrong, that you would like to try again in a different way? Did you meet new people you’d like to work with in the future?

You might need some time to digest the experience, you might be exhausted and not ready to think ‘what next’, which is very normal and totally fine. If you are ready to think about what the project could lead to, you might want to do some self or peer-led coaching to enable you to road map your future plans. This goal setting worksheet from the Open University shares some simple self-coaching prompts using the GROW (Goal setting, Reality checking, Options, Who/What/Where/When/Will) coaching method:

Consolidate documentation and evaluation - Ensure documentation and evaluation is archived in a place you will be able to access and share it easily. This will be useful when helping to demonstrate your skills and experiences to future possible funders/ artists/ organisations that you might want to work with.

An art exhibition with a central tall sculpture, wall based works and work on a plinth.


Networks/ curated lists

A report collating data from a 2021 survey exploring barriers to sustainability in artist-led spaces, authored by Leeds-based East Street Arts.

How to guides
A series of useful how to guides from Artquest on running artist-led spaces.

Symposium documentation

Research articles


Art critics The White Pube interview an anonymous artist-led space Director


This guide is written by Beth Emily Richards an artist, researcher and producer whose practice is social, interconnected and collaborative. She is a founder and co-director of Rame Projects, an artist-led space in Cornwall.

The guide is commissioned in partnership by Arts University Bournemouth, Arts University Plymouth and The University of Plymouth and VASW.