Artist-Led Spaces: The Royal Standard In Liverpool

by Cass Art

Liverpool is a city thriving with art and culture - known for the world leading galleries like Tate Liverpool, The Bluecoat and The Walker Gallery.

But in recent years it is the artist-led spaces that have been causing a stir, and one of the most notable of those is The Royal Standard, which has excitingly just been granted charitable status.

What's remarkable about The Royal Standard is that it combines studio spaces with cutting-edge, contemporary exhibitions. Run by six directors that change at a fresh and fast-paced rate of every two years, we caught up with one of the current directors, Ellie Barrett, to find out more about this unique and inspiring space.

Hi Ellie! Why do you think this it's important that the Royal Standard remains an artist-led space?

Artist-led initiatives have a completely different focus of aims and values than other spaces. We develop our exhibition programme from the background of an ever-shifting platform of makers and practitioners, meaning our considerations in terms of running and curating the gallery are always grounded in up-to-the-minute advances in contemporary artistic practice. We are fully aware of emerging trends and mentalities and consider these when we begin to cultivate our shows; we know that what we are presenting to the public is something very relevant to contemporary art as it exists now. Being artist-led means that we are so much more responsive to change and emerging theory and aesthetic.

The Royal Standard 

What else makes it different from the other art spaces and galleries in Liverpool?

Though there are several other artist-led spaces in Liverpool, the Royal Standard remains distinctive mainly due to its strategies of operation, with both an exhibition programme and studio member programme running simultaneously. Working collaboratively, the board of six directors will each pitch proposals for exhibitions, which will then be developed into a series of 3 – 4 exhibitions and public programming events every year. This is funded separately from the studio programme, which researches and creates opportunities for our studio artists. This allows artists support from peers in the form of crits and studio exchanges as well as the means of devising their practice from a thriving cultural hub, which is also a platform for showcasing national and international contemporary artists. Though we occupy a space on the fringes of the city, the facilities we have at our disposal are unique, including two large gallery spaces and 40 distinctive studio spaces. Though these programmes form the basis of the running of the Royal Standard, they are the foundations of other more experimental practices. We are not limited to merely the space we occupy and frequently hold events in satellite venues such as conferences and integrate our exhibition programme with other major arts organisations in Liverpool, having worked before with the Walker, FACT and the Bluecoat.

The Royal Standard has just been granted charitable status – but what does this mean for the future?

By obtaining charitable status, many doors have opened for the Royal Standard in 2015. Most notably will be the benefit this has on the running of the gallery and its legacy. We are currently in the process of appointing a board of trustees, who will work alongside the directors offering specialist advice. This will include individuals who are well versed in a variety of backgrounds, all of which have large implications for TRS, such as marketing, PR and legal advice. Aside from this, we are beginning to look for funding opportunities that will further benefit our studio members and the possibility of funding individual residencies and large-scale project based work.

What does your studio membership involve? Can anyone apply?

Studio membership will grant an artist full use of facilities at the Royal Standard. All of our studios are 24-hour access and rent includes utilities and internet. We also have workshop spaces, bookable project spaces, kitchens and communal spaces. Some of our studio-holders are also developing a ‘reading room’ not only as a research space but also a hub which can be used for crits and discussions relative to critical writing. Operating independently from our exhibition programme, we also run a studio programme, which seeks to uncover and produce a variety of opportunities for our studio members. This has included residencies, studio exchanges and funding. In April, we will conclude our studio exchange with the Newbridge Project in Newcastle.

The Royal Standard exhibition 

Practicing artists working in any discipline may apply. We do have an application procedure: we ask any candidates to submit images of their recent works and to offer a statement detailing their practice and how a studio at the Royal Standard will benefit their work. A panel of directors and studio holders will then interview the candidate. This is to ensure they will not only use their studio in a professional manner, but also that they will contribute to the dynamic studio culture that we have generated here.

Is there a normal work day at The Royal Standard or is every day different?

All of the directors will endeavour to give 2 and a half days per week to their role. The busiest we find ourselves is during an installation period; this means late nights and manual labour in the gallery, before supporting artists to install their work. Some installs will require an entire working week from all the directors. Before we are able to physically present an exhibition, we will collaborate in order to programme, curate and realise each show. This will include office days filled with proposal writing and critical discussion.

Outside of the exhibition programme, there is always administrative, financial and maintenance duties to carry out, pertaining to both the gallery and the studios. A normal day – if there is such a thing – may be a morning at the office computer responding to emails and balancing finances, and then an afternoon of more physical tasks such as general upkeep.

Dave Evans 

All 6 directors aim to come together at least once a week – though this is often very difficult to achieve – and our meeting agendas are lengthy and varied, though it is always enjoyable and exciting and we will always come away with an urge to carry out the plans we have just laid between us.

What kind of exhibition and events go on in The Project Space – can you describe any memorable ones?

There are several spaces we refer to as project spaces in the Royal Standard. Most notably, studio member Joe Orr rents a large project space and has utilised it to execute the running of his own gallery space named Cactus. Mostly month-long solo shows, Cactus is gaining notability of its own in the Liverpool art scene, and works in conjunction with the Royal Standard, routinely holding private views on the same evening. Studio member Dave Evans is doing likewise and is about to open his gallery space White Wizard, which will function with its own distinctive programme, driven by different aims and values.

Our project spaces are bookable, and can be used for the construction of larger works, as well as documentation of artworks. We also use them for crits and group discussions, making them very versatile spaces with both practical uses as well as informal exhibition spaces.

The Royal Standard

Tell us a little about the Liverpool art scene – what can people expect to find there? 

Until fairly recently, Liverpool has been dominated by large and recognisable institutions such as Tate, the Walker Art Gallery and the Bluecoat. Recent years have seen the emergence of grassroots initiatives. Artist led studio cultures such as Red Wire had evolved into galleries such as Arena and 104 Duke Street. A collection of our studio members, having identified a lack of smaller, more emerging spaces have begun to set up their own studio/gallery space named Crown Building Studios. Model, a pop-up space run by three of our studio members also saw a buzz in late 2014. The Fine Art course at LJMU is seeing a larger turnover of students and it is apparent that the city is offering much more to its recent graduates than it has ever done before. In short, the art scene has reclaimed itself from more dominant names and brought exciting and active practice to the foreground. It is an excellent city to be an artist at any point in their career.

It’s quite a commitment to change directors every two years. Why do you choose to do this? And what have previous directors gone on to do?

This is a convention that is constantly under discussion at the Royal Standard as yes, it is a commitment to continuously change the board of directors. However, discussion always results in the conclusion that, yes, this is enormously important to the running of the gallery and studios. One of the main aims of the Royal Standard is to offer opportunities to emerging artists, and it is from a similar mindset this decision comes from. The board is composed of 6 directors working a 2 year term. These terms are staggered, so the board remains the same for 1 year only. During this year, the more seasoned of the 6 will ensure that the new directors are offered appropriate support in order to take more creative and practical agency over the running of TRS. This absolutely ensures that the organisation does not stagnate and thinking remains fresh and new. Not only this, but the role is an excellent experience for any creative professional at the beginning of their career: previous directors have gone on to work developing exhibition programmes for FACT, running the print studio at the Bluecoat and lecture in institutions including Hope University and the University of Lincon. A term as director at the Royal Standard has been described as “a Masters in curating and studio managing: it’s as exhausting as a 2-year postgraduate degree.” You don’t get a formal qualification but the wealth of experience and knowledge you accumulate is invaluable.

Rachel Marcroft installation

What’s coming up at The Royal Standard this year?

2015 at TRS has already seen our largest and most ambitious project to date: BamBamBam, which saw 21 of our studio members show work in as many days. This quick fire event saw three private views (echoing the title) and encouraged artists to take more risks and be more candid with what they presented for public view. This show also saw the beginning of a relationship between TRS and the Quad Collective, a new group devising a mini-art-market on a more affordable scale. We will continue to develop this into the year. Our exhibition programme for 2015 will operate this year. Our first formal exhibition of 2015 will open on 13/3/15 entitled External Machines, featuring national and international artists from an array of different backgrounds.

The summer will see the re-ignition of the LJMU residency project, altered in accordance to the new delivery of the course with a focus on project management and delivery rather than students simply using a space to make work. We will also conclude our 2-part studio exchange with the Newbridge Project in Newcastle – a week-long residency and collaboration with studio holders resulting in new work produced for an exhibition.  

Identifying other sources of funding will open further doors and widen our scope for the last half of the year as we begin to look further afield in order to open dialogues and begin relationships with other artist-led initiatives. 

Feeling inspired?

Keep your eyes peeled for our new art shop, coming soon to Liverpool.  

Visit The Royal Standard's website here.

Check out six independent galleries you won't want to miss in Liverpool on our blog

Image Credits:

Image 1 - Joey Holder, Hydrozoan, Sept - Oct 14

Image 3' - Rob Chavasse, Ghostie, July - Aug 14

Image 4 - Dave Evans 

Image 5  - Rie Nakajima performing at Testing Bed, April 14 

Image 6 - Rachel Marcroft

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