NOTE: The text below is an abbreviated version of what will be posted at a later time. This version was offered as part of a larger presentation at RaRa in Sheffield on May 14, 2011 and aceartinc. in Winnipeg on June 23, 2011.
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PLATFORM is a London-based artist run centre working at the intersection of ecological and social issues. As declared online, it combines the transformatory power of art with the tangible goals of campaigning, and the rigour of in-depth research with the vision to promote alternative futures.
Initiated through a meeting in 1983/84 involving approximately ten Cambridge University theatre students who wanted to be more politically effective, as well as those involved in activism who wanted to be more imaginative, PLATFORM established more formally when two participants decided to carry on after graduation. Nearly 30 years later, PLATFORM has become a well respected activist group known for embracing many types of practices including visual art and performance, in addition to traditional campaigning and activist strategies. PLATFORM is thus a highly interdisciplinary collective where not everyone involved considers themselves an artist, but ultimately desires to work collaboratively to develop highly credible research in support of causes they seek to communicate effectively.
Their activities are therefore quite diverse, as are their partnerships, allowing them to commission artwork, host workshops, publish, and produce exhibitions. PLATFORM works in solidarity, with many other types of activist and community groups in mutually beneficial scenarios where they can either provide or draw resources/audiences/attention to enhance the campaign in question.
PLATFORM considers the receivers of their projects to be very diverse including other activists, citizens at large, and people directly involved with issues such as fenceline communities and investors in oil/gas. Deliberately identifying the people with whom they wish to communicate is central to how they frame their work. Each project is defined in terms of what the members want to change in the world, how they want to change it, and who they need to address in order to do so. They purposefully seek feedback on their activities as a critical learning and development tool because they know evaluation is essential to ensuring they’re not losing sight of their core values.
Since 1996, their work has confronted the increasing power by which transnational corporations are impacting on our minds, bodies, society, and environment. All activities undertaken by PLATFORM are discussed within the group in a fully transparent fashion, and all decisions are interrogated relative to their principles and with consideration for ethical conduct and collective integrity. They set their own agenda and don’t allow themselves to be instrumentalized by partners, nor do they agree to conditional funding arrangements.
The primary decision-making body of PLATFORM is a non-hierarchical management group that welcomes anyone involved with the collective for six months to opt in or out as desired. This structure – involving a Board of Trustees that supports the organization, but does not direct it — was developed after a great deal of analysis and planning, and it has been accepted by their funders, although its sometimes hard to accommodate their expectations when filling out documents (for example, there is no single person responsible as director).
PLATFORM spent its first seven years working without anticipating income. Slowly starting to need and raise financial support for its activities, after tremendous debate about the pros and cons, the group formalized as a charitable non-profit. In 2008 PLATFORM became a Regularly Funded Organization of Arts Council England, so their bureaucratic responsibilities to external stakeholders definitely increased, yet it has not been entirely unmanageable. That said, during the recent round of cuts to arts and cultural groups in the UK, PLATFORM has lost its status as an RFO, so their heaviest paper-work intensive supporter is no longer part of the equation.
PLATFORM currently has two full-time and eight part-time members of staff, but are moving toward all working on a part-time basis. Salaries are established according to what is known as a socially just waging system, and some staff members pursue work in other areas simultaneously.
Their primary sources of funding are foundations and trusts, as well as Arts Council England. They have a membership program for which they do not charge a fee, although they have been exploring the prospect. The collective has recently, and successfully, explored crowd sourcing as a means of raising money. On the other end of the spectrum, PLATFORM presently has a few individual donors who’ve given at high levels, and they’d like to develop this base. PLATFORM never seeks sponsorship from groups or corporations that contradict their primary values.
PLATFORM feels its in a good place right now with basic but adequate physical space and resources to develop and deliver their work. Yes, improvements would be great, but they make due with modest means and note that their organization is not particularly resource intensive. That said, they recognize their situation could easily change in the years to come, and they do recognize a certain amount of fashionable interest in environmentalism is working in their favour for the moment.