Design for good – helping East St. Arts make more space for more artists
by Nick Ramshaw
This is a story of how we helped a fantastic organisation to grow and significantly increase its positive community impact in extremely testing times for the Arts.
Recognised with a prestigious DBA Design Effectiveness award, East St. is exactly the sort of client and work we get out of bed for. Great people doing great things, helped by the power of great design.
The back story:
East St. Arts is a creative social enterprise based in Leeds. The charitable trust was founded in 1993, by artists Jon Wakeman and Karen Watson to facilitate artistic practice and bring art into the community and the built environment. This artist-led regeneration model is now familiar in many major cities, but in the early 90s it was a new concept and East St. was a pioneer.
East St. set out to provide studios for artists to work in, deliver artist-led programmes and to use art both to motivate and create urban regeneration by partnering with Local Authorities and property developers.
Our brief – help us to do more:
By 2012, and coming up to their 20th birthday, East St. had a few growth problems.
There were two major headlines; East St. was falling short of the scale of societal impact they knew was possible, and they were also struggling to be taken seriously enough to secure the funding and support they would need to take a step up. East St. and their project work, were simply not visible enough and were perceived to be too small for the larger funding streams.
The truth was, they were bigger than people knew and their projects were everywhere. However, the lack of clarity and purpose, and the minimal visibility of their brand was definitely holding them back.
A motivating purpose:
Finding the heart and soul of the organisation started with brand counselling sessions. This project was so much more than a visual re-brand. It required a deep questioning into why East St. Arts exists and what mattered most to its founders.
Long conversations, workshops and 1-2-1s with team members and stakeholders uncovered that East St. Arts is, and always will be, an organisation that supports artists. It has artists at its core and exists to help artists bring positive change to the way we live.
On a simple, practical level, this is still about providing studio space for artists. But space is more than physical. The mental and intellectual space and freedom required to create work of lasting social value demands a whole series of support facilities. Artists need someone with experience to broker public and private sector relationships, they need financial support, they need access to opportunities, they sometimes need somewhere to work and even to live. Sometimes they just need someone in their corner, to help them fight systems that prevent them from flourishing.
The East St. Arts brand purpose emerged as: To create space for making art, social events and learning opportunities to make our cities better places to live and work.
East St. provides the structures, checks, balances, experience and advice that helps artists fulfil their potential and ultimately get more and more involved in the way we live. This was a big enough idea to get the team excited again, and with renewed vigour, the next phase of East St. Arts began…
Bringing the brand story to life:
We knew almost immediately that clarity and consistency were the two main imperatives. We also knew that East St. Arts had limited financial resources to commission publicity and marketing materials. Often, small design companies would help them out by doing low fee or pro bono work in return for creative freedom.
We looked at the notion of ‘space’ and how it could form part of the identity – less of a physical space, like a gallery, more of an internal space – a place where freedom can be found, enclosed by the safe haven of East St. Arts. So, the art/project image/visual became the frame with space always in the middle. This allowed us to feature a simple, black East St. Arts logo prominently, removing the temptation to relegate it to the back.
The strong, black typography allowed East St. Arts to have three different logo formats without loss of consistency and clarity. These were needed because of the huge variety of spaces the logo would need to occupy. It meant that, whatever the shape, there would always be something to fit, ensuring that a logo would always appear.
A proven impact:
By looking deep within itself and agreeing why East St. Arts exists in the first place, the organisation has been able to re-invent itself. With a new sharp focus, it has been more discerning about what it gets involved in, guided by the beacon of their original purpose, made fresh by their brand.
This focus has had a revolutionary effect on East St. Arts. It is much more resilient and confident in what it does and what it can help achieve. It is taken much more seriously and has used this to significantly improve its hit rate in funding applications. Amazingly, it has managed to increase annual funding income by over 370% and created 13 new jobs, helping turn East St. into a strong sustainable player in a sector that has been under serious threat for some time.
Between 2013 and 2019, East St. attracted funding significantly above its previous funding levels, every penny of which has been used for the benefit of communities and to make cities better places to live in.
Their flagship public art programme, A City Less Grey, transformed the fabric of the city itself, introduced thousands to art in Leeds and won the award for best use of arts, culture or sport in placemaking at The UK Planning Awards 2018.
East St.’s Art Hostel gave young people and artists visiting Leeds an affordable place to stay. Between 2016 and 2018 it hosted 10,170 guests from 117 countries, gave lodgings to 353 artists and was ranked #8/33 of places to stay in Leeds on TripAdvisor – better than the DoubleTree Hilton!
Giving people opportunities to learn about art has been delivered through adult learning courses – with learner numbers increasing by 37% over the period.
Finally, Leeds City Council has even asked East St. to develop an artist-led Neighbourhood Plan for one of the oldest parts of the city. One of many examples of how East St. is providing space for artists to help improve the places we live in.