Building blocks and growing pains

Paul Noble, Playframe, 2000
Paul Noble, Playframe, 2000

When you start on a journey of collective buying and sharing amongst a group of people and the excitement of the idea has taken a firm grip, it is a natural consequence that you will need to pause to create a foundation of building blocks that will provide a set of principles to guide you and form a structure on that journey. And sometimes it can feel like the niggling pains of a body growing, but one that will soon blossom into something meaningful with its own character.

A “constitution” sounds a grand word for what a group of friends and family trying to share art at home needed. More reminiscent of the principles used (and abused) to govern a political state it brings to mind lofty buildings, federal governments, and elected members of state holding forth with a formality set down hundreds of years ago. It’s worth pointing out that this is not so in Britain where due to historical legacy we don’t actually have a single document – but rather an “unwritten” or “uncodified” constitution made up of a number of different statutes, treaties and laws. Confused? Don’t be.

So what do we mean here? How does sharing contemporary art at home fit in to any such notion of a “constitution”? At its most basic level I prefer to go with the Oxford dictionary’s version: A body of fundamental principles …or ..the act of forming or establishing something. After all – isn’t this what we were trying to do here?

It was very important that from the start we were all agreed on a set of fundamental principles that would form the basis (the building blocks) of the Collective and to establish its true “character”. This way it could also be used by others in the future to form their own groups with the same guiding principles of how that character looked and felt and so building a larger community of like-minded groups.

Early attempts to put a constitution together were fairly informal and often happened in the pub with at least one member from each of the seven households represented. But “fairly informal” should not be interpreted as not taking it seriously, but rather it was our open attitude and our willingness to work together to produce something of value that would last. It took a few years to have the documents actually drawn up and registered by a lawyer, and only once we had received some funding from Arts Council England to do so.

It wasn’t difficult to come up with a whole host of questions that would need addressing – and being a group of people from very varied professions, sectors and experiences it didn’t take long for the list to grow and grow: The negative soon spilled forth.

  • What happens if a member wants to leave? (circumstances change and it happened sooner than we thought)
  • What happens if there is a dispute between members? (we are humans – it does happen!)
  • What happens to our investments when we want to leave – are they protected?
  • What happens if a member(s) doesn’t like what is being purchased? (beauty is, after all, in the eye of the beholder)
  • What happens if a member defaults on their monthly contributions (money is the root of many disputes)
  • What about tax and insurance implication for each member and household (oh no, hadn’t thought of that)

The growing pains were starting to take a grip and there were two common denominators at work that had all the potential for causing conflict – the exchange of money and human relationships. So, whilst we needed to address all the negative it was still important to keep our focus on the positive:

  • How and where do we buy art?
  • Who buys it?
  • How regularly should we meet and share?
  • How can we find out about artists?
  • Can we do studio visits?
  • Can we share with other groups in the future?

And so it went on. But for now our questions were out and our principles were slowly taking the shape of building blocks. With time the growing pains would start to subside and the emergence of the real Collective would start coming in to view– a character that was built on a solid foundation and was inspiring, innovative, cooperative and friendly all at once. You will be reading about how many of these questions were addressed right here in this blog as we move forward.

Ultimately it would enable us to enjoy art at home, every day.

If you would like to find out more about the Collective constitution please contact the.collective.info@googlemail.com or post a question below.

 

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