Ernest seeks out and interviews independent thinkers, companies and individuals who make AND do things that make a difference and bring colour to our city. We talk to the Ouseburn's own Cobalt Studios.
Who are you? What do you make or do?
We are Cobalt Studios Ltd and we nurture, facilitate and showcase culture by developing space to host artists and audiences. In reality this means that we develop and rent out affordable artist’s studio space and that we have a creative venue space used for a variety of networking, exhibition, performance, live music, events and parties. We also have in development a co-working space and workshops dedicated to making.
We are a DIY project, ie we run the building voluntarily and we build everything we need ourselves
Why do you do this?
We do the venue because we also really believe that cities need good alternative venues that allow space for a variety of roots based cultural stuff to unfold and that allow for unexpected moments away from the everyday .
We do the artists studios because we passionately believe that artists are a vital element of cities, they add colour, depth, interest and meaning to life and are continually jeopardised by rising rents and property prices. With secure, good quality affordable studios they can focus on creative development without fear of losing vital studio space due to lack of money. Also, having many creatives in one building also allows opportunities for collaborations, dialogue, peer learning and mutual support.
Where did you first get involved, where did the idea come from?
We started over 16 years ago now in response to a simple need for more studio space in the city. At that time there was only Lime Street Studios and it was impossible to get in there as there was so much demand, Newcastle was going for City of Culture, The Baltic was in development and there was a real cultural buzz but nowhere affordable for artists to work, including ourselves.
Give us an idea of the background detailed planning that goes with what you do?
A lot of the planning and thinking, especially at the moment as we try to work out how to deliver two more spaces is all around money! We spend a lot of time trying to figure out how we can get money together to develop more but to keep the final figures adding up in a way that fulfils the ‘affordable ‘aspect of our ethos and is also sustainable. Also an income at some point would be good!
We also spend a lot of time trying to communicate why we feel these kinds of buildings are important to Newcastle and how they impact on economy and regeneration. This can often be a hard conversation as the value of these buildings is very diverse and emanates outwards in many ways so can often be quite hard to capture.
Each event that we deliver is different and requires varied planning , as does the continual ongoing building work.
What does a typical day look like?
Usually very long! Running the studios is not a job in as much as it doesn’t provide any income so we run a variety of other business to cover our needs (including Ernest!) at least two days a week are spent sitting tapping away at a computer from 9am until somewhere around midnight just to get on top of admin. The rest of the week and weekends are totally varied and might range anywhere from mopping the loos, fixing a water leak in a studio to running a bar for an event, creating social media posts or writing a business plan.
Who do you like working with?
We like to work with a really wide range of collaborators and creatives, basically anybody who gets what we do and feels that they can bring something to it. With the venue space we also like to work with the council and really want them to understand why these kind of projects could make a real difference to Newcastle if recognized a little more. We are currently working with Robert Holland, a socialist here in Newcastle and an urban networking group, The Urbanistas, looking at mapping these kinds of DIY , roots based , artist led projects across the city . We believe that Newcastle has a an extraordinary amount of them and that they are a true, but unrecognized asset to the city .
What is the most important thing that you have learned?
Never give up!
How do you see your future?
We are asked all of the time about studios and probably turn down anywhere up to 10 people a month looking for studio space so we would like to develop more spaces. In the immediate future we are also creating a kind of catalytic creative laboratory, aimed at people wanting inspirational space for hot desking, seminars, meetings space and workshops. We envisage it as a kind of public studio that can be used on very flexible terms. There will be a variety of details designed to inspire and facilitate creative working, eg a library, notice boards for sharing ideas, thoughts and skills, areas for dreaming and areas for talking and collaborating. We are also hoping to develop the backyard into a ‘makery’, so communal making facilities , eg woodwork and metal work shop for all those that might benefit from access to equipment without being able to afford their own Worksop, this will also be accompanied by street fronted studios for makers who might want to sell directly to the public, a little like Oxo Tower…again we just have to find the money and make it stack up!
Where can people find out more about what you do?