The leap to legitimacy: How becoming a CIC has changed our practice.

The leap to legitimacy: How becoming a CIC has changed our practice.

Alright? We are Elliot and Kay, a lowbrow warrior art duo based in Cardiff. After graduating from University in 2018, we joined the ranks of thousands of aspiring Illustrators who had unwittingly found themselves caught in a battle royale for freelance work and creative opportunities. This quickly led to a strong sense of disillusionment; Illustration as a practice is fundamentally people-driven, with a focus on communication, so the idea of having to compete for what limited work was available felt disingenuous. A competitive job market also goes against the joy of creating art in the first place! Sick of sending follow-up emails and the lack of spaces for artists to meet in Cardiff, we started ArtHole as a series of markets with an emphasis on community building. This quickly branched out into a bunch of submission-based publications and the occasional workshop. 

In 2022 we finally took the plunge and incorporated as a CIC (Community Interest Company), in order to open a permanent space for emerging Illustrators to start selling their work. Opening a shop has allowed us to give a platform to people who felt the same way we did when we left University, and our wonky take on retail lets us exist on the fringes of the consumer experience, connecting Illustration to the wider public. We’d seen opening a shop as a distant end goal for ArtHole for a while but, in archetypal fashion, found it was only the beginning.

The jump from guerilla-style events to something resembling a legitimate business operation has thrown a lot of new challenges our way. While registering as a CIC itself was a fairly straightforward experience, it carries with it a certain amount of responsibility and expectation, and as a result it has shifted what was originally a project we did for fun into something that we also have to sustain for others.

The challenges of managing this transition period have played a huge part in the development of our ethos, and to our relationships with our own practices. Through our attempts to wrangle funding, grapple with business rates, and otherwise keep ourselves afloat, we’ve learned just how inaccessible our economic system really is for artists, grassroots organisations and small businesses. In many ways it has amplified the frustrations that led to us starting ArtHole in the first place, and revealed to us that the problems we faced as graduates spoke of a larger issue facing our cultural landscape. This has allowed us to reframe our narrative by forcing us to ask bigger questions about creativity as an industry. What are the things that are preventing people from pursuing Illustration as a viable living? What do arts organisations need to do to help mitigate them? 

The role of the Illustrator is to find an accessible and engaging way of dissecting these questions. Becoming a CIC has consolidated all these loose ideas and frustrations we’ve pondered upon over the past 5 years and allowed them to start falling into place. This for us is where Illustration thrives most as a practice- sorting through the deluge and turning it into something tangible and enjoyable. Ironically the confusion of starting and maintaining a ‘real’ business is what has given us the clarity to know where our place is in this increasingly difficult industry. Hopefully out of the confusion, we can start to advocate for better opportunities, more transparency and a more exciting culture for the next wave of emerging artists.

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