Over a gloriously sunny weekend in June this year the Corridor8 team convened for our away weekend. This semi-annual tradition serves as a way to explore and highlight some of the more remote arts organisations in the North of England, particularly those providing space for residencies and offering spaces for experimentation in other ways of living and being – the theme of many an exhibition over the past few years. In 2019 we spent a weekend at Bidston Observatory, an artistic study and research centre in Birkenhead that was once a working observatory. This grand building, perched on a windswept hill overlooking Liverpool, hosts programmes and residencies, with accommodation starting at £15 per person per night. This year we gathered at The Farmer’s Arms, a historic inn on the southern edge of the Lake District that has been rescued by Grizedale Arts and the local community, with experiments in circular economies and skill sharing taking place within. Read on to find out more about The Farmer’s Arms and our plans, behind the scenes and away from screens.
One of our principles is transparency, which means leveling with our readers about things that are habitually obscured. That’s why we have both our prices and a breakdown of what the money is used for visible to everyone on our website. What isn’t always obvious is that we don’t have an office. At the moment we’re based in (from West to East) Liverpool, Blackburn, Manchester, Huddersfield, Leeds and Newcastle. It’s a fairly respectable spread given our remit, but also means that we don’t benefit from the camaraderie that comes with working together in the same space, and we rarely get the chance to discuss issues or make decisions in real time. This is why we try, approximately once a year, to arrange a time for all the directors and regional editors to spend a couple of days together, hashing out the sticky and prickly dilemmas that come hand-in-hand with trying to run Corridor8. As a publication and platform that serves a niche within a niche, in an intentionally ethical way, and in a political context that is actively hostile to more or less everything we want to do, there are rarely obvious answers and easy ways forward.
The Farmer’s Arms dates back centuries, and Grizedale Arts Programme Manager and Landlady Emma Sumner explained how the pub had once been nationally lauded, featuring on a series of commemorative postcards in the 1940s, as well as in the memories of generations of locals and as a background to numerous important life events. When, a few years ago, the Inn was on the verge of being acquired and redeveloped into holiday homes, Grizedale Arts took the risky decision to bring together a group of community investors, apply to the Architectural Heritage Fund, and undertake a community purchase order to retain the site for generations to come. On a tour of the now partially renovated building, Sumner describes how the estate agent was irritatingly dismissive, arguing that projects like this ‘never work’, which only fired her and the community members up to ensure that they would be an exception. The Corridor8 team stayed in the ‘Farmer’s Loft’, a delightfully appointed refurbishment of the old Landlord’s flat. As a group of unashamed aesthetes the fact that this accommodation, as well as the rest of the venue, has been furnished either with original furniture, or items from Grizedale Arts collection, was an enjoyable touch. It’s director Adam Sutherland’s diligent pursuit of understated but relevant bargins at the art and furniture auctions, we are told, that has enabled the curation of a collection of artworks throughout the pub and accommodation, speaking to the Inn’s site and history, as well as past and future uses.
For our working trip we made use of the dining table in the Farmer’s Loft for a morning’s meetings, followed by a break for walks and an afternoon in the Cafe space with cake that comes highly recommended. We have found ourselves in the perhaps enviable, but strange and surprising position of holding the reins of an independent media organisation that isn’t beholden to any one funder, patron or owner. That said, we lack many of the elements that might be traditionally considered essential for such an outfit, and indeed our Supported Content model brings our independence into question. Going forward, as stakes rise across the arts and more widely, we need to decide where to focus our energies, which values to prioritise and how to hold fast. The environment at The Farmer’s Arms, of creativity and experimentation coupled with the practical realities of renovation, land management and negotiation between communities was an inspiring context in which to hold these conversations. In an economic situation where even the print publications with the largest circulations and the backing of media empires are embattled, the idea of simply selling enough copies to support editorial staff, writers and to rent an office is clearly a pipe dream. However, as Hannah Nussbaum described in her vital history of our precursor; ‘Corridor can be thought of as a publication that pioneered a synthesis of speculative fiction, contemporary art, horror, and anti-capitalist, post-humanist politics’, and it’s in this spirit that we’ll be welcoming some new team members and launching an assortment of fundraising ventures this coming September, after our usual quiet August.
To enquire or book accommodation see The Loft.
With thanks to Emma Sumner for a behind-the-scenes tour and to the team & community for their hospitality.
This piece is independent organisational news and was not commissioned.