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Artefact: Creatives and community coming together co‑operatively

Case study

17th June 2024
Co-op development
A woman giving a pollinator workshop
An Artefact Pollinator Pathmaker workshop from artist Boyana Aleksova

In the heart of Stirchley in South Birmingham, a co-op of artists is making a huge difference – to their own careers, to other artists and to the local community too. 

Jonny Graney is one of a group of Birmingham-based artists who decided to provide greater opportunities to emerging artists by starting a workers’ co-op.

“When I and a couple of my contemporaries graduated from university, there weren’t opportunities to work or show our work in Birmingham, so we decided to pool our resources and set up our own artists co-op,” he said.

“One of the main things we wanted to achieve was that when other artists were starting out early in their careers, they had a place to begin, exhibit in group shows and find a professional home to network and meet other artists.”

And that is how Artefact was born. It was set up in 2015 as an artist-led gallery, workspace and bar in Stirchley, South Birmingham, producing exhibitions, shows and gigs in the gallery space, with a bar to financially support the events. 

Artefact not only exists for the benefit of artists, but for the community too, as Jonny explained: “We want to empower the local community and break down barriers about contemporary art. We want to highlight that everybody is an artist – and give them the resources, space and time to be creative and effect change in their locality.

“We do it through a series of community workshops and performances. Exploring socio-economic themes in our work with the community is valuable to artists. And it’s got the mutually beneficial outcome of people taking part in creative and expressive activities.

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Choirs, orchestras, ecological interest groups and environmental management groups have all been set up as a result of our work – because we’ve given people the space to talk and share. We’ve hosted these things and allowed them to flourish in the area.
– Jonny Graney, co-founder, Artefact

On a mission to use art to create social, systemic and cultural change, the members of Artefact co-create new customs, traditions and games with local people. 

“We’ve created a festival called The Woodland Games,” said Jonny. “It’s an annual sports day, a bit like a village fete but all eco themed and fully created by the local community in Stirchley through Artefact.

“They spent a month learning about eco science, micro biology and soil housing. These are really meaty scientific concepts that were broken down and delivered through arts workshops. 

“The outcomes were new customs, dens, costumes but more importantly new games and sports created with help of local businesses.” 

Jonny and the other 13 worker-owners of Artefact manage a busy programme of events and workshops. Being a co-operative is empowering for them, and central to enabling them to develop as artists while co‑creating with the community. 

“It’s important for our members to know that their voice has a democratic power within the organisation. Members know they have the power to make things better within Artefact and within our arts programming.

“Being part of a co-op gives you a lot of your own agency and that helps artists confidently work with the public. Our members have genuinely meaningful interactions with the community through Artefact and work with people in a way they know is valuable,” said Jonny

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Worker-ownership allows us all to be in control of our own output. We can channel our own passions rather than those of managers. We’re self-directed, which allows us to produce interesting, heartfelt and meaningful outcomes.
– Jonny Graney, Artefact

The Artefact space is currently closed as they have joined forces with other local co-ops to form Stirchley Co-operative Development, which is in the process of building affordable and eco-friendly residential and retail premises in the heart of Stirchley, including a new gallery. 

With building works due to complete in April 2025, Artefact, in the meantime, is running pop-up events in local bars, restaurants and other spaces.  

“Once we’re in the new premises, we’ll be upscaling what we can offer to artists in the community, nationally and internationally,” said Jonny. “With more assets and resources, we can have bigger meetings, events and concerts. And we’ll be in an even better position to help people.” 

Find out more 

Artefact – Website | X | Facebook | Instagram
Stirchley Co-operative Development – Website | X | Facebook | Instagram 

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