Overwhelmingly, the greatest lesson we have learnt at Draw during the pandemic lockdown is how resilient and supportive our community can be in the face of adversity. From the first week of lockdown life class organisers and models across the country have been sharing good practice and cross publicising their burgeoning online life drawing programmes. Meanwhile, our own drawing community have been hugely generous in their support of the studio - their patronage saved us from losing our studio in the first weeks of the lockdown and in the following months have allowed us to honour our commitments to life models and provide ongoing drawing resources, photo reference and online life classes. We are now at a stage where we can look to the future and start to make plans for the medium term with a view to re-opening in the future, when it is safe to do so. Although the initial fear of the pandemic has reduced and the sense of urgency has abated for most people, the greatest challenges are still ahead of us - where we previously needed and received emergency support from our community we now need to know what everybody wants and needs from us so that we can provide that affordably. Draw is a social enterprise, not a charity - we have always worked to provide things that the community really want, in exchange for an affordable fee, not relied on charitable support and we would like to make sure that is how things remain.
Draw is now being run through community patronage site Patreon and to get an idea of what everybody would like to see Draw providing, we have put together a questionnaire. Between the 3rd-8th June we'll be taking feedback from as many people as possible to find out what people in the community want to see from Draw in the future - it takes about 8 minutes to complete and your can find it here.
As the context of what we do changes, it is important to look to our core principles for guidance on how we act amidst uncertainty. There are three key principles we have always been led by and they remain at the centre of what we are planning:
Our first responsibility is to look after the people in our community, but our second priority is to retain the space and equipment that we need to run life classes in the future. During lockdown we have been subletting the Draw studio to keep our overheads covered and to make sure that all money from the Patreon can be directed to people. We are now cutting those overheads until we are able to reopen and have stopped the regular payments that relate to having people in the studio (insurance, PRS etc), this will cut our weekly running costs and allow us to focus on online sessions, amalgamating our other space in New England House into the main Draw studio as storage.
We closed Draw before lockdown because we we were concerned for the safety of our community - we have a diverse mix of ages groups in most of our classes with vulnerable attendees (who are most at risk) mixing closely with young, able attendees (who are the most likely spreaders) and tutors who travel widely from group to group. For Draw to consider re-opening any classes we would require the government to have a functioning and effective test & trace programme in place; following plausible data from that programme we would want to be reassured that Brighton had a low R-number and that all attendees were using the available programme (the app) to ensure the safety of other members of the community. If the government does not manage to instigate an effective and widely used test & trace programme we will not be reopening classes; even if classes do re-open we are also conscious of the risk that a single infection in a class could then send all of our team into isolation, immediately closing all sessions. The safe re-opening of life classes across the country is still a long way away for everybody.
The challenges of re-opening are not just safety concerns. Our business model is based on providing a diverse schedule, where several busy sessions on popular days (Wednesday, Fridays, Saturdays) subsidise all other classes, including the Atelier course. We keep our sessions accessible and diverse through a series of subsidies and scholarships that are also supported by those busy classes. While it is not safe to fill those busy sessions at capacity, it is not viable to run any of our other classes and we do not expect to be able to safely fill sessions like that until after a vaccine has been developed. We are considering a long term option of taking on a larger studio and running mixed socially distanced classes but to make such a considerable investment we would need to know that it is safe, sustainable and that people want it.
At the moment our Patreon income of £5000pcm covers about 80% of our running costs - once we have finished processing all refunds to our attendees all of that money can be directed to the team itself, helping us to provide the new resources that the community ask for. Our ideal is to consistently make £6000pcm to support our 30 part-time models & tutors - this will allow us to provide a substantial online programme. If in any single month it drops to less than £3000 we will need to start emergency fund-raising and if it drops to £2000 we will need to give notice on the Draw studio and use that final months income to wrap up Draw. We do not foresee that happening soon, but have planned carefully for all eventualities.
Thank you for reading this - I am very hopeful for the future and excited for what we may be able to achieve online. I miss the life room terribly and can't wait until life classes start again, but I understand that for the good of everybody around us we have to be patient. More than anything I am incredibly grateful to be part of such a creative, positive and supportive community.
Stay well, and keep drawing.