Collective Futures

Collective Futures is an exploratory project to define the nature and form of cooperative business models used by designer-makers to sustain and grow their creative businesses. The project is itself a collaboration between Gray’s School of Art, University of the West of Scotland Glasgow School, and a selection of Residents who are practicing Designer/Makers from the various parts of Scotland. It is funded by Creative Scotland.


Collective Futures has now wrapped-up. It was an enjoyable and incredibly insightful process for the Residents, the Participants from across and around Scotland, and the Team.  As an exploratory project to define the nature and form of cooperative models used by designer-makers to sustain and grow their creative businesses, there have been many lessons learned from the collaborative activities and workshops. The final report offers some valuable perspectives for creative enterprises broadly, with a collection of case studies, tools and a database of Scotland’s collectively-oriented designer-makers – including Fleet Collective, Studio 223, SpringFling and more.

Please take a look at the report. Click on the link:  Collectivefutures_final_report

cofutures report image

Visit the website at  .

Get in touch if you want to know more.


On 3rd June 2014, the Collective Futures project team delivered a presentation to Creative Scotland as it reached the conclusion of the project. The presentation is accessible here.

The project team will complete it’s final reporting in December 2014 but is hopeful that the momentum generated by Collective Futures to design bespoke tools and sources of advice for creative collectives will be harnessed by our Residents and participants. Look out for our final report in early December!

The Collective Futures team took its national roadshow down to the South West of Scotland on 4th and 5th February to run a workshop with our Residents and representatives from creative collectives in the Dumfries and Galloway area. Dumfries is a rich creative and cultural environment and was nominated for one of the Creative Place awards this year, demonstrating the vibrant nature of the cultural scene in the area. 20 participants came to the Easterbrook Hall on the town’s Crichton Campus for a full day of presentations and interactive activities. This post provides a flavour of the day and sets out the project’s next steps.

In our first task, our very own Catherine Docherty asked participants to think about their current and desired routes to market, identifying what they felt they needed to change to achieve their ambitions. They recorded their thoughts on a specially-designed template and this information will be used by the team to develop suitable tools to support collectives in strengthening their routes to market.

We heard from Brian Skinner, MD of Be Capital Group, a property developer with experience of working with creatives and creative collectives in his buildings in Dundee and Glasgow, including The Whisky Bond. He provided participants with a number of valuable insights from a landlord’s perspective, emphasising the energy that creative businesses have brought to his properties and the incentives available to the creative sector and to property owners as local authorities and others seek to build vibrant communities in cities where economic regeneration represents a real opportunity.  Given the number of questions Brian’s presentation generated, it is clear that the issue of securing a combination of physical working, meeting and exhibition spaces is an important one that our recommendations will incorporate.

Our second main activity of the day was focused on the importance of developing a strong brand identity for a collective and the challenges faced when trying to achieve this when working with members’ already existing brands. This topic generated some lively discussion, with key thoughts emerging, including ‘the importance of cultivating a strong message’, ‘a coherent voice’, ‘customer trust’ allied to ‘a strong visual identity’.

Given our focus on collectives, there was also some discussion around the difficulties in producing a brand identity for a number of individual designers and makers and sustaining that when, by their nature, the membership of collectives can change as they evolve. Participants felt that it was important that individual practitioners developed their own strong identity in the marketplace as that was ultimately going to strengthen the collective brand. When asked to identify exemplars brands we had mentions for Dyson, Apple, Virgin and Dumfries’ very own Lady Magpie and Me!

In the afternoon, we heard from Katie Anderson, an emerging artist from Annan who is a member of the curatorial team for The Stove Network, a creative collective in the South West of Scotland. Katie provided a powerful case for the value of collectives as the place where emerging artists can gain experience in collaborative work – and help to retain talent in the South West - as she spoke about her decision to establish her practice in participatory art in the region. Katie also talked about the Stove’s ambitions to have a town centre space to encourage a wider public to engage with the artistic community in the Dumfries area.

The final session activity of the day was led by Bronwen Livingstone who asked participants to visualise a Fairy Godmother figure for their collective, comprising all the elements which would help a collective begin, and keep going successfully. engaging in lively discussions leading to collage-based creative visualisations to thematically convey their thoughts.

One of the ambitions of the Collective Futures project is to provide a useable toolkit to help collectives access their Fairy godmother figures more easily. Participants expressed a desire to pursue the idea of a collective of collectives, where the knowledge and capabilities of members are brought together to support new collaborations and to strengthen existing ones. Proposals ranged from an aggregated online presence designed to pull in relevant resources/sources of advice in one place to a set of events taking place across Scotland (possibly streamed online) where the bonds formed during the Collective Futures project could be maintained. It was noted that a collective of collectives was already emerging (albeit still fragile) through the Collective Futures project.

The Collective Futures project team is now analysing and synthesising the outcomes from all three of our workshops in Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dumfries and will be producing resources – in close communication with our Residents – for collectives to make use of in late 2014/early 2015.

A few images from our recent workshop held in Aberdeen on the 5th November.

To see more, please visit our flickr page and also keep updated with the project through our twitter @CoFutur or #CoFutures.


Participants mapping out the journey of their collectives through a timeline activity


Participants building models of their ideal collectives



A visual map which shows where our six residents are from and the various collectives they are involved in.

Residents Map

We are delighted to have had such great feedback from the first of our Collective Futures workshops at the Scottish Youth Theatre in Glasgow on 8th October. In the words of one participant, it was the:

Best workshop attended – truly participative

Our 16 participants represented collectives from across Scotland spanning large and small organisations, and including those that were established and emerging. During the workshop we explored what the terms collective and designer/maker mean to participants and generated a range of values and benefits associated with this way of initiating, producing, and marketing designer/maker outputs.

The suggestions were then clustered and are shown in the diagrams below.

Values Mindmap

Benefits Mindmap

Inspirational Pecha Kucha-style presentations were delivered by Jaye Martin of Cooperative Development ScotlandJude Barber from Collective Architecture, and Damon Herd of Blacksand Contemporary Art.

Jaye set the scene by providing a brief overview of the type of support available for cooperative working through Scottish Enterprise. Jude gave a brief history of the evolution and growth of Collective Architecture and introduced the notion of a spectrum of collaboration that spans working with an individual artist through to wide-reaching community engagement. Whilst Damon introduced the activities of Kirkcaldy-based Blacksand artists collective that came to an end in October 2013. Damon shared some of the learning from the seven years that the collective operated.

Inspired by the presentations, we explored the key elements that comprise an ideal collective. Working in small groups, participants drew on their own extensive experience and discussed the constitutional and operational aspects that shape a collective. These formed the building blocks for visualising the ‘anatomy of a collective’ using our hexagonal toolcards. Each group took a different approach and you can see the end results on our Flickr page here.

Glasgow Workshop

The feedback on the day was very encouraging and we are delighted that participants enjoyed the activities. In particular, they commented on the shared learning that emerged throughout the day, the opportunity to network and that the activities and tasks were fun and inspiring.

We look forward to updating you on our Aberdeen workshop soon!

A visual map of the various collectives we met with during our recent visit to Shetland in late August.

Shetland visual map

As part of the Discovery phase, Sue Fairburn, Catherine Docherty and David McGillivray, travelled to Shetland in late August to undertake fieldwork as part of a case study for the project. Shetland was of interest to us because of its unique geography and landscape (and the fact that it attracts artists and makers because of this uniqueness) but also its contained setting. We wanted to explore whether the characteristics of an island setting with its geographical boundaries represented were a help or hindrance to working, and operating, collectively.

 Shetland landscape

We found some really interesting cases of collective working and organisation over the course of the short visit and wanted to draw out a few examples to provide a flavour of the issues emerging from the Discovery phase and our case study of Shetland:

1. Being artist-led (here I’m including designers/makers) is crucial to the sustainability of the collective. Collectives need a purpose, a raison d’etre that extends beyond mere instrumental value if they are to flourish in this period of austerity in public finances. A good example of an artist-led collective is Veer North which is run by its members who came together on the basis of an identified need (by the artists) to work together to highlight the quality of visual art being produced by Shetland artists. Veer North also wanted to act as an entity that could interact with creative and cultural policy makers and funders to advocate for artists in the Isles. This collective has sustained itself because it was artist-led from the outset. Related to this, we also learned about the importance of developing and retaining your own identity even though you are part of a collective. The strength of identification with individual designer/makers can strengthen the collective and draw attention to its work.

2. Professionalism, including clarity of roles and remits and a clear set of guiding principles, enables collectives to grow and offer their members outcomes for the whole that are greater than the sum of their parts. Shetland Arts and Crafts is a well established collective that is self financing and has a quality assessment scheme in place for full members to encourage high standards in design, workmanship, packaging and production. Shetland Art and Crafts is sustained by its membership fees and by its annual Art and Craft Fair, but it has also differentiated itself by launching an Arts and Craft Trailwhich provides further opportunities for members to reach new markets and to become visible when visitors come to Shetland.

3. Collectives change and will encounter periods of high and low activity throughout their existence.  One of the main insights we’ve taken back from our time in Shetland is that we must recognise that, like any other entity, collectives will change over time  - whether in terms of membership, leadership, creative energy or mode of operation – and this should not be perceived as a negative state of affairs. One relatively new collective, Text-Isles, was established by members of Shetlands Arts and Crafts to create a group focused on contemporary textiles design. Text-Isles is a looser collective than Shetland Arts and Crafts and operates on a more informal basis than its formally constituted counterpart. The shared love of contemporary textile design motivates Text-Isles to reach out beyond Shetland, fulfilling a function that binds its members together.

4. Bespoke support from agencies that understand not only general business principles and practices, but also the unique characteristics of the designer/maker and craft sector (s). The collectives identified in Shetland had all received advice and support from Shetland Arts who have a dedicated Arts and Development Officer for Craft. Collectives identified this role as providing invaluable advocacy support, advice on funding and access to networks outside of Shetland.

5. The concept of Designer/Maker is a useful one to define the work of those producing art and craft-related products, though this identity is fluid and open to change. For example, in the 1970s, the term “Artist” was popular, perhaps with a focus on “Craft”.  In the 1980’s, the terms  “Makers” or “Small Businesses” were popularised. In the latter part of the 1990’s, the value of the originator of an idea became important and the term “Designers” gained currency. Now ‘Designer/Maker’ is a popular moniker for yet  for some people in Shetland ‘Craft Maker’ conveys those who’s practice reflects heritage and traditions.