Innovation is championed and rewarded, but rarely funded. At least that has been my experience over the past 40 years in conservation.
By definition new ideas are relatively untested. But breakthroughs only come from innovation.
And new ideas often need capital – and that can be a gamble.
At the end of 2011 World Land Trust (WLT) opened part of its ground floor as a wildlife art gallery, where rent-paying tenants had previously leased the space. For 2012, the target was to generate a profit equal to or greater than the rent that we formerly charged.
We have achieved that. We have also received tremendous support from wildlife artists and photographers, among them Martin Woodcock, Bruce Pearson, Andrew Haslen, Peter Partington, Lesley Wood and many others.
We have also had animal and landscape related exhibitors such as Jason Gathorne-Hardy and glass-engraver, Lesley Pyke. And unlike many other charity shops, WLT is not relying on donated works. We are operating like a commercial gallery and taking a normal gallery commission. We cannot expect to make a sustainable business if we are dependent on artists to donate their work.
As well as showing a modest return, the gallery has given WLT a public face in Halesworth and a stronger connection with the local community.
Since the gallery opened, WLT has become more involved with other businesses and retailers in Halesworth. The gallery has attracted volunteers and visitors that have an interest in conservation, but who might not otherwise have known about WLT. Our schools art exhibition attracted a huge number of entries. And we intend mounting exhibitions for purely educational purposes, as well as for selling.
We have demonstrated that the gallery is both fundamentally viable, and important for public relations and awareness raising. So far so good. But - and there is a big ‘but’ - it is staffed entirely by volunteers, and WLT staff, who have their own work programmes, can only do a limited amount to manage and promote the gallery.
With more capital, the gallery could probably (there are risks) become a significant source of income for WLT. We are close to Minsmere and Walberswick where birdwatchers are abundant, many of whom buy wildlife art, and we are close to Southwold and Aldeburgh, both well known to art lovers.
In reality we need a full time manager and volunteer coordinator, to supervise the gallery, keep it fully staffed, and ensure that the exhibitions are publicised in both national and regional press, as well as in local venues visited by the potential audience (and customers) for our exhibits.
But we lack funding, and it would be entirely wrong to use WLT’s own funds. These are all given by the public in order to support the core activity of WLT, which is buying and saving land, acre by acre.
So if any of my readers know of foundations or charitable trusts that will fund an arts project that will have long term environmental and community benefits, please let me know.