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Fabrica: an MMM3 case study


a Governance Case Study for

Mission, Models, Money

Catalysing a more sustainable arts and cultural sector


Ask 'what is the key ingredient of successful governance?' and people will commonly say ‘trust and a
strong relationship between the staff and board’.

This case study describes how the board of a small, artist-led organisation evolved from a light-touch
group of supporters, uncertain about its role in relation to the founding artists, into a focussed and
dynamic board. Developing trust amongst all concerned has been a crucial part of this transition.

MMM would like to thank Phyllida Shaw, Chair – Fabrica, and Sara Robinson, freelance arts
consultant, for their work in producing this case study.

Background information:
Mission a gallery promoting understanding of contemporary art, Fabrica is based in a
former Church in Brighton
Structure Registered charity / Company limited by guarantee
Age 10 years old
Turnover circa £360,000, principal funders ACE, South East and Brighton and Hove
Staff 7 permanent posts, plus freelancers and volunteers.
Culture of part-time employment to release staff to continue their practice as
artists, or to pursue other freelance careers or studies
The board: the  Chair + 6 Board members with an average age of 52
headlines  There are 5 women, 2 men, all white European with lengths of service
between 2 - 5 years plus 2 founder members who have served for 10
years. No maximum tenure as yet, currently discussing introduction of
5 year term recognising that the organisation is demanding of time and
that 'we all know Fabrica is much bigger than the individuals involved'.
 Skills include artistic production, curation, critical writing, arts
management, arts in educational & community settings, business
management, higher education, local government, central government
policy development and delivery, research.
 Meet at least 4 x a year, with specific task groups (board and staff
members) meeting as required and an annual board and staff away day.
No standing sub-committees. Agenda always includes discussion of the
artistic programme first, as part of the Directors’ report, and a financial
report, which includes a review of income generation targets and
Fabrica: an MMM3 case study

strategies. Other issues are covered as required.

Fabrica was set up by a group of artists, in Brighton, in search of a space to programme. It became a
limited company first and then a registered charity. The board was small and made up mostly of
friends, and was happy to facilitate the artists’ project. But as Fabrica began to attract the attention
and financial support of what was then South East Arts (now ACE, South East), the board began to
realise that it was there to do more than fulfil the requirements of Companies House and the Charity
Commission and to endorse what the employees proposed. The challenge lay in how to change the
balance of the relationship.

A board in transition:
In the late 1990s, Fabrica received a grant to articulate its approach to education and audience
development programme. Unusually for the time, Fabrica saw its educational remit as inseparable
from its commissioning of artists. As part of this project, the board and staff worked with a facilitator
to talk about why learning was such an important part of the organisation and had the opportunity
to reflect on their respective contributions to the making of policies, programming, raising money
and promoting the work of Fabrica.

The then board members recognised that they lacked experience in certain areas and agreed to
identify new people. The staff were understandably wary about involving people they did not know
in ‘their’ organisation. Chaired by Nannette Aldred, the board gradually increased in size and in

The Arts Council began to cite Fabrica as an example of an artist-led organisation with professional
standards. It received a three-year Arts for Everyone grant, which took its programming to a new
level. This was followed by admission to the Arts Council Recovery programme, which was
designed to increase the organisation’s long-term sustainability. This process included provision for
Fabrica to review its policies and to spend time reflecting on its operation at all levels. Relationships
are key to any organisation’s health and this was reinforced by the Recovery programme.

Together, board and staff were able to develop:

o a consensus about the organisation's function and longer-term aspirations;

o clarity about staff and board's respective roles, and agreed terms of reference for both;
o an understanding that if the right policies and procedures are in place, staff can concentrate
on being creative;
o a new staffing structure, supported by a review of job descriptions, terms and conditions;
o greater confidence in working with partners and funders.

This transition required trust and the confidence to delegate responsibility in both directions. When
pay is low, job satisfaction is key, so it was vital that respective governance and management lines of
demarcation gave staff the freedom to undertake their roles, and in turn, staff were able to see the
importance of the board in visualising and securing the long-term future for the organisation.

Developing trust:
Fabrica: an MMM3 case study

Fabrica's current chair, Phyllida Shaw, believes that it is impossible for an organisation to thrive
when board members feel insufficiently informed, involved and valued. Equally, staff can quickly
feel disenfranchised when board members assume they are the cap-wearing, whistle-blowing engine
drivers watching the staff stoke the fire.

Fabrica’s view is that everyone in the organisation is integral to it, and that each individual needs to
keep learning. All Fabrica-related learning and networking opportunities are immediately circulated,
by email, to staff and volunteers (including board members) and reminders are given at board
meetings. These include training sessions (for example in changes in charity law, diversity and equal
opportunities, etc), workshops, meeting visitors, and going to see exhibitions elsewhere.

Flying in the face of the 'well I didn’t want to trouble the board' ethos, there are regular email
exchanges between staff (usually, but not always, senior management) and board members, on
general and specific issues. There is a strong sense of friendship across the organisation, but there
remains a clear demarcation between formal and social occasions.
'In times of crisis you need to know who you can trust and trust is of paramount importance in
keeping any organisation sustainable,’ Phyllida Shaw believes. ‘We have to get to know each other
because we depend on our knowledge of each other.' For the past three years, board members and
paid and voluntary staff have taken part in awaydays to discuss different aspects of Fabrica’s policy
and practice. Eating together is an important of these occasions. At one such meeting, a front of
house volunteer was surprised to discover that the board members were also volunteers. In
developing relationships, space is created to dispel myths and set aside assumptions.

Board's involvement in artistic decisions:

In the past year, Fabrica has changed the order of board meeting agendas to ensure they talk about
the artistic programme first and with adequate time to do so. While the board discusses and ratifies
the artistic policy and direction proposed by the directors, the artistic control lies with the directors,
who are employed for their curatorial vision and expertise. Naturally board members have
subjective responses to exhibitions, but as long as the artistic programme is continuing to attract
critical acclaim, profile and the target footfall, the board won't get involved.

• the board has grown in size, skill and confidence and is therefore more useful to the staff;
• the organisation is now more able to respond quickly and collaboratively to opportunities and
• the steady development of the board, in collaboration with the directors, has ensured that
Fabrica has retained its highly valued staff, despite their initial reservations.

• managing the board from start-up to sustainable enterprise supporting the artists and founders
in the process;
• creating a continued culture of a strong relationship between board and staff that retained the
original vision for the organisation;
• creating an appropriate role and involvement of the board in artistic policy.

Key learning points:

Fabrica: an MMM3 case study

• taking the time to develop relationships is likely to increase organisational effectiveness;

• awaydays designed to stimulate interaction and questioning can pay dividends;
• appointing board members who connect with and respect staff and volunteers is crucial;
• developing trust retains staff and board members, enables constructive debate, and can help to
avoid complacency at board level;
• board members work best when they feel involved and valued;
• staff work best when given the freedom to undertake clearly defined roles;
• hierarchies do not create the right environment for trust to flourish;
• developing policies and procedures collaboratively, can make for a legally and operationally
robust organisation, freeing up time for creative, future planning.

Further resources:
Phyllida Shaw recently worked with All Ways Learning to produce a briefing paper for staff and
board members, entitled 'Working Together 1: An All Ways Learning Action Research Project'. It can
be downloaded for free at

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