Short Supply have dominated the DIY art scene in Manchester for the last couple of years! I wanted to find out more about them, how they have found the last two years, and what future plans they have in store!
Short Supply is an artist-led initiative run by the “unapologetically Northern” couple and curatorial duo; Mollie Balshaw and Rebekah Beasley, who operate from Islington Mill in Salford. They curate engaging exhibitions and offer artists support across the North West, and we bloody love to see it!
The incentive to start Short Supply was during their final year at Salford University. It started with the question that most artists face - what do we do after uni? The duo decided to use their final months to organise and curate exhibitions as a test bed for Short Supply. With this experience under their belt, they wanted to see how they could elevate the exhibitions, to enable them to offer a platform to other North West art graduates.
“Graduates need a platform to cause shit, we need a platform” Said Rebekah. They both spoke about how opportunities were limited to them as fresh graduates. This frustration gave them the drive to develop their first show: Made It - a remarkable exhibition at Paradise Works that celebrated a wide range of graduate artists in the North West. The exhibition offered the artists a platform and the opportunity to display their degree show pieces within a gallery. One of the artists involved in the exhibition got a solo show and another got a cash prize! This is a great incentive, as it gave these artists a chance to make new work for a solo show or put the funds back into making work.
With their first official Short Supply exhibition complete, this dream team could crack on with planning more exhibitions! You don’t get paid work with most grass roots work but Short Supply were able to get sponsorship and support from other galleries or artists. This gives them the ability to put on exhibitions and offer incentives to artists.
Mollie and Rebekah both work a 40hr week in Dunelm. The rest of their time is given to Short Supply which they described as their second full time job. So what gets them out of bed in the morning? What gives them the drive to pour all of their time into what Mollie describes as their “passion project”?
One thing is for sure this pair have big hearts, they both stressed how important it is to be transparent and accessible. To be kind and offer a nurturing environment, to give people space to try things out, whilst giving support. This is something that you don’t get from big galleries. Rebekah said “I wanna be a hype man for the people”. there is a genuine care to support other artists, to see them thrive whilst offering them “a toe into the art world”.
Mollie said “Its hard to describe a passion project, it’s not like McDonalds it’s constantly changing, it has a lot to do with us as individuals as well”. They spoke about what is really important to them: Representation, accessibility and supporting communities. “What do we identify with, what do we want to see?” Asked Rebekah.
A great example of what they both identify with was their most recent exhibition Queer Contemporaries. The exhibition was held at Air Gallery in Altrincham and showcased North West LGBTQIA+ artists. It was a glorious celebration of everything queer and truly was a feast for the eyes! All profits made from the show were donated to the LGBTQ Foundation. Mollie said she wanted to “bring this bombastic, overtop queer show, to this place and if people that live there come to see it then that’s cool. Hopefully it will broaden people minds”.
The special thing about grassroots, is that the ideas or concepts are born from a place of passion and necessity rather than to tick boxes. Institutions usually fall short when it comes to representation, meaning a large number of people are excluded. Mollie believes that artist led spaces “have a collective power to make a real difference”. Hell yes! If we’re not seeing what we want to see in the galleries then we have to make it happen ourselves. If we choose to lay dormant or remain insular in a artist led platform then we are no better than the big bois. As Mollie said “its Important to be critical of the system”.
As well as organising and curating exhibitions Short Supply also offer Supply Sessions. The sessions are monthly informal group critiques, where artists are invited to discuss works and ideas and gain some feedback from the group. They also want to commission other creatives to direct the sessions in order to offer context and give new direction to the sessions. This originally was going to be held at GRUB but with the CV19 putting a spanner in the works the sessions have taken a virtual format for the time being. They have been offering Skype Sessions to people during lockdown so that people still have a safe space to discuss ideas. Rebekah and Mollie both said how delightful it has been to offer this support during this difficult time and how much they are looking forward to being able to host them in person.
I asked Short Supply whether they would ever consider having a fixed space and give up the nomadic lifestyle. They both said how much they would love to have a gallery and studios but agree that the overheads and chance of finding spaces is slim. As the “evil developers” have taken over the city scape and “there’s not as many opportunities for art spaces now”.
As mollie explains “The future is nomadic” Being nomadic offers the flexibility to pop up in any location, with this being said short supply are looking to move away from the city centre model and focus on towns within Greater Manchester. “When we say we are a platform for the North West we mean the North West and not just Manchester City Centre”. They spoke about their admiration of smaller towns in the North West and how they want to be inclusive of these places too. Rebekah said we are both from “from rinky dink towns”. They spoke about the charm of these spaces and how they want to encourage people to go and see art outside of the City Centre. This will also give artists from these towns more opportunities to get involved and hopefully create positive engagement from the people in the towns.
I asked what other exciting future plans they had in store for Short Supply even though its hard to plan anything in this current climate. With a rebrand in the pipeline for 2021, they have just appointed a new role of Project Coordinator to Grace Collins. This will allow the team to have more defined roles, whilst freeing up some time to allow them to write Arts Council bids. This is something they both want to focus on as they both agreed this is another important factor when it comes to supporting artists. They are also looking at planning other incentives, that will enable them to create commissions or paid projects for artists. This is fantastic news as it will enable Short Supply to have sustainability whilst also paying artists for their time and work.
At this moment in time Short supply are working with School of the Dammed to take over one of Castlefield Gallery’s New Art Space in an old M&S unit in Warrington. With exhibitions not being possible at this moment in time, they are going to utilise the shop windows and show what they have been up to over the last few months. Short supply are also planning collaborations with other artist led spaces, so keep your eyes on their social media and website for more info!
It’s safe to say that this team are ambitious and really care about making a substantial difference to the art scene here in the North West. They describe themselves as “two idiots getting on with it” but they have already achieved so much in under two years. With the future plans in the pipeline I have no doubt that Short Supply are going to continue to grow and shape the arts and culture scene across the North West.
If you want to support Short supply they now have a patron where you can subscribe for a small monthly fee and bag yourself some art goodies. The money raised from this will go to support further shows and projects from Short supply, as Mollie said “small amounts of support can make a big difference”.