Toolkit

/ Nicola Walls / Arts & Culture

We are always searching for words to describe what we do. This is true not just for us, but across disciplines, words usually associated with certain activities are purloined, reimagined and represented as distinctive contributions to current ways of describing our thinking. That is the great thing about language, it evolves and we should be excited by it.

The word of today then is the toolkit, beloved or not by B and Q frequenters searching for the ubiquitous Father's Day gift. The great thing therefore about our toolkit is that it is idealised, a toolkit for design action and investigation which as in all the best boxes has an organised setting for each probe. It gives a visual order to our thinking, rather than the frustration we all share of the drawer full of bits, perfectly usable If they were in some sort of order.

In Arts and Culture we are developing a toolkit to examine our projects to help justify the effectiveness of investment in built fabric. This is important as so many organisations are requiring to look at what they do with their estate, fine tune and adapt to meet the ever more onerous requirements to be more sustainable.

First out two essential elements of our toolkit is the tape measure. We need to have information, statistics, a measure of how a building actually works. Interestingly Colin Marr a number of years ago at Eden Court was able to identify the improvement in figures. Really what he discussed was how the building in part supported the improvement in use - qualities captured in the initial design transformation.

The second is the notebook and pencil. Recording what people think, say comment and discuss. Of course digital means like Twitter help and guide our discussions in the digital age. We recently revisited one of projects, the Glasgow Centre for Contemporary to find after all these years it is in the top ten of visitor destinations in Scotland.

The focus of our toolkit so far seems to concentrate on three main areas of sustainable development in the cultural sector; drilling down into how the shop retail works in building additional income, an outlet for educational material, a destination and an opportunity to broaden the demographic; striping back the operations of the cafe with concern for affordability and the community you want to reach and serve and whether you do it or franchise it out; cutting open to find out how temporary facilities really work in widening audiences but on the other hand how demanding they are to deliver.

In that respect our toolkit covers well worked ground, but as with all design, there is always a fresh way to look again at things. What is of the moment is that we must be super conscious of how cultural organisations raise money. The toolkit helps us adjust to a creative and informed way of doing just that.