Cotton On MCR has been hard at work building a fan base of Manchester art lovers.
The indie arts company invites anyone and everyone to gain new skills at workshops and learn how to see, share and buy art. So far, it has supported artists with paid workshop gigs, exhibiting opportunities and served a growing appetite for creative endeavour.
Here, Northern Soul chats to Cotton On MCR founder Domino Panton-Oakley about inspiration, COVID-19, creating workshops, and the importance of taking risks.
Northern Soul: What inspired you to start Cotton On and how did you arrive at the Art All Dayer?
Domino Panton-Oakley: It started as a hobby. I wanted to get back into the art scene after years working in a boring office job. I was blogging about art, and I realised there was no Manchester art hub type of thing where you could not only see what was going on in the city but read about exhibitions and find out about artists, too.
It wasn’t until a few months in that I thought about making money from it. I had new ideas and tried them out and, over four years, realised that specialising in art events was the best thing. We still blog about exhibitions and artists, but hosting workshops, exhibitions and the Art All Dayer is where we have thrived.
NS: I get the sense that you are very open and unafraid to take risks. What has been the biggest risk and how have you navigated this?
DPO: I think starting a business itself is the biggest risk. You can do your research and have passion and ideas, but unless you go through with the ideas, you never know if they’ll be successful or not. I’ve tried an online shop that didn’t work, art workshops that didn’t sell. Everything I’ve tried and failed has made me a better businesswoman and made Cotton On MCR a better company. I’d rather try and fail than never try at all.
I have just handed in my notice at my regular job to go full-time with Cotton On MCR. This is the scariest and most exciting risk ever. I have to make sure I keep the business growing by coming up with new events and ideas to pay the bills.
NS: People go on your workshops to learn how to paint, draw and understand other artistic crafts and processes. Who is your audience?
DPO: We have a wide audience, from art students who want to come and try something new to people who used to do some form of art and want to get back into it. It also appeals to young professionals who want to take a few hours out with friends
DPO: So many people spent time doing arts and crafts hobbies during lockdown, that I think they have the taste for it now. Now it seems people want to get out more, be social and meet people again.
Our workshops are open, friendly, relaxed and suitable for beginners, inviting people to play and experiment and to take something away and say, “I made that!”.
NS: Do you think that more people have come to value art throughout the pandemic? And do you think that will play out in terms of more people visiting art exhibitions?
DPO: I do think people are engaging more in the arts. TV programmes like Grayson’s Art Club and The Great Pottery Throw Down as well as arty things to do online, such as workshops, art talks, and virtual galleries, have helped people to be more creative.
NS: What more do you think arts organisations can do to make the most of this heightened engagement and interest?
DPO: People want not only to see but to take part. For example, the All Dayer events incorporate an art fair, workshops and an exhibition. Art galleries and event spaces might ask ‘what else can we do or add to make this better?’.
DPO: We have found a gap in the market, creating art events for the ‘everyday’ person, appealing to art fans and those who just want something to do, new to try or check out. I like to think that our events create an open atmosphere, nothing fancy or pompous, a fun event for everyone. And while they are enjoying what we have organised, they are engaging in Manchester’s art scene and supporting local artists too. It’s a win-win.
NS: Last question. What’s next for the Cotton On empire?
DPO: We are doing four Art All Dayer events, one each season and [we are also] hosting two open call exhibitions. The ‘In Manchester’ Open Call is currently live, and we have more arts and crafts workshops lined up. Cotton On Leeds is our most recent development with workshops and possibly an art fair later in the year.
This will be the first year for our planned events but who knows what opportunities are waiting, what event ideas we may have, or how the business will grow? I guess the big plan is to continue to add new cities and regions, to spread the love of art and events across the UK. But for now, I’m excited for this year ahead.
The Cotton On MCR Art All Dayer takes place on March 19, 2022 between 11am and 6pm at Hallé St Peter’s. £1 entry for over 18s or free for those who have workshop tickets.
‘In Manchester’ Open Call Exhibition will launch to the public on May 19 and run until June 5, 2022. For more information, click here.