We recently saw an email which described us as 'trying to be apolitical' due to our stance on not hosting party political groups here at The Art House.
When we set up, we quickly decided that we wanted to be open to as wide a cross section of the community as we could be. When trying to be inclusive, there are a few things to consider: two of these are political affiliations and religious beliefs.
These are both things which people identify with very strongly, a deep part of somebody's identity and personal culture. When a venue is very clearly affiliated with a specific political party or religion, many people will simply feel that that place 'is not for them'.
So, we decided that we wouldn't play host to party political meetings or campaigns, so that nobody would ever feel they didn't belong here because they didn't vote a specific way.
But, as for being 'apolitical' - well, that's hardly the case.
Now let's be honest, all public actions are political to some extent, and our ethics and the public's perception of us are no exception. To add to that, we see our project as one part of a massive, growing social movement for change that is gaining momentum all over the world.
This movement is made up of thousands of little places just like us, who are putting into practice a new way of doing business, with a focus on fairness, justice and sustainability. Places that are purpose-driven, where money is the means, not the end. Places which focus on how we want the world to be and are trying it out, for real, every day.
We believe that, rather than dismantling the whole 'system', it has the potential to be transformed from the grassroots level up. By using what is an old model - a limited liability company - with a different focus (as a Community Interest Company, we have the same legal structure as a traditional 'Ltd' company, but our reasons for operating couldn't be more different) we believe we are helping pioneer the new ways which could replace the old.
What we do goes beyond simply being an 'ethical business' whose main aim is still to generate profit, although we are encouraged to see a growth in these. The entire reason we were set up and continue to exist, is to fulfil our aims. The money we make is merely one of the resources we use to do this - along with the skills, commitment and work of our volunteers, our links with other organisations and the many other things which help us to fulfil our mission.
Being nonprofit and purpose-driven means we have the freedom to try new things, follow our principles and engage in activities which we really believe in. Sure, we still have to pay the bills and need to make money to do this, but it's liberating not to have to squeeze as much profit as possible out of everything we do.
On a personal level, the four founders and all of our crew are taking the very radical step of doing something we love, just for the love of it and not personal gain. Even the few paid crew we have all say that they would rather do this for nothing! In a system where money and possessions are supposed to be the main motivator, this action is deeply subversive, life-changing and we believe that, as it spreads, it will transform society for the better.
At the core of it, as strange as it sounds for a little arts cafe, we are in the Business of changing the world.
If that isn't political, we are not quite sure what is!
"Life is a mission, not a career. A career is a profession, a mission is a cause. A career asks, What's in it for me? A mission asks, How can I make a difference?"
-- Sean Covey
If you want to read more about the Social Enterprise movement, check out:-
UnLtd - a charity which supports social enterprise.
An interview with David Bornstein, writer of 'How to change the world: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas'
TED talk on 'How to Start a Movement' with Derek Sivers