One long grey day at the office, having been shafted by a Public Art Agency; I swung about in my chair feeling powerless and fed up, thinking what to do next… when an email popped up inviting me to a meeting of artists through a group called ‘Making A Living’ which sounded timely and appropriate! So I went along, ‘named and shamed’ and discussed issues surrounding art, labour and remuneration.
one year passes
The discussions have continued… Making A Living is contributing to the Longhouse website; for and through which I will briefly discuss the evolution of another artist resource: a long-term artist led project I have been working on as part of a team, which is now possibly moving into the hands of art institution(s) employees.
Following graduation from a Fine Art BA over a decade ago, I worked with art in public space and behind the scenes for a variety of establishments – earning a wage and learning how the ‘art world’ operates. Having gravitated to artist-led initiatives and working outside of formal institutions; the opportunity to work as an adviser outside of the education system was one that attracted me and held my interest long term.
This motivation was enhanced by the experience I had as a recent graduate, of little support or guidance from University regarding what to do next, let alone professional advice or opportunity within or outside of my Fine Art course.
The aim of this project was to support artists and artist groups in rural spaces with limited networks and work structures, through feedback sessions, links to resources and most importantly a space to develop ideas and communicate with another artist, likely to understand many of the dilemmas and issues they were going through. This included a range of subjects such as legalities in relation to ‘spontaneous’ pieces in public space, preparing for a show, applying for working tax credit, trying to get a gallery to pay up as well as project management.
Artist Resource Project
For a number of years a small team of artist advisers (all practicing artists) worked regularly in partnership with galleries to deliver artists resource services.
Recently the emphasis on practical skills seems less relevant or necessary, for such things as CV and statement writing are often now covered by University courses, as are writing a proposal, building a website, budgeting and risk assessments. In fact, from my experience of working with artists on this scheme over the last five years, there seems to have been a shift from graduating with very little business sense, a wide range of making abilities and passion for developing artwork towards artists graduating with a wealth of professional practice skills but a lack of creative drive and critical, independent thinking.
There seems to be an attuned understanding of working collaboratively and Masters courses are more heavily subscribed and often less substantial. As well as this, there is now the fee (University was free before 1997) to contend with. So whereas I faced income lower than expenditure within my art practice and poorly recognised job credentials, as well as a saturated and over subscribed market; the reality now is – on top of this – substantial debt, internships in place of starter jobs and a phenomenal amount of competition.
The recipe I used and later advocated of simply getting on with it can no longer be broadly applied. This method had included making art in public space, traveling on a shoestring, wangling jobs in creative enterprises, working within artist groups to put on independent exhibitions, getting funding and lots of odd jobs…
Those jobs I did to get by are now courted as unpaid internships and obtaining funding or sponsorship is increasingly an art in itself.
Along with cuts to most public services, funding for the advisory work I have been doing has been reduced. What was set up to be an ‘artists for artists’ scheme is now likely be utilised to help supplement galleries’ diminishing budgets in exchange for their delivery of artists’ professional development.
This might tap into valuable resources and appeal to the careerist graduate, who hopes that this presentation opportunity could lead to a show… provide a ‘way in’ or open a secret door of some sort.
The loss of the artist-to-artist exchange and incorporation of this support into the galleries will likely make it more top-down and lose the honesty in how sessions have been used. For example, questions of giving up from artists at difficult cross roads, along with career ideas and real soul searching in terms of how to go forward would not take place in an interview or presentation… which is what I can see the sessions becoming in the future (desperate attempts by artists to sell themselves). Also at risk could be the questioning and critical thinking about the art world and gallery system, for this is less likely to take place if the artist is speaking with staff of a gallery or art organisation.
Currently the main themes necessary to address through services for independent artists and graduates seem to be how to maintain creative autonomy whilst working collectively and in partnership. Absorbing the changing climate into practice and finding spaces to work within has also been a subject fundamental to maintaining a practice; though perhaps now and in the future it will be more of a visible theme than over the last decade.
A new partner in the Artists Resource scheme is an Arts Officer for the Council. There is a commitment here from Government to the Arts to facilitate regeneration of the geographical area. Though the interest is valued this is also something of a concern due to many development schemes instrumentalising artists to add value to an area – and pacify local residents – as part of gentrification processes. What options are there within this I wonder? Can artistic autonomy be maintained if working in this environment? Could such involvement in top down schemes create opportunities for lobbying, or will there be more a case of dis-empowerment and hijacking? At present it looks like the scheme is being absorbed into top down agendas with little acknowledgment of the work put in by independents.
Partnership working is often a survival strategy – from protesters on the ground – arguing for their civil rights, to galleries competing for funding and public sector workers seeking limited resources to keep their own jobs AND attempt to deliver services. This support for artists sinking into the bureaucracy of galleries and being taken ownership of by Governmental organisations risks undermining those whom they purport to serve.
Some questions I am dwelling on include:
Can artists’ professional development, be taken forward by artists?
Should this term ‘professional development’ be used for art practice?
What will, or should, an Artists Resource consist of in 2015?
Posted by: Jess Malvina Black (MAL)