Tag Archives: England


18 Dec


“Being an Artistic and Quality Assessor for Arts Council England,” I thought. “That might be an interesting job to do.” No, I really did. I know it’s sick. What’s an Artistic and Quality Assessor, though?

“Experienced cultural professionals [who] work with the Arts Council to contribute towards the assessment of arts organisations and museums. We will be asking you to undertake assessments of the work of Arts Council funded organisations across England.

Artistic and Quality Assessments provide a fair, robust and transparent platform for discussions about the quality of work produced by organisations that the Arts Council regularly funds, helping the Arts Council develop a broader evidence base to inform funding decisions…”

I’m an experienced cultural professional. Despite my opinion that ACE is far from perfect, they make an embarassing number of idiotic and non evidence-based policy blunders, they waste a lot of money and prioritise wrongly while harping on about cuts, and they need to just get on with rebalancing funding away from London instead of always blustering and quibbling every time the issue is raised (being able to see a play from the National Theatre that’s on for one midweek afternoon on a cinema screen in Ipswich or Wolverhampton doesn’t count)… broadly speaking I think the Arts Council makes a reasonable attempt at supporting the arts in England. I’m glad they exist, and I’d happily work with them or consult with them directly if they cared about people like me and our opinions. The AQA specification all sounds fair enough, but it also sounds like quite a lot of work. It must pay very well, especially on the “comprehensive terms contract”. I mean, you’re an expert in your field; an experienced artist, a journalist, somebody who works in a museum, an academic, etc. Artists and arts workers definitely should be assessed fairly and transparently by knowledgeable colleagues and peers who know what the job is like. You’ll be doing important work and writing reports that could influence the future programming and even the financial survival of the Arts Council’s regularly funded organisations.


Oh, wait…

“A flat fee of £1,000 a year, plus expenses” if you attend up to fourteen events. That’s £71.42 per gig. I actually had to do this three times on the calculator. Not that I thought the answer would be any different; I was just completely failing to deal with reality being so crap. It might be worth it if you only went to two or three things, but I can’t see them letting you get away with that.

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1 Oct



“This video work is an ontologically complex vehicle for the exploration of domestic space, oscillating between the predatory subtexts of the manufactured consumer sphere and its products, and an ironic postmodernist subversion of so-called “innocence” in nature.”

The Arts Council has just awarded a “seedcorn investment” £1.8 million grant to Rightster, the “global b2b video network for distribution, content-sourcing, audience engagement and monetisation”, via the National Lottery. That’s a large seed corn, approaching inexplicable James and the Giant Peach proportions. It’s in aid of a new YouTube-based multichannel network (MCN) for the arts. You never know, it may be brilliant. It may open up opportunities and wider audiences for lots of previously undersupported, excluded or underappreciated artists who deserve more recognition and reward. Stranger things have happened. Maybe they’ll genuinely bring in people other than the usual suspects and the same boring old brand name artists who really don’t need any more help. They need to do some proper research and outreach, look properly at what artists are really doing and really interested in right now instead of just going straight to the established galleries who don’t have a bloody clue about either of these things. They’re always 5-10 years behind the actual practice of most artists. Bypass institutional curators entirely, because they only know what and who they like, not what’s really happening at ground level. The AC’s previous effort, The Space, seems well-intentioned and appears to be doing something even though to me their website is such a usability horrorshow and so sparse in its content that I can’t tell what exactly they’re doing or what they’re hoping to achieve. I’m not even being sarcastic. Seriously, if anybody can explain it to me, feel free.

I really fear, though, that MCNACE* will simply favour an art world version of the lowest common denominator trash that racks up the views everywhere else on YouTube, facilitated by corporate interests like Rightster– unknown to most people, who still somehow manage to delude themselves that there’s any kind of indie, grassroots creativity or spontaneity to million hit+ channels. I’d love them to prove me wrong, but at the moment I really don’t see how it makes sense to tackle an inherently minority interest aesthetic realm like the arts with the same toolbox as uncomplicated, zero-subtext, zero-craft virals about people wearing GoPros as they leap off a cliff, or cats riding Roombas.

The biggest clue to the purpose and mentality behind these MCNs is in the very name: “channel”, like on your TV, programmed, commissioned, corralled and controlled in exactly the same way except that the investment in production and artists’ development is a fraction of what broadcasters have been accustomed to. It’s what they’ve been trying to do with varying degrees of failure since the internet became a genuinely mass medium. Does anybody remember “web portals”? And if so, do you know anyone who liked them? Start planning your new video art practice now, but only on subjects like kittens, pugs, various other pets in costumes or boxes or otherwise doing human-like stuff, screamingunhingedrunk commentaries while you play video games, what you bought when you went shopping, your dinner, reactions to or parodies of other YouTube videos, setting fire to things, cruel and psychopathic pranks, unfunny skits with you wearing a wig, drippy low-fi ukelele or piano covers of pop songs, etc.

Also, from the same link and presented in the same no biggie, FYI, just-thought-you-should-know spirit as the press release:

“Rightster applied for the MCN grant commission in May 2014. In July 2014 they bought Base79**, a company in which Arts Council Chair, Sir Peter Bazalgette, had a shareholding (declared in the Arts Council’s register of interests in November 2013).  Rightster’s purchase of Base79 is a cash+shares transaction, the shares dependent on Base79’s future performance, so Sir Peter Bazalgette has a potential interest in Rightster. He has not been party to the decision to award the grant to Rightster.”

* Somebody from Rightster should contact me privately to discuss licensing this name for use on all the channel’s branding. <Tony Soprano voice> I’d like a taste of that £1.8 million, just like Baz… you know… POTENTIALLY.

** Base79 is an existing MCN, which seems fairly ghastly.


7 Jul


Thursday 10th July, 1pm-5pm Hestercombe Gallery, Cheddon Fitzpaine, Taunton, Somerset TA2 8LG

Please join me, Mark Segal (The Artists Agency, formerly director of the mighty ArtSway), Tom Freshwater (Contemporary Arts Programme Manager at The National Trust) and artist Alexa De Ferranti for a seminar about practice and support for artists outside of England’s cities. It takes place at Hestercombe Gallery, the new contemporary venue at Hestercombe House in the splendidly named Cheddon Fitzpaine, just north of Taunton in Somerset. You can thank Google’s “smart” search helper for the picture of “Taunton” above, by the way.

It costs £10 but bursaries and free transport are available to those who might need it, e.g. and most particularly artists. Apply ASAP, using one of the links below. You just need to very briefly explain why you’d like to attend.

More details of tickets, bursaries and transport here, along with info about Hestercombe.

Same ticket and bursary stuff, different link.

Somerset’s really “happening” right now. Hauser and Wirth faaaaaarrrmmmmmmmm. Expect a confused Phyllida Barlow or Mark Wallinger in the area soon, walking around with shopping bags on their feet like Richard E. Grant in Withnail & I. “We’ve gone on holiday by mistake. We’re in this cottage here. Are you the farmer?”


19 May



The “unfortunately we don’t have any money” phrase is most often heard from people in salaried jobs (often at publicly funded galleries, museums or agencies, so it’s not even their money as such) who seem to experience no doubt whatsoever that their own contributions should be remunerated. They find money for all kinds of other things, but not for the art and the artists that are their reason for having a job in the first place. Sometimes it’s plain old tight-fisted hypocrisy, occasionally it’s real cognitive dissonance because they genuinely can’t see any analogy or interdependence between what you do and what they do. Either that, or they have internalised the widespread “I only do my job to get paid and I don’t like it, therefore if you like your job, why should you be paid for it?” fallacy. For artists in the UK, two significant counter campaigns have recently begun. The first is Artists’ Union England, the new national trade union for visual and applied artists. Scotland’s artists’ union has existed for many years. I suggest that all artists who care about fair treatment for themselves and their fellow artists join the appropriate union. In the case of AUE, early members will have a significant opportunity to determine its form and policy for the next few years.

The second is a-n’s Paying Artists, which clearly (although as usual perhaps a bit too timorously and Oliver Twist-like) describes just how self-defeating and perverse it is for the art world to allow or even encourage the decimation of its fundamental materials, i.e. art and artists. Visual art is just one of the fields in which a minority of people who can afford to provide professional quality work for free are destroying the opportunities and livelihoods of a majority who can’t. Those who can’t afford to work for free often have precisely those diverse backgrounds, unusual viewpoints and deep expertise that are most interesting and valuable to the sector. Jack Oxbridge-Trustfund and Kate Gallerina conversely tend to lack these qualities. I’m suspicious of the arts always appealing to the bottom line as if that’s all anyone outside of it could possibly understand, although obviously many people need continual reminders that the economic output of the arts in the UK shouldn’t be underestimated. The extended creative industries are worth about as much to GDP as the financial services sector, and more than the construction industry, but receive a fraction of the subsidy (and tolerance) of either. It’s valid to say so, but we should be wary of this always being the primary or most noticeable narrative.

My main problem with what’s on the site so far is related to the undue prominence of this economic argument. One obvious merit of artists seems totally unmentioned amongst all this talk of revenue and voices for communities, unless I’ve missed it somehow. Prosperity, tourism and community involvement are good, but what about the capacity of artists and art to bring joy, pleasure, agitation, reflection, beauty, memorialisation or provocation? If artists– in the widest possible definition of the word– are not here to bring these things, then who will? It seems like a significant omission not to mention this if you’re hoping to advocate for the value of artists’ work.

Senior figures at Arts Council England have expressed their support verbally for the campaign’s principles, though it remains to be seen if they’ll prove they have any teeth by actively enforcing for the first time their (longstanding, and genuine as far as I can tell) commitment to artists being paid fairly for their work. Paying Artists rightly suggests that fair pay and conditions for all workers or providers– including artists, obviously– should be set down in black and white as part of every publicly-funded organisation’s settlement with the funder and their commitment to the tax-paying populace whose money it really is. I would add that if these organisations repeatedly fail to comply, they should be penalised financially for it. I suspect their attitudes would change very quickly if this were the case, especially since most of them already cower before their funders even though they’re for the most part quite reasonable, generous and hands-off.

From now on, when you tell a gallery or so-called “commissioner” to do one after they say they can’t pay you, I suggest you also append links to the appropriate union and to the Paying Artists page. You know, hint.


10 Jan

Evidently Herbert Draper (1863-1920) was an artist dedicated to solving one of the age-old problems of mankind, i.e. the impossibility of a man getting his end away with a sexy mermaid when she’s a fish from the waist down. Herbert– the dirty perv– provided an ingenious answer: when they emerge from the water their tails turn into legs. Brilliant.


Herbert Draper, ‘Ulysses and the Sirens’, 1909. Ferens Art Gallery, Kingston upon Hull.

As the caption says, technically these are sirens rather than mermaids. The picture shows a story from The Odyssey, in which Ulysses has himself tied to the mast of his ship so he can hear the fatal call of the sirens without being lured into wrecking his ship, as was their desire. The crew had their ears stopped with wax. Until their mythology got completely jumbled up with mermaid stories in the middle ages, sirens were originally depicted as vulture-like, with the heads of women, and talons. One of the old school Greek sirens seen here seems to be plunging to her death in the water, either in suicidal failure or because the sirens were fated only to live until somebody evaded their song. In any case it proves that she doesn’t normally spend her time there.


Red-figured stamnos by an unknown artist from Attica, circa 480-470BC. British Museum.

Belatedly it was realised that clawed vulture-women didn’t make such good wanking material, and so the dual purpose amphibious Draper mermaid-siren was born.

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