Tag Archives: UK

FUNDEE

25 Apr

SOME NOTES AND CONCLUSIONS

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I’m seriously tardy because the event in question was several months ago, but SEVERAL MONTHS AGO I was invited to the artist-run Generator Projects in Dundee to talk about a-n’s Paying Artists campaign, which I have worked on over the past year or so. Generator paid me, by the way. Not very much, but proportionately more than some places have paid me when they could afford to do better. QED. In keeping with my observations about this subject over the course of many years finally, at long last, being on the agenda of artists and the organisations that work with them, the room was completely full and it didn’t take long for almost everybody to have something (often many things) to say on the subject. The conversation also bore out the same things that I and other people advocating for fair pay– or in some cases, any pay at all– have heard repeatedly when it comes to artists describing their experiences of publicly funded or otherwise not short of money institutions forming relationships with them. Generator itself is an example of how much artist-led, mostly volunteer, low-to-no-budget groups do and how important they are to the arts ecosystem in Britain, and with no prompting from me whatsoever conclusion one was:

Exactly… look how much artist-led, low-to-no-budget groups do without funding, FFS. There’s no excuse for larger and better funded galleries, museums or commissioners with full-time employees not to do at least as well in providing opportunities and support for large numbers of artists. Most of them don’t. Alongside this we should also remember, though, that just because most artists don’t do it for the money it doesn’t mean they should do it without any money. There’s a huge value in grassroots peer support (and in fact I’m putting together an experiment along those lines now) but the discussion in Dundee and a-n’s other national consultations have revealed a fairly firm consensus that small, self-organised and artist-led groups should not be held to the same standards as a formal organisation, nor should they be expected to compete with these organisations for funding and other resources. They also shouldn’t be pressured to take up the slack left by locally and nationally funded organisations not facing up to their responsibilities.

On the contrary, a number of people voiced another widely held view among artists: the large flagship institutions that grew up around the UK over the past fifteen years or so– often as Millennium projects, or as part of a regeneration agenda– could and should be acting as umbrellas for smaller organisations (and non-organisations). Self-organised groups of artists, and grassroots projects trying to revive dead buildings or moribund high streets don’t have PR people, administrators or technicians sitting around flicking themselves off in brand new custom-built offices, but the capital and regional flagship galleries do. I know from firsthand experience that people who work for small and barely funded non-building-based arts organisations all work their arses off, just as I also know from firsthand experience that some of their overpaid counterparts in the largest and most prestigious organisations wouldn’t know what hard work was if it hit them in the face. This is particularly galling when some of them offer “free publicity” or something similar as if it’s a fair substitute for not being paid. Why can’t they offer this PR and admin support unconditionally, say one day a week, since everyone knows it’s spare capacity anyway? And why don’t the likes of the Arts Council or Creative Scotland make it a condition of their funding that they do? This is, after all, the ostensible logic behind these big, purpose built arts hubs being built and supported in the first place: that they act as beacons for art going and art making in their vicinity. Again, they mostly don’t. This is especially cogent now, because to get Grants for the Arts funding, individual artists, Community Interest Companies and unincorporated arts groups are all now having to compete (unpaid, of course) not only with libraries and museums but also with huge commissioners or public galleries, all of whom have full-time staff.

At this point we started getting utopian and discussing the notion of artists just fucking it all off and simply seeking their validation and their connections with people outside of all these institutions. Cooperatives, mutuals, free love communes, etc. Actually we didn’t talk about free love communes, but I think we probably would have done if we’d been there longer.

Then we went back to misery a bit when we talked about unions and the remarkable fact that after many years of existence the Scottish Artists Union currently rejoices in having about a thousand members. I was a member when I lived in Scotland, and good for SAU, but that’s a shockingly low number of artists for a nation of 5 million people or so. Obviously they’re not all artists, but it’s still not a great number of members and therefore one major benefit of unionisation– collective bargaining– is hardly a factor. I likewise wish the newly formed artists’ union in England all the best in their endeavours, but it doesn’t bode well that they seem to be having so much trouble with recruitment. I can’t help thinking that old school unions have probably had their day anyway, because we need much more nimble, responsive and unignorable means of organising resistance and change if we really want it. Less Jeremy Corbyn, more Anonymous or Occupy.

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“ARTIFICIAL, ESPERANTO ART” AND ITS DISCONTENTS

22 Apr
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Costumes by Vahad Poladian. Photo by Hiroko Masuike, The New York Times

Some gems from Raw Creation: Outsider Art and Beyond by John Maizels. Regular readers of this blog will know that I like a bit of O/outsider attitude.

“What country doesn’t have its small sector of cultural art, its brigade of career intellectuals? It’s obligatory. From one capital to another they perfectly ape one another, practising an artificial, esperanto art, which is indefatigably recopied everywhere. But can we really call this art? Does it have anything to do with art?” Jean Dubuffet in L’Art brut préferé aux arts culturels, 1946.

This was in 1946 and it’s still just as true seventy years later. Very, very depressing. This tale of masterful gallery fucking-uppery is much more comforting:

“Scottie Wilson (1888-1972)… had been a junk dealer, making a living by salvaging what he could from the bits and pieces that fell into his hands. To this end he collected the old nibs from gold fountain pens. One day he found in his possession a particuarly fine pen, large and free-flowing, so good to handle that he was somehow led to use it playfully to draw outlines and forms…

Signed simply ‘Scottie’, the drawings became a source of livelihood for Wilson, who held his own exhibitions in music halls and pier booths around Britain. He was even taken up by a London gallery, Gimpel Fils, who were forced to rescind their agreement when he set up his own stall outside the gallery, selling his work for a fraction of the price of those exhibited within.”

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THE ISOLATOR

4 Mar

This is how much I want to see any of the exhibitions or commissions on in Britain right now:

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The author at work in his private study aided by the Isolator. Outside noises being eliminated, the worker can concentrate with ease upon the subject at hand. (By Hugo Gernsback, 1925)

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NOBLESSE OBLIGE

19 Jan

 

Chatterton 1856 by Henry Wallis 1830-1916

“Unfortunately we have no budget to pay fees or expenses.”

a-n the artists information company have just published their draft recommendations and guidance on the payments and fees that should be due from publicly funded galleries to artists. FYI I’ve worked on the Paying Artists campaign and I work for a-n sometimes. I also think artists based in the UK should have their own look at it, so I won’t offer too much commentary except to pull out:

NOBODY IS ASKING FOR MUCH

Despite stiff resistance from an insignificant and usually bonkers minority of the public and a significant minority of people who work for public arts organisations, all of whom are baffled or bitter (or both) that an artist should get paid anything… the suggested fees for artists are far from outrageous and usually amount to no more than a few thousand or even a few hundred pounds. Bear in mind that it’s rare for most artists to have more than one show per year in a publicly funded gallery in the UK. Although many public galleries do pay properly, some still don’t even clear the very low bar for pay set by these guidelines. Some don’t bother trying. And if a gallery in receipt of public funds can’t even budget to pay the equivalent of one artist’s salary for a year across all their shows– the bare minimum this guidance suggests– then they need to take a good look at their finances in general, and so should their funders.

Indeed their funders are beginning to do so, because apparently they’re exasperated too. After all, mentioning no names, it’s not unknown for very large flagship Arts Council-funded organisations *cough English National Opera… cough… Firstsite* to mismanage their finances and general governance so severely that they lose millions and have to be removed from ACE’s national regular funding portfolio with a warning they’ll be cut off permanently if they don’t sort themselves out. Nobody, including the Arts Council, wants to hear five or six figure-funded places whining about being pushed into the red if they paid artists a bit more for their work.

Even in the absence of more funding, many gallery directors or senior curators (for example) could take a pay cut they’d hardly notice to make a significant difference to the incomes of numerous artists. Obviously this is rarely a popular suggestion, or indeed a suggestion at all, when the grown ups are attending their endless round of conferences, art fair collateral events and talking head panels that no artist or self-employed arts worker could afford to attend even if they were invited, which they aren’t.

INTANGIBLE BENEFITS SHOULD STILL ACTUALLY BE BENEFITS

“Activity that is part of the gallery’s day to day work should not be treated as an in kind benefit (e.g. marketing and publicity around exhibitions.)” In other words, you don’t get to act magnanimous by offering something that you’d do anyway. So many arts organisations and venues really need to take this on board, not just in the publicly funded sector but also across all of the arts. Genuinely valuable intangible benefits do exist, but doing the job you get paid a salary to do is not an onerous burden or a favour you’re doing for your contractors, customers or audience. “We offer desk space and marketing support” is very often one short step away from the heinous “We offer exposure”, because if you employ someone to do marketing or administration then the workload they incur in the course of their jobs includes dealing with artists and other freelancers working for the organisation. And anyway, if marketing and exposure and whatnot are really worth so much money, in a contest between exposure and just having the money we’d prefer the cash in a brown envelope, please.

Funnily enough, some in the arts rely upon more or less the same dodge of intangible benefits that are so intangible they don’t really exist; i.e. that thousands of artists will do for nothing what they should be getting paid for, thereby piddling away their own bargaining power and that of artists collectively.

ARTIST STATEMENT REPAIR SERVICES

6 Jan

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If you’re an artist from NE England or SE Scotland who needs to write about your work and would like to do it better, please join me at one of the workshops I’m running this February for a-n the artists information company and Berwick Visual Arts. Read more about these workshops on my site, or book directly with Eventbrite here:

Writing about your practice at Queen’s Hall Arts Centre, Hexham: Thursday 4 February 2016 from 09:30 to 15:00

Writing about your practice at The Maltings Theatre and Cinema, Berwick-upon-Tweed: Friday 5 February 2016 from 10:00 to 16:00

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