generosity and the recession – how the squeezers squeeze the squeezed

I’m republishing this because it is still relevant, over a year later……..

first published on 12/10/2013

I have a problem in my head, and my heart, about how the recession is hitting people in terms of my personal values.

Last week I attended a workshop to gain funding advice. I paid £30 for a morning and there were people from all sectors there. Some key funding bodies gave presentations, mostly by sharing their websites on screen. The workshop ‘participants’  were not often engaged in dialogue or given the opportunity to ask questions. Many were from grass-roots organisations doing invaluable work on our streets, dealing with the victims of the recession. Generous, caring people who want to make a difference, so they paid their money and came to learn. They didn’t even get a glass of water, never mind a cup of tea and a biscuit.

Fast forward to the afternoon, same day, Prema Art Centre. Create Gloucestershire hosted a session about artists as leaders. The conversation revolved around assets, generosity, kindness as currency, values and caring. What a contrast. Everyone paid £5 and for that we received lovely drinks and cakes and food – all provided by the fantastic in-house cafe at Prema.

I may be wrong, and would love to discuss this with others, but the overarching memory of that day was that in the morning the attendees were paying to find a way to fix their deficit, to get money to enable them to provide potentially life-saving services delivered by a number of brilliant and kind volunteers. The afternoon was more about celebrating the social value of artists, their currency, how they can support artists to create change in the hearts and minds of people.

So both workshops were about social currency – it’s just that one was hosted by an agency that supports volunteers but has most likely (I haven’t checked this) lost their local government funding to do so. It’s not their fault. And the arts one is hosted by an arts sector that needs to find ways of evidencing their value – both socially and economically.

What hurts is that the first sesssion was taking from those with very little and what they were buying was both knowledge and hope. Hope they may have  a chance of getting some money from the constantly squeezed coffers of funding. Squeezers squeezing the squeezed.

The afternoon was more about artists as cash-converters – give them a small sum of money and add up the social impact they can have. As an OUTCOME. And that is important – the social value is an outcome of the engagement the artists have with others, not the purpose of making the art.

So here I am again, indirectly making reference to ABCD – asset based community development. It’s not what you do but how you do it.

Many arts organisations are being encouraged to charge artists a fee for open submissions. It’s always happened and not surprising it is now on the increase. But let’s keep it real. Artists are professionals, they are not volunteers or hobbyists. If they work they should be paid, just like everyone else. Ok, charge a submission fee, but pay a fair fee to those selected – give them a production budget, pay them for workshops. Otherwise you are just squeezing the squeezed.

Social value requires people to evidence that they value people. And a pat on the back doesn’t pay anyones electricity bill. Am I angry about this – yes, a little. But more than that, I am upset and concerned that our current governments unethical code is seeping downwards until those at the bottom are helpless. I care about this.

POST POST: have just read excellent article by Matthew Taylor in the Guardian. I rest my case.

Published by carolyn black

I'm an artist and also commission contemporary art in unusual locations. As a producer, I fundraise, curate, project manage and deliver projects. I'm also a writer and film-maker.

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