No museum, no budget = FREE? ambiguous, witty but depressing

Charles Esche of  Van Abbe Museum in Eindhoven, shared this on Facebook and it is very very clever and very very depressing. And (or because) it is also true. The article the image is in is by Steven ten Thije. It is written in Dutch, but the beginning translates to: The Bigger Picture – response to “artists: museums are sometimes screwy” by Lucette ter Borg on May 8, jl Lucette ter Borg, NRC published an article of “artists: museums are sometimes screwy”, on the remuneration of artists by museums at solo exhibitions. The article outlines the image of the museum as exploiter of vulnerable artists. An image that a day later in an editorial comment is reaffirmed……….

In essence, it questions the ethics of museums not paying artists and suggests possible ways of addressing that issue. 

I only know this because I have gone through a process of translation etc – but the text in the image that accompanies the article  tells me two very oppositional narratives.

  1. It’s a positive outcome – with the loss of income caused by austerity artists can finally be free, possibly what they have always wanted
  2. It’s a negative outcome – because of the cuts,  the museums must save themselves by taking advantage of artists desperate to survive. The artists work for free

If only no.1 was the case. But we all know it isn’t. It’s getting worse and worse. This week saw two campaigns launched to support artists in fighting for a fair income. One ‘Paying Artists’ launched by by a-n and another ‘Artist’s Union England set up by artists. I hope they have an impact. But I worry that they cannot.

My concerns are:

  • That it’s not just artists that are struggling
  • That in the UK the Unions have lost so much power, another one is unlikely to be heard
  • That launching two such actions at the same time dilutes the message

What might be wiser is to look at other successful ways of gaining support and momentum, for example  38 Degrees, Robin Hood Tax, Crowdfunding, What do they all share? Yes, they are digital campaigns. The other most important factor about them is that they don’t just argue for one cause and seek support from one sector. Sadly, the artworld is often accused of only speaking to itself – which is hardly surprising, attend a private view and I see lots of my friends who work in the arts and artists – but few members of the public . Those of us who care about the arts and value it believe it is important to everyone, but is everyone welcome?

When the artworld set out to draw attention as to the importance of art in society, it arranged a big party that was attended by (mostly) people who work in the sector. Yet we all have huge mailing lists of our audiences databases – we’re getting better at harvesting this information because we need to – so why aren’t we encouraging THEM to support us?

A few months ago I wrote a blog post about how Claire Hodgson raised questions about gatekeeping. That blogpost was about how, when changes are needed, one must gain the support of those who hold the keys. I initially balked at this – until she pointed out that women could not have gained the vote if they didn’t get men onside. I believe the same issue is important here – it appears to some that we are gatekeeping the arts ourselves, shooting ourselves in the proverbial foot. 

We are not encouraging people in, but we want them to give us money. 

We must learn from others. Philanthropic giving is successful in USA, but I have doubts about it’s viability here in the UK. American fundraiser  2011 Michael Kaiser toured UK sharing his knowledge about fundraising. The key thing I remember about his talk, which was inspirational, was that it’s better to get 5000 £1 gifts from 5000 people than £5000 from a sponsor that pulls out. Look at what happened in Bristol recently with The Cube Cinema. They raised £201,000 –  it works. And people supported them, because they care about The Cube.

So whilst I support the need for artists to be paid for their work, I support the need for EVERYONE to be paid for their work. Despite what the government says, there seems to be a distinct shortage of work about, not just in the arts.We need to be savvy, accessible and garner the support of those that already value
what we do. And we need more people to value what we do. But we must start with what we have and people who work in the sector don’t need chivvying on that – it’s everyone else that does.

museum and artists pay

Dan Perjovschi

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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