The trouble with arts funding…..
“The leader of one of England’s National Portfolio Organisations speaks out about transparency, whistle-blowing, the curse of arts buildings, and why artists feel disenfranchised from the arts funding system.”
I read with interest this article in Arts Professional. He/she criticises ACE for spending so much money on organisations that need to sustain expensive buildings. It’s an important point that is largely ignored. It also results in the lack of acknowledgement of freelance people, working beyond those buildings in unusual locations and non-art spaces.
So thank you, whoever you are, for this article.
“I also happen to think that some of the most exciting and inclusive work is that which is made for ‘non-arts’ spaces. ”
Me too, which is why I set up Flow in the first place. He/she also asks for transparency, better maths, whistle-blowing and an end to us and them attitudes. Here here.
“Why not open that dialogue up in two directions? ”
The premise behind Flow is not only based on Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s theory of flow, though that was certainly an influence. My Flow is based on observation of the River Severn bore, where the river and the sea work with reciprocity. Call it dialogue. Or genuine partnership.
It’s a reflection of how events happen – how the meeting of minds/art/people and places can result in something amazing to witness. Sometimes the wave itself is subtle and modest, but the power and forces that swell the river following every bore are as important as the wave. The after affect. The impact.
The bridging of a river is a useful metaphor. Heidegger used it to reference how the bridging of a river connects the banks. Without the banks being defined, the river has no meaning. It is the action of connecting that makes sense of the river.
I believe this to be true of art. Art cannot exist in a void. It needs to be connected by people and places. If the banks, or the river banks, collapse, the river will meander hopelessly and disperse. Shoring up the banks (ouch, money banks, arts buildings? My metaphor is going a little loose here) is pointless. It’s the bridge that matters.
So let’s put people and places first.
Economic priorities in the arts sector come in waves too. Late 1990’s artist led groups starting gathering momentum, creating projects cheaply and easily in empty buildings etc. This was good for ACE, they got a lot of output for small investment. Artists became not only professional artists, but began to manage budgets, business plans, health and safety etc etc. In short, they became curators and producers. Then ACE supported them to secure empty buildings, great idea, give the artists power to manage their own projects. How many excellent artists became slaves to those buildings? How many stopped their practice in favour of feeding the hungry buildings to maintain them.
Then in the early 21st C biennales began to boom and they encouraged the notion of temporary works and impact. Site responsiveness as opposed to site specificity became more common, possibly because it allowed for the art markets to benefit too. Socially engaged practice also became key for artists and curators. A wave of curators curating shows about curating was followed by a tsunami of socially engaged practice. That brought about a swell of instrumentalism – soothing, lapping the shores with art as therapy, fixing social ills, health problems etc.
The buildings based system began to struggle. The buildings which were occupied by artist led groups in the late 20th C became difficult to maintain. Some ended up with a building but no programming, as the writer for Arts Professional said.
So here we are now. And things must change.