Art In Austerity

In times of hardship priorities are made on our behalf – public funding awarded, maintained, cut or even removed completely.

Every decision having a beneficiary or a victim dramatically impacting upon communities as we go about our day to day lives almost oblivious to those not in close proximity. Politically grass roots culture has often been seen as something of an expendable luxury, the enrichment of ordinary lives or the sustenance of unknown artists not deemed as valuable as a host of other competing options.

The majority of artists in periods of recession cannot count upon public finance and perhaps neither should they create a position where the funding precedes the activity or is wholly dependent upon it. A working life as an artist is predominantly about making artwork but on top of that more is required. Degrees of resilience and resourcefulness are essential to ride out the rejected proposals and exhibition knock backs. Opportunities when they do arise have to be fully exploited for the work to have any kind of wider impact. The artist is also more often than not their own administrator; ot something that anyone thinks too much about when starting out.

I left art school in 1988 the subsequent period saw the certainties of the British artworld transformed by artists hungry enough, organised enough and connected enough to shift the emphasis of our visual culture away from the orbit of the ‘School of London’  (earnest figuration with  inner feeling) towards something labelled BritArt (confrontational pop with lowbrow contextualisation). Through necessity both of these are relatively skimpy descriptions. The prevailing economic conditions weren’t conducive to art sales but the empty warehouses that had yet to be developed into luxury apartments formed an ideal setting for their embryonic revolution.     

The current round of cutbacks and closures pose a very real threat to our galleries and libraries an argument being that in this day and age google is an adequate replacement for live or physical experience.  This is without doubt a serious cultural issue but at the very same time it can create opportunity as building usage is renegotiated often from the bottom upwards. I am on the verge of bringing the largest exhibition of my career to date to a municipal gallery in the North which a couple of years ago faced a proposal of weekday closure so that the building, staff and programme were less of a drain on council resources. This proposal was outflanked by a plan to invite artists to compete for the exhibition venue and those chosen would then manage, promote and fund their own exhibitions. The upshot is that a fine public building has now become the equivalent of the derelict warehouse. As saddening as this might seem it also provides a huge opportunity to anyone willing or able to take on the challenge. Under happier circumstances our public spaces would rarely be made available to those labelled by our status obsessed industry as ‘emerging artists’.

Each and every exhibition is a step, however all consuming it may seem at the time, on a journey. Artists constantly have to exhibit in order to gain some sort of a cultural foothold or create the momentum that might eventually become a career. We always imagine that the next show will somehow provide or create that breakthrough moment where one becomes not one amongst thousands but one say amongst a couple of hundred.

I don’t personally believe that anyone who has chosen to become an artist should automatically be entitled to all that much. It is an area, much like fashion or advertising, where a lot of claims are often made on the behalf of not a great deal of substance. Individuals will find their own way around all the problems that come with being an artist, after all it is a creative field. I myself have taught freelance in museums and galleries for twenty five years in order to fund work that isn’t entirely popular or commercial.

On this occasion however I have put together a funding appeal, not to an organisation that allocates public money and along with that some kind of formal approval but to you via a kickstarter campaign. Should you wish to support my exhibition The World at War at Stockport War Memorial Art Gallery (it also comes with gallery talks and practical sessions which I am giving my time towards in the hope that local aspiring youngsters will drop in and hopefully become inspired) you can find my film on their website. If you have been kind enough to support this already I’m hugely grateful for your generosity.

The World at War might or might not start a revolution but it will take visual culture to those who deserve it just as much as you do. 

Argue the issues with like minded people by leaving a comment below or joining the discussion here


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