It’s hard writing big picture, pseudo – intellectual, vaguely passionate, inarticulate rants about the arts, even if it is only once a month. The arts, the arts, the arts. Does anyone really care? Does anyone really have the time, money or inclination? Can anyone be bothered to participate and engage with the arts? Engage, now there’s a favourite ‘arts’ word; everybody needs to be engaged. Sounds like a gear stick. See I’m going off on tangents and I’m not even through the first paragraph. Get on with it. Stay focussed.
While everyone is busy running around campaigning against cuts, worrying about where the next bit of funding, smidgen of sponsorship is going to come from the essence of art; of making, thinking, imagining, creating, producing, is being dissipated, diluted to such a degree that it can no longer be seen, heard, smelt, touched or tasted. In the maelstrom of recession the reason that artists continue to go on, continue to practice, do what they do is being lost in the cacophony of voices pleading for the retention of their grants, their funding, their livelihoods. And I don’t blame the cacophonics. I would too. Let me be clear about something, this article isn’t about me railing against worthy campaigns or initiatives. Nor do I want to negate positive action with careless words. However, it is important to emphasise that there is a fundamental difference within the arts community on recent events and ongoing campaigns.
Funded arts organisations, festivals, companies and individuals are, in general, solely reliant on state funding whether it be on a European, National or local level. In recent years the business of funding (for it is a business) has thrived and as a result these organisations have been run on a large and continually growing management structure. Until now. With the recession in full tilt these structures are no longer viable and thousands of ‘arts workers’ are now at the mercy of the government and local authorities. While this is going to have a detrimental effect on many people it is not the core issue. The issue is our over reliance on the state for subsidising certain types of art making. The issue is the system itself. This system has produced many jobs but very little else. Yes I know, right you’re now thinking;
“Well what about [insert name here]” and “[insert name here]? They were/it was fantastic/miraculous/beautiful/emotional/etc”
And you’d be right there are always exceptions. But they are exceptions. Quite frankly most of the interesting work, processes and productions that have come to fruition – over the last 10 years (arguably throughout modern art history) – have been made out of limited resources not out of abundant state funded projects. The simple fact is that there are many people continually making, creating and producing outside the loop, the mainstream, the system. Artists that never received funding, some because they couldn’t get it, others because they didn’t want it.
This battle cry is about funded arts not the arts. Funded arts organisations – intentionally or not – put themselves at the mercy of the state when they became reliant on state funding. Their structure and method of working compromised by bureaucratic decision making. Companies have been, over the years, encouraged to create more management roles (often filled by people with no real management skills) and work has became centred around getting more funding rather than making and investing in work for its own sake and then finding money to produce it.
Yes, I’m fully aware that funding for the arts is absolutely necessary and that it is unrealistic to think that institutions and companies can survive without some sort of state funding. And yes, there are institutions, organisations and companies that do good work, that need to be subsided and funded if they are to do the work they do. However, there are many others who have ridden on the crest of the wave of the Celtic Tiger. They have done little of value, have wasted resources and have become so inert that they might as well be doing something else – pushing paper springs to mind.
It is for this reason that there are many people working in the arts who are happy to see the system come crashing down. Who are happy to see institutionalised arts companies shut up shop. Not because of bitterness, nor because of jealousy and a “I told you so” mentality. But rather because art making is about an individual/collective/group response to the environment and life around them. This response, this reflection, this mark making, isn’t dictated to by anyone, least of all the state. And now, ironically, in the throes of the recession, there will be more space to make that mark and less space for those that busied themselves with funding applications and bureaucratic nonsense over the last 10 years.
Art making doesn’t simply stop, wilt and die because politicians and the bureaucracy say so; snipety, snipety, snip – it goes on, mutates, changes. Its part of our humanity and I for one am looking forward to its rebirth. I might even get engaged
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