I feel pushed to respond to the entry John made after our discussion on Friday morning as I feel that I have been misunderstood and do not find the label of skeptic appropriate. I wish to outline a few of my current frustrations I have with the cultural environment in the UK at the moment.
The discussion arose from a question of how to continue once the workshop was over. How can the ground covered over the past week be developed further and whether or not we felt there was anything we could do to support each other in our long term goals for the future.
From this we decided that we should try to meet up again in a few months time and set John the role of organising it.
The discussion then turned to the ways in which groups and artists organise themselves and the level of control they have in producing and exhibiting the type of work they would like. John brought up the point that he felt there should be a way to circumnavigate cultural organisations whom he feels siphon off the (public) funds available and act as gatekeepers in cultural production – artists becoming employees of the organsations when they fulfill the remit set for residency programmes or commissions and do not get to wholly dictate the manner in which they work.
I perhaps did not make this clear at the time, but yes, I do agree that artists should continually find ways in which to produce and display the type of work that they find critically interrogating and should not chase the funding money pot, adapting their methods to suit the desires of the organisations strategic agenda if they do not feel it fits with their own outlook.
However, regardless of whether you are an individual or group working directly with the public funding bodies or you are receiving funds through a supported cultural organisation at some point there will still be the need to provide reasoning for your allocation of funds and evidence of its impact. This is a task in itself and one that requires knowledge of the relationship outlets have to funding bodies and the goals (goalposts) those bodies have had to set and which you must fit into (otherwise there will be no funding). The cultural organisations all came about for their own reasons and in the eyes of funding bodies they must also come up with their own strategic plans for the development of artistic production within their self-designated context. This secondary and perhaps more narrow set of specifications within the funding structures can of course bring about further hurdles for artists to hop over on the way to the fruition of their ideas but these constraints can also be enabling in that they promote particular forms of practice and help to better establish them by developing a platform dedicated to its exploration.
I know I’m going of track here but I suppose what I’m trying to say is that regardless of how we manage to gain access to funds so that we may make and promote our work we will still have to provide reasoning to the powers that be as to why we should have it in the first place. The organisations and individuals still have to spend lengthy hours filling out forms and building the case which can at times undermine the work itself.
John pushed the notion that a group can continue for the longer term without any central co-ordination. I do not feel that a group or organisation can and as I have tried to outline above it is because in the long run, if they want to access public funds or become larger entities in order to further promote their ideas they will then have to take on the role of administration. You suggested that this would be absorbed into the group and members would take it upon themselves to carry out this task in a act of self governance. I then responded by saying that these less artistic tasks will become more time consuming to the point where people will be unwilling to give up so much of their time unless they can have some sort of recompense, namely income.
As Simon pointed out there are pressure points at which organisations do alter their structures, some close in upon their decision making processes, creating a line between management and production and allocating these roles appropriately. It is here that groups must be vigilant in reaffirming the equilibrium so as not to create a hierarchical distinction between the two roles. Rather they should maintain access to broad opinion but not in such a way that it becomes an endless and debilitating task – seeking to strike a balance and knowing when to move on or quit.
The insistence during the discussion of entirely open means of organisation where everyone is self-governing, especially in light of funding cuts when opportunities will become all the more sparse, feels a little too close to the recent conservative initiative of the ‘Big Society’. People willing to offer a significant part their time for the greater good. A reasoning that asks people to absorb disproportionate cuts in public spending brought on by the economic crisis by a Government that is trying to get out of providing key public sector services (health, education, culture etc) yet protecting the very financial infrastructures that brought this situation about. I suppose my frustration has been unfairly directed, instead I should be asking the core question effecting all of these instances which is how we value cultural production because at the moment we are pushed into viewing it as a direct capitalist transaction and have to quantify it in monetary terms to prove impact within society. Currently we are being pushed further and further into treating artistic production as a consumer object or service, one that requires a proved rate of return on investment and I find that the re-appropriation by the Conservatives of the long established practice within arts communities of self-organisation into their ‘visions’ for society a difficult pill to swallow. I believe that public provision of culture is something that should be protected and feel it is not being accurately defended against and ever encroaching commercial value system.