Covid19’s brought into sharp focus how ineffectual current arts mechanisms are for dealing with anything else than institutional survival. Turns out that aspirations of the funded arts to provide conditions supportive of livelihood and well-being for anyone other than those in salaried posts are a luxury rather than a necessity.
The ‘official’ calls I’ve seen for fair treatment and equality of opportunity for individual artists remain premised on trickle-down, on sustaining and amplifying the slow-moving, self-interested hierarchy of regularly-funded institutions that’s been systematically built up over the last four decades. The new trend of offering artists ‘micro’ opportunities – shorthand for wanting artists to do far, far too much for far, far too little artistic replenishment or money – illustrates both the poverty of imagination and lack of duty of care for artists’ welfare that’s a characteristic across the tiers of arts organisations.
It’s a pity too that any advocacy for individual artists is rhetorical. What should be providing for a throng of distinctive, divergent voices – the social reality of many artists - is being homogenised, reduced to manageable outputs that most artists won’t be aware of, or have been involved in framing.
It’s not heretical to be making the case for a genuine shift in an arts world that’s changed forever by the pandemic. Perceived sacred cow institutions and the lovingly-crafted career ladders may need to be dispensed with – redundancy, mothballing or merger spring to mind - in order that more individual artists, as a core section of the visual arts, have the time and space to do what they do best, to realise their potential through nuanced, productive relationships forged where they are, as citizens within their locations, including through long-term social engagement with communities of their choosing.
Susan Jones 2020