A case for the arts

In reaction to government arts funding cuts, Leeds Metropolitan University in partnership with Culture Vulture and the Audience Agency, initiated a public debate at which a panel of industry experts debated what arts funding is for and who is most deserving of it. A short provocation by Susan Jones argued for more recognition and resources for artists and individuals to counteract the slow, ponderousness of institutions whether for the arts or otherwise. View the whole event including the audience 'question time' at the end using the link provided.

Whenever you hear someone talking in the press about contemporary arts they generally chat on about the buildings. Access to new lottery funding led to setting up more and more arts buildings, each orchestrated by a charity, staffed by folks with proper job titles and career paths.

The presumption is that great art equals great buildings (needing great budgets to match). There’s also the presumption that there will always be artists, actors, musicians, writers and poets around - all happy (and just waiting expectantly) to be the instrument of those arts bureaucrats who think it’s their right to decide what art is and how ‘the public’ will get access to it.

In my mind, whilst seeking to ‘fit’ artists into cultural policies and instruments like this might have worked in the past, it really won’t in the future. We’re in a different world now, one that needs better solutions to complex environments.

I believe artists can mediate their own practice, develop the language and translate or reinterpret others’ needs and aspirations for art into their practice, enabling artists to grow and sustain their ‘micro businesses’ and the audiences for them. Artists put in long-hours, take few holidays and have a huge generosity to the communities and causes they believe in. They are doing what they do for the long-term. Any income they do have goes a very long way. This makes them ideal candidates for small grants from public funding.

It’s a known fact that the most innovative things in the world arise from individuals with good ideas. The small and agile is where innovation emerges – harnessing personal vision and energy. Take Riot Clean up – that overall involved some 90,000 people, in the aftermath of the 2011 riots. It was fast, gathered traction and support and most of all it created action. And the person behind it was? An artist – Dan Thompson – who without having a grant or an organisation just got on with galvanising communities any way he could.

It would be easy to say – well that’s just a one off. But I believe we need more recognition and resources for individuals to counteract the slow, ponderousness of institutions whether for the arts or otherwise. We need to invest in the vision and determination of individuals as part of what RSA Director Matthew Taylor calls developing clumsy solutions that “Rather than seeking to resolve or suppress inherent tensions among different ways of seeing and exercising power, acknowledge and work with those tensions.”

© Susan Jones 2014

Extract from a provocation at ‘The Arts Funding Debate’, Leeds 2014

View the discussions at: