The artists and arts policy conundrum

Subtitled the relationship of arts policies to artists’ livelihood practices, this new research is reflecting on arts policies intended to support the livelihoods of artists and will gather new evidence of artists’ perceptions of the contexts and conditions they feel they need, in order to generate a rationale for conducive environments which can better foster the talents of artists in future. Updated 29/11/2016

Analysis of some key UK arts policies suggests a gap between ambitions set out in policies intended to support artists’ creative practices and their livelihoods and their subsequent impact on practitioners. An example is Year of the Artist 2000 in which although it was intended that creation of 1000 residencies would achieve lasting opportunities for artists “creatively, structurally and financially”, providing contexts which “value, reward and, increasingly, understand them”, the evaluation reveals little qualitative evidence of tangible impact on creative practices and income expectations weren’t achieved. 

Overall, because artists’ incomes have suffered a decline, a key issue for many of artists particularly post austerity, is finding a suitable balance between surviving economically without having to take on work which is creatively unrewarding. Could changes in arts policy and the funded arts environment go some way to ameliorating this? There is some evidence, however, that arts policies have an inherent tendency to keep ‘artists poor’. By interfering with artists’ motivations and inhibiting essential risk and experimentation they may also limit the ability of artists’ to sustain a livelihood through their practice. 

By gaining an understanding of artists’ motivations and the conditions and contexts they perceive to enable their livelihoods and comparing and contrasting these with perceptions of mediators and what artists are offered, this new research conducted under the auspices of an PhD with MIRIAD, Manchester School of Art aims to identify and provide a rationale for and new models of environments that are more conducive to fostering artists' livelihoods and practices in future.