Yesterday I rolled out of bed earlier than traditionally acceptable on a Saturday for East CVAN’s ‘Working Together’ symposium. The symposium was billed as exploring the impact of artists on institutions. Held at my new local institution Focal Point Gallery, Southend on Sea. I came armed with a big cup of tea and a packet of lockets (you can’t find Fisherman’s Friends in Southend for love nor money).
Throughout the day I kept coming back to this question - how can institutions better support artists? Although it seemed the institutes in the room perhaps thought they had already answered this question. There was lots of conversation about how brilliant the unity of artist and institute can be until I asked ‘can you tell us what happens when it’s shit, please?’ – I think this is why I’m often not invited to things like this.
With this in mind I thought I’d answer my own question – how can the big kids better support us weirdos? Using my own experiences of working with various monolithic, subsidised and often problematic institutes across the world I’ve put together a hit list…
Navigation, Orientation and Introduction
Institutes are (sometimes) made up of armies of people, they are often attached to large, multiplex spaces with systems of key fobs, magic electronic card door swipe things, stationary cupboard labyrinths and ‘don’t use Tina’s mug’ or ‘that milk doesn’t live in this fridge’ politics. Artists need to quickly learn how to navigate the institute quicker that you have. Introductions to departments, key members of staff and security help us feel less lost. Temporary access cards, round robin emails to all staff members and walk abouts are also a helpful way to get to know the structures you have in place.
Setting out expectations with the artist at the start of your relationship is key to avoiding passive aggressive emails and hissy fits further down the line. Laying out responsibilities like this ensures everyone understands their role and has the capacity to fulfil it. Artists are often expected to have the same infrastructure as your institute – we don’t, find ways of supporting your artist instead of setting them up to fail.
Use the Artist to Change Your ‘No, Sorry’ Culture to a ‘Let’s Try’ Culture
Every institute I have worked with has a stock response of ‘No, Sorry’. New methodologies are suggested by us and are immediately shot down. Artists can effect positive change within your institute. Harness their outsider status to develop your institute into a positive and responsive organisation.
Marketing Departments can learn from Working with Artists
The relationship between Marketing and Artist does not need to be painfully pedantic. Artists know their audiences, they know the best way their work is communicated to the world and they have creative ideas of how to disseminate your collaboration. Manage the relationship between both like a bad marriage.
Empower and Facilitate Artists to create their own Satellite Activity
Too often wrap around activity consists of a Q&A, a post show talk or a YouTube video. Artists are creative people and given the time, space and facilities they will be able to create satellite activity that is just as creative as the work you have commissioned. However, this needs additional time and support – factor this in early on – don’t treat this activity as an after thought.
Artists are often earning way less than those of you who are facilitating their practice. Discount cards for your café, restaurant or vending machines makes your overpriced coffee more obtainable. The offering of a 25% off discount might seem petty but it goes a long way to artists feeling valued. Printing and photocopying access makes our lives way easier – what takes you 2 minutes to print can save us trekking to our studios, hitting our cheap Argos printers.
Fair Pay – No Free Labour
Too often artists are not paid for the time they put into your project. We’re asked to donate our time and some of this end up being unpaid. Work out the amount of time you are asking an artists to prepare for your project and be physically present. How many hours will it take to make? What additional activity needs to be factored in? Private views / openings, press, marketing - including your evaluation process all need to be considered. If you are asking an artist for a quote without this information they cannot price the work correctly. Asking artists to work for free is unethical – make sure you meet the annual rates of pay set by ITC, Equity and/or A-N.