Sunday, April 18, 2010

Time to Take a Stand Against Creativity Leeches

Sophie Hope has organised a fantastic event in London next week it is called 'Art & Labour Summit: Cultural Workers, Artists, Students, and Interns Meet to Organise, Name Names, and Coordinate Demands'
Details of the event are as follows:
We'd like you to join us for a special event and organisational party open to all who are interested in the better understanding and active transformation of the way art, free labour, and education work. Crises are moments of great opportunity, as we all know, and those defunding and devaluing our labour have been busy applying this knowledge. We invite your active participation in an evening of events: 1. 'Show and Tell' - bring evidence of your current research, campaigns or projects dealing with art and labour to share with the group. 2. 'Name and Shame' - collectively create a map of power structures on the wall where we name our exploiters, quantify their exploits, draw the hidden or overt links between them and chart the ideas that legitimise their subsistence. 3. 'Coordinate Demands' - engage in small group discussions to identify your demands. 4. 'Publish and Get Organised' - we will end the evening by having a look at what we have created to decide where and how we want to publish a map of our most urgent demands and discuss the experimental, pragmatic and sustainable organisational techniques we can use to co-ordinate the next steps. This event has been developed as a response and dialogue with the newspaper and website "Art Work: A National Conversation about Art, Labor, and Economics" recently published by Temporary Services. Pedro from 16 Beaver has brought forty free copies of the paper from the US to distribute to participants at the event in London, but you can also download the newspaper as pdf or read the articles online here:

I can't make it to the event unfortunately but this is something that I have started to work on recently - therefore I have been moved to write the following statement, which Sophie will feed into the demands map, so I will be there in spirit; I have decided to stop beating around the bush - hinting at my beliefs re. the cultural situation in the city of Stoke-on-Trent, and start to take action.

While it is fantastic that commissioners and cultural developers are recognising the many ways that art can play an important role in a regenerating city, there are a number of problems emerging as a result of this recognition, especially in a place like Stoke-on-Trent; a city who has a history of undervalueing the creative industries. Cultural development workers, urban planners and council workers are offering more and more 'opportunities' for artists in the city to give their skills and art works freely. These public sector workers are usually paid workers, and yet do not seem to consider the need to pay artists and other creative people for their time, even when reminded that this is what we do for a living. I am unsure at this stage if this is due to a misunderstanding of the situation, or wilful ignorance. The problem, as always, is that artists taking a stand against this may be seen as trouble makers, and when there are 20 eager artists willing to provide their services and work for free, the stand does not make much of a difference.
Additionally, I am a member of Stoke-on-Trent's first contemporary art gallery, AirSpace. The gallery is run from a council building, which we moved into in 2007. The building is partially derelict, and we can use less than 25% of it. There have been various false starts over the years, involving plans for the gallery, none of which have come to fruition, we still only have a short term lease. We are unable to develop or plan to any extent as a gallery, and are unable to apply for any substantial funding to improve the situation, due to the unstable nature of the building. We have to turn down artists looking for studio space on a regular basis, which often means good people move to other cities. This is a real problem for a city in desperate need of a break - as the cultural industries are the fastest growing sector - and could provide real hope for a failing economy. Despite this the council continues to hold us up as an example of their support of creative businesses in the city. So I say to you Stoke-on-Trent Council, let’s see some really meaningful investment in the arts in the city. I put it to you that you should put demonstrate that you are really dedicated to practicing what tyou preach - as in policy statements and council regen strategies you talk about invesiting in the industry - encouraging graduate retenetion, and start up creative business - so why not instigate an asset transfer - giving Number 4 Broad St. to the AirSpace Gallery permanently- and just see what we can do with it! This is exactly what this city needs - and we have the creativity, crtitcal edge and dedication to the arts and culture in this city that could make it work - given the chance.

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