Sunday, March 13, 2011

Modes of Practice in an Age of Austerity

Yesterday the modes of practice event took place in the Exchange, Stoke-on-Trent. This is an event I have wanted to see happening for a while now.
The thoughts first started as a result of Rich White's 'State of Practice' essay, which Rich delivered at the Interrogation: West Bromwich. Read it here.
It explores ideas of value/money and the threat to the arts as a result of the cuts. Then a few months ago Rich sent out a call, stating that he was available for work - and this began a conversation on an earlier blog here, where I wished to explore whether Rich would come and clean my windows for payment - in order to discuss the wider issue of what we as artists should agree to do for money.Of course lots of groups are exploring these things, the group Sophie Hope is involved in 'Making a Living' have been carrying out a residency last month on the Longhouse Website exploring these themes, and the Arts Against Cuts group are very vocal on the subject, in addition I have been following Emily Speed's Getting Paid blog on a-n, and indeed Rich cited this within State of Practice.It was for this reason that I approached Emily and Rich to ask that they come to Stoke for the event 'Modes of Practice in an Age of Austerity.'The idea for the event was that Rich and Emily, who both have what could be described as non-traditional art practices like mine, which do not usually result in an output/product or object which can be sold, would give a talk about their practices, and how they envisage the cuts might impact on them, and what plans they may be implementing to survive. You can read Rich's paper here.
Watch Rich's talk above.
Then I wanted to have a discussion with all the artists and practitioners at the event about the issues facing all of us - with a view to coming up with some rules for how to be and how to support each other in the coming years.
Watch Emily's talk above.So after the talks, everyone got a cuppa and then got into smaller groups, to discuss a series of questions; I was really pleased with the turn out at the event, with people travelling from as far afield as Yorkshire, and Birmingham for the event. Also the Exchange was a great space to hold it in, Gemma and Marcus made us very welcome.the first question was:
Question: What impact have the cuts had on your practice or the practice of other artists you know?
Selected Answers:
- lack of payment
- emerging artists taking the strain/working for free
- artists are being more inventive/working in new areas to supplement practice
Next was:
Question: What are your main concerns for the coming years?
Selected Answers:
things go on hold/limbo/impact will really be felt in 2012
devaluation of the arts/arts not respected as adding to quality of society
life becoming more dull- a hole where all the art was
The Conservatives
Then there was:
Question: What are the best and worst traits in an artist (or in yourself as an artist?)
Selected Answers:
seeing sharing ideas and work
able to collaborate
resourceful/ turning negatives into positives
lack of solidarity
taking unpaid work in order to make something happen instead of saying maybe it shouldn’t happen
promoting the myth of the starving artist
acting unprofessionally when given an opportunity/not taking it seriously/not treating it as a job/puts off commissioners and propagates the myth that art is not a profession
and finally:
Question: Have you started to employ any strategies for surviving the cuts, and how could artists help and support each other during these difficult times?
sharing links/knowledge/opportunities
being more proactive to meet people
do things at cost
providing opportunities through networks
Then the groups worked on coming up with 5 rules for how artists might ensure good practice and support each other in the coming years.The conversations already generated meant that the rules came quite naturally. It was encouraging, as one of the participating artists pointed, this could have been one big moanfest - but actually there was a lot of positivity - and though problems and issues were being aired all around the room people were thinking of how to make things better and be supportive of each other. Nat Pitt who was in attendance raised the question of how positive would we be likely to be in a few years time, when the effects of the cuts will be in full swing.
Each group introduced their 5 rules to the others, and then each participant had two votes to select their favourite two rules. This showed us which were the most popular of the rules.
We then created our list of 8 rules, in order of importance.
The final part of the event was to discuss as a group how to disseminate the manifesto.
Myself, Emily Speed and Rich White will now each work up a poster design (giving us three versions) which we will be having printed and will then get it out into the world.
The group committed to publicising it to their networks, and getting as many artists as possible to sign up to it,other ideas of where to target it can be seen on the sheet above.
I am going to set up a Facebook group, in order to help to disseminate the ideas, but I will be working on my poster next weekend at Kate Lynch's Print workshop. Rich, Emily and I have decided to keep it black and white, to make it as cheap as possible.
I am looking forward to seeing all 3 designs together - watch this space!
Thanks to New Generation Space for funding and supporting the event, and to The Exchange for providing the venue and the tea, and to Glen Stoker for the photographs, and of course a massive thanks to everyone who came along and shared their thoughts and time, and helped to write the manifesto.


1. Be Active: Support each others’ endeavours
2. Be Active: Be Political
3. Be Active: Keep making art
4. Value Yourself, your time and your skills
5. Share resources and knowledge
6. Focus/Strategise/Plan
7. Be Critical: Quality Assure
8. Know your rights

Update: We have been working on a slightly easier to understand version of this in the past few days, and Rich has come up with the following:

Manifesto: Modes of Practice

1. Be Active: Support Each-other.
2. Be Active: Be an Activist.
3. Be Active: Be an Artist.
4. Value Yourself, Your Time and Your Skills.
5. Share Your Knowledge and Resources.
6. Focus, Strategise and Plan.
7. Be Critical - Be Fair.
8. Know Your Rights.

A guide for artists and creative practitioners in the age of austerity.

Rich White's Manifesto above. The next week myself and artist Kate Lynch worked on creating a potato alphabet stamp set within a print workshop Kate was running.
 We then worked on creating a version of the Manifesto using the potato print stamps and some vinyl lettering on my dining room floor.
The Manifesto is now on display in the Resource Room at AirSpace Gallery. Rich White and Emily Speed's postcard editions are available for sale from AirSpace gallery shop.

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