In conversation with Art Monthly’s Chris McCormack, Susan Jones considers the implications for artists trying to make a living from art practices in an “impossible arts infrastructure”.
This presentation addresses the problematic conditions for artists’ practices and lives that define and confine their contributions to contemporary visual arts and society. The aim is to inform sectoral and political discussions on future remedial policy interventions, strategies and infrastructures that ameliorate barriers to artists’ multiple contributions and secure their social and economic status.
An independent review demonstrating the severe impacts of the pandemic on the social and economic circumstances of visual artists reveals the divergent perspectives at national and local levels in England about what artists and the arts are for, and on how and where future arts policy should be made and implemented.
Analysis of the plight of visual artists during Covid-19 illuminates the working conditions of a chronically under-examined sub-section of cultural labour. It demonstrates the severity of pandemic impacts on visual artists’ social and economic circumstances, including from inappropriate criteria for accessing government and Arts Council England emergency measures. A central concern is consideration of how arts policies might better acknowledge and account in future arts infrastructures for the distinctive, diverse social contributions of this workforce element. The commentary reveals a stark contrast between ambitions at national and local levels about what artists and the arts are for, and where and how arts policy should be made and implemented. It evidences an emerging grassroots appetite for a dramatic shift from current hierarchical patterns driven by national imperatives to nuanced, localised infrastructures that can ensure artists’ multiple talents and assets contribute fully to social and economic change for the better within communities.
The term artist-led organisation encompasses a diverse and complex range of artists’ activities and philosophical stances, including studio groups of all sizes, gallery spaces, groups concerned with community action, others focused on creating networks or increasing markets for their work, campaigning associations and practice-led artists’ collectives that generate collaborative art in public places.
A new qualitative, longitudinal study surprisingly demonstrates how the lives and artistic prospects of many visual artists improved in pandemic conditions and by doing so, provides clues to the infrastructural shifts needed to honour and sustain the talents and vibrancy of this diverse constituency in future.
‘Work and Social Justice in Art, Craft and Design’ with Dani Child, David Hesmondhalgh, Kylie Jarratt, Susan Jones and Jade Monserrat, convened by Dave Beech, Reader in Art and Marxism, University of the Arts London.
In the pandemic, government and Arts Council England built a defensive hedge around the most visible aspects of the arts infrastructure. Staffers in institutions got time, space and money to address fragile business models and secure their futures. However, the emergency arts funding schemes for freelance artists failed to address their artistic, emotional and livelihood needs.
A public conversation in November 2021 commissioned by Proforma for Desire Lines and facilitated by Chris Bailkoski brought together Jack Ky Tan and Susan Jones. Read extracts from this discussion that explored how misconceptions and imbalances in the arts ecology limit artists’ status, pay and livelihood chances and what needs to happen to ensure artists can live a flourishing life through art practices over a life cycle.
The exclusive and short-term emergency arts funding schemes from government and Arts Council England to freelance artists failed to address their livelihood needs, with the majority allowed to fall through the cracks. Early evidence from a longitudinal study surprisingly demonstrates that the lives and artistic prospects of many artists positively improved in pandemic conditions. This offers clues to the substantial shifts in arts infrastructures necessary to honour and sustain the talents and vibrancy of the diverse artists’ constituency in future.