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In reac­tion to gov­ern­ment arts fund­ing cuts, Leeds Met­ro­pol­i­tan Uni­ver­si­ty in part­ner­ship with Cul­ture Vul­ture and the Audi­ence Agency, ini­ti­at­ed a pub­lic debate at which a pan­el of indus­try experts debat­ed what arts fund­ing is for and who is most deserv­ing of it. A short provo­ca­tion by Susan Jones argued for more recog­ni­tion and resources for artists and indi­vid­u­als to coun­ter­act the slow, pon­der­ous­ness of insti­tu­tions whether for the arts or oth­er­wise. View the whole event includ­ing the audi­ence ques­tion time’ at the end using the link provided.

When­ev­er you hear some­one talk­ing in the press about con­tem­po­rary arts they gen­er­al­ly chat on about the build­ings. Access to new lot­tery fund­ing led to set­ting up more and more arts build­ings, each orches­trat­ed by a char­i­ty, staffed by folks with prop­er job titles and career paths.

The pre­sump­tion is that great art equals great build­ings (need­ing great bud­gets to match). There’s also the pre­sump­tion that there will always be artists, actors, musi­cians, writ­ers and poets around — all hap­py (and just wait­ing expec­tant­ly) to be the instru­ment of those arts bureau­crats who think it’s their right to decide what art is and how the pub­lic’ will get access to it.

In my mind, whilst seek­ing to fit’ artists into cul­tur­al poli­cies and instru­ments like this might have worked in the past, it real­ly won’t in the future. We’re in a dif­fer­ent world now, one that needs bet­ter solu­tions to com­plex environments.

I believe artists can medi­ate their own prac­tice, devel­op the lan­guage and trans­late or rein­ter­pret oth­ers’ needs and aspi­ra­tions for art into their prac­tice, enabling artists to grow and sus­tain their micro busi­ness­es’ and the audi­ences for them. Artists put in long-hours, take few hol­i­days and have a huge gen­eros­i­ty to the com­mu­ni­ties and caus­es they believe in. They are doing what they do for the long-term. Any income they do have goes a very long way. This makes them ide­al can­di­dates for small grants from pub­lic funding.

It’s a known fact that the most inno­v­a­tive things in the world arise from indi­vid­u­als with good ideas. The small and agile is where inno­va­tion emerges – har­ness­ing per­son­al vision and ener­gy. Take Riot Clean up – that over­all involved some 90,000 peo­ple, in the after­math of the 2011 riots. It was fast, gath­ered trac­tion and sup­port and most of all it cre­at­ed action. And the per­son behind it was? An artist – Dan Thomp­son – who with­out hav­ing a grant or an organ­i­sa­tion just got on with gal­vanis­ing com­mu­ni­ties any way he could.

It would be easy to say – well that’s just a one off. But I believe we need more recog­ni­tion and resources for indi­vid­u­als to coun­ter­act the slow, pon­der­ous­ness of insti­tu­tions whether for the arts or oth­er­wise. We need to invest in the vision and deter­mi­na­tion of indi­vid­u­als as part of what RSA Direc­tor Matthew Tay­lor calls devel­op­ing clum­sy solu­tions that Rather than seek­ing to resolve or sup­press inher­ent ten­sions among dif­fer­ent ways of see­ing and exer­cis­ing pow­er, acknowl­edge and work with those tensions.”

© Susan Jones 2014

Extract from a provo­ca­tion at The Arts Fund­ing Debate’, Leeds 2014

View the dis­cus­sions at: