Identifying the Needs of Artists

Image result for starving artist image

There is a report doing the rounds, arising from a Sinn Fein FOI document, that only one third of the Creative Ireland budget has gone to actual arts activity, the rest spent on PR and associated expenses. (Link)

There seems to be general surprise expressed at this. But wasn’t this always the way?

Arts funding has an army of admins and “experts” operating between funding and artists. Some of the schemes I’ve run into as a writer appear to be modeled on similar funding management principles as those found in the so-called “poverty industry”.

The principle is simple. The funding body identifies a “need” and draws down funding to help alleviate, facilitate, inform, discuss the need with a view to maybe solving the problem in the fullness of time.

Solving the problem is not really on the agenda. Drawing down the funding to address the need is what’s important, hiring various experts to weigh in on the identified problem.

Such an approach might be justified in the poverty industry, though here too you may find teams of highly paid social workers and psychiatrists managing some “identified” dysfunctional family; publishing brochures, reports and information packs and so on, this going on for years with no discernible improvement in the dysfunctional family, but the surrounding experts enjoying fairly good lifestyles paid for by funding initially set aside to help the poor.

But in the arts the temptation must be for artists to be similarly framed as “failing” in some way, requiring the assistance of teams of admins and advisers and experts and “mentors”, offering guidance, workshops, booklets, retreats and so on.

Whatever about the quality or usefulness of such initiatives, the underlying supposition must be, for the whole scheme to function, that the artists are in need of “help” and “guidance”, like the poor in the poverty industry, whereas in reality most artists are simply in need of funding, not life guidance or direction in their discipline. If they are serious about their art, and if they are artists, they most likely are serious – it’s no laughing matter deciding to be an artist – then they most likely know more about their own work than anyone else. Their biggest concern is most likely money, not craft.

If the “experts” really wanted to help cultivate the arts they could just simply quit eating up all the funding with the various schemes they dream up to divert monies to pay themselves a wage while turning artists into the poor relatives of the system.

Artists don’t need help, or brochures or mentors. They need space and living costs. They need the proverbial room of their own, not a team of overpaid busybodies telling them what to do.

My point being that this funding diversion scam as reported with the Creative Ireland funding, is not an isolated case, but exists at all levels and actually characterizes the entire system, with many artists themselves sucked into admin simply to make a living, and many artists compelled to pretend to be stupid and in “need” of guidance, because some mentoring programme is the only real opportunity available to maybe make some money or get ahead.

But the problem with this is, you can’t really affect having a “need” that some “expert” will guide you through, and not begin to feel that you actually have that problem; as in the old adage, mocking is catching.

From this perspective, the effect of these funding diversion scams on artists, predicated on meeting a “need”, eat into the confidence of individual artists, destroying the very qualities that the funded experts purport to be in the business of promoting.

Worse, if an artist questions the system they risk being shut out completely, so artists might be more inclined to become passive, quite the opposite of what I believe an artist should be: an independent-thinking, some might say, “annoying” person.

Artists, like the poor, have become an “opportunity” for a certain class of “expert” to create funding catchments with. These experts, by then controlling the monies, lay claim also to the prestige and social capital that might more properly belong to the practicing artist.

In this respect the model is destructive of individual artistic freedom, and destructive of the arts.

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