being an artist, being a blogger, being the creative underclass
I have not had time to blog recently due to the fact that I have a major exhibition to install that opens on June 7th. There is however so much going on and I feel torn about not writing about everything. But then I think to myself, I am an artist first. At least that is what I hope. Ok, I try to be an artist first, no matter how incredibly hard that is.
I am back from a recent conference where I met a lot of artists and academics. I will have a much more detailed report about this in a subsequent blog as I haven’t digested it all yet. There were many topics that floated around the conference such as, artist rights, engaging communities and how us rural & northern artists are pretty resourceful because we already have to fight to do things; the world has now caught up with us.
One thing I heard over and over again was that we had to create regardless of our financial situations. I wasn’t sure how to take this. Did people mean that worrying about money was becoming a greater obstacle than actually not having appropriate funding? Or did this mean that things work out with or without money? But then does that mean that someone somewhere didn’t get paid for what they did because they just pitched in and made something happen? Or was this some kind of umbrella philosophy such as “the minute you turn your concerns into worrying about money and not art, there is no room to be creative?”. I just don’t know, it was never made clear to me how one stops worrying about money.
Both the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts made an appearance, the OAC even attended the CARFAC panel on artists rights and fair wages. So, in a sense money was in the room. The sting of a recent 5% cut to Ontario art organizations was still felt and the conference unfortunately was scheduled (not the organizer’s fault, just an unfortunate scheduling situation) right before a major Canada Council deadline; there were some notable absences. Money was there in spirit so to speak.
Ultimately the experience was empowering and very fruitful. A testament to the brilliance behind the concept and the organizer’s skill set. Again, that is another blog.
And now I must turn to my own endeavours. I titled my exhibition rogue, vagabond, slave because I see a very strong parallel between the Elizabethan poor laws and how creative people are treated today. A massive medieval exodus of people moving to London after being thrown off lands around the country lead to homelessness. This is a very brief and clumsy rework from Das Kapital by Marx & Engels. Anyway, the Queen had to do something as London was becoming a very big, very cosmopolitan city and it just wasn’t going to work with lots of starving countryside refugees. You got designated: no job, rogue, no home vagabond thus you have to become a slave.
After hearing the word precarity for three straight days and watching the slides of artist’s and organization’s amazing but obviously underfunded programming I felt sad that I seem to be so right. While I applaud the optimism and perseverance of artists today and I am very encouraged by all the young enthusiasm I met, I still believe the balance of fairness is completely out of whack. I met lots of fighters though, many with much more strength than I. I hope we are enough to truly enact change and pull our profession out of “prisons of inequity” and bring it back to the light.