Exhibitions are not enough: Publicly-funded galleries and artists’ professional development By: Reyahn King

What about artists professional development?

Support for artists can take many forms including subsidising studio space, enabling networks and introductions, facilitating critical debate, and providing or signposting specialist advice in business or fundraising. a-n The Artists Information Company carried out surveys with artists through 2010 and 2011 and found that artists want personalised development planning and business support, professional networking events, and critique of their work. The curators of larger institutions are still seen as gatekeepers and the opportunities to exhibit, sell, or be commissioned remain the most sought after professional development activities that institutions can offer. Institutions can and do provide this kind of platform for a small number of artists. However, exhibition and commission opportunities will only ever enable a few selected artists. Moreover, some artists criticise curators for having become managers rather than creative collaborators and feel that dialogue and artistic critique of their work is lacking in their relationships with institutions.

In summer 2011 I conducted a survey of gallery directors’ attitudes to the provision of professional development for artists.47% were funded by local authorities and 61% were both museum and art gallery.  92% believed that publicly-funded galleries should provide support for artists. For most museums and galleries with collections, it was stated that the provision of artists’ professional development must be tied to outcomes that supported their other goals such as exhibition and audience development. Almost all provided a platform for artists to develop their reputation through exhibitions, and 78% offered commissions of varying scale and frequency. 66% offered artists one-off employment opportunities such as the delivery of workshops. Around 50% offered residencies. Interestingly, 50% did offer support with funding applications and other practical advice but usually as an informal activity rather than as part of a business plan. Around 25% offered tailored artistic advice, mentoring and portfolio reviews. 

a-n commissioned Louise Dany to research and write Ladders for Development: Impact of Arts Council England funding cuts on practice-led organisations. This report suggests that the artist-led organisations that currently offer professional development services, and small-scale commissions and exhibitions, have been disproportionately impacted by reduction in Arts Council England funds. It suggests that the provision provided by organisations like Castlefield Gallery in Manchester are bespoke, informal, artist to artist, and not the kind of work currently well carried out by large institutions. “Each [practice-based organisation] has developed bespoke professional practice activity and expertise over a number of years across a range of visual arts practices, and provide significant and quantifiable opportunities for artists at early and mid-career level. Consequently, they feed into the work of bigger organisations that have neither capacity nor remit to undertake this depth of specific artist-centred development work.”2 The report recommends recognising the value of professional development activity and suggests that Arts Council England oblige larger organisations in receipt of National Portfolio Organisation funding to take responsibility for this activity. It also recommends that larger organisations in receipt of NPO funding recognise the expertise and existing networks of smaller artists’ organisations, like Castlefield Gallery, and consider outsourcing or partnering to fulfil the requirement to provide artists’ professional development activity. In June 2011 DCMS noted a similar recommendation from The Select Committee on Arts and Heritage that large organisations applying for NPO funding should be required to instigate programmes that share their knowledge and skills with smaller arts bodies.

Many galleries do prioritise working with artists to enable professional development. At Baltic a 20-strong team of artists are offered a range of opportunities and receive training. Museums with collections also find ways to support artists beyond exhibitions in ways that are beneficial to artists and institutions. In the West Midlands, four museums with collections supported by ACE/MLA ran the New Ways of Curating project with artists to investigate the questions: ‘Can curatorship be developed as a collaborative art practice?’ and ‘How can creative curatorship bring collections to life and broaden, deepen and diversify audiences?’ At the Walker Art Gallery, the John Moores Painting Prize exhibition includes sale opportunities and collectors’ events: an exhibition alone would not be enough to create the kind of benefit a significant sale can have on an artist’s career.  Nevertheless, there seems to be an assumption amongst some arts professionals and artists that there is no potential for galleries with collections to support and engage with artists when compared to the newer exhibition halls such as Baltic. As one artist interviewee responded to the question of how historic galleries might engage in the support of contemporary artists “[I’ve] not thought of it from the museums’ perspective before.” This is a problem for galleries that wish to attract an audience of potential art enthusiasts and advocates, to be well connected to their local artistic environment, and to play a meaningful role in their local sense of place. Without staying connected with the contemporary, museums and galleries run the risk of losing touch and appearing irrelevant. The networks of artists’ organisations can be wide and bring people into museums quite different to those brought in by Friends organisations. Artists are part of galleries’ local constituencies and can reflect local identity and networks as well as an artistic community.It is also a problem for the visual artists, funders and policymakers who are failing to recognise or work with historic organisations whose assets include wide audience bases, experience of working collaboratively with a range of partners, and close relations with local authority and other stakeholders regionally. Now there is an apparent vacuum in professional development provision of the kind provided by smaller artist-led organisations, should larger institutions step in or work in partnership to claim more of this role?

1 Survey carried out with 36 organisations, 2011. I am grateful to all the Directors and curators who filled out the survey and added their invaluable comments as well as to the following individuals who agreed to be interviewed around these subjects: John Angus, Stephen Deuchar, David Fleming, Paul Glinkowski, Susan Jones, Kwong Lee, Samenua Sesher, Joshua Sofaer, and Godfrey Worsdale.

2 Dany Louise for a-n, Ladders for development: Impact of Arts Council England funding cuts on practice-led organisations, 2011, p 2 www.a-n.co.uk/ladders_for_development

3  Conversation with David Fleming, Director National Museums Liverpool, October 2011

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