• Artists need collective action

    As a freelance, seven years is a very long time to be working on something and it is right to reflect on the journey as you reach such a key milestone...

    Yesterday was the launch of the final report of the ArtWorks initiative that I have led for the Paul Hamlyn Foundation since 2011. Prior to that, I carried out research that fed into the case for the initiative. We unearthed a mesh of issues that were affecting artists who were working in participatory ways and developed ideas that might support them into the future to make their practice better and so affect the quality of the work they were doing with participants.

    In the Trustees of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation we found allies to support filling this gap in provision and the ideas that became ArtWorks were born ... Partnerships and networks between employers, artists and HE providers that could explore and develop new approaches to training and development for artists .... More importantly, these ideas were supported financially. Since 2011, I have been lucky to work with a Steering Group, with my pathfinder partners and leaders in the field who have sought to bring about change in what we are doing to support artists who work in participatory ways and in how we can do it better. Along the way I have met some amazing people, travelled the length and breadth of the UK and had an absolutely brilliant time doing something I love.

    As an arts manager, I see my role as being about facilitation - a kind of bridge between artists and their many publics. Artists are at the heart of what I do. If they are not supported well to do what they do, we all lose. I believe passionately that engagement in arts activity is a right, it is part of what makes us human and it can change lives (a grand claim but true) and it can widen aspirations. So whether I have been working as a funder, as a presenter or as a project manager, I have always had one eye on the needs of the artist and one on the needs of the audience or participant.

    ArtWorks is about supporting artists in their work with participants - whether we call this work community arts, socially engaged art or any other term - we are talking about a massive spectrum of practices that involve artists working with people sometimes to co-create work, sometimes to develop skills or sometimes to develop 'community'. Now, the problem is that although this work is extensive and accounts for a major percentage of artists' income, most initial training does not equip the artist to carry out this work. Obviously, specific artform skills are critical but it is also important that artists understand how these skills can be applied in working with people. Much of this is learned after initial training and it is learnt on the job meaning that participants are often working with artists who are cutting their teeth. Would we accept this in other professional areas?

    So, through the ArtWorks programme we sought to identify ways in which we could work together to ensure that provision was enhanced for artists at all stages of their careers. We did not seek one solution - the practices with which we are concerned are too diverse for this - but we sought to find a range of approaches and models that might be replicable and that might support artists to be the best they can be.

    Across the UK, over the coming 10 days, we have curated 100 conversations between 1000 artists who will talk about this practice and share ideas and learning. http://www.artworksphf.org.uk

    This marks the end of the Paul Hamlyn funded programme but the beginning of a new phase of ArtWorks as the sector takes up the baton. ArtWorks Scotland, ArtWorks Cymru and ArtWorks London will continue and a new ArtWorks Alliance is to be formed which will play a key role in ensuring that there is a focus and a voice for this work that we all feel so passionately about.

    The research and body of published material from ArtWorks is a significant legacy for the initiative and I am particularly proud of the final report that seeks to draw this learning together and makes recommendations for the sector as we move forward.

    In my speech in London yesterday at the launch of the report, I said:

    "Working together as a sector and viewing ourselves as a collective entity we could make a change that is seismic in its impact lifting the practice to a new level of confidence, recognition and ambition. We could professionalise the work that - although it accounts for more than half of artists' income - is perceived as being of less importance than making art work. We could create greater understanding of what constitutes quality and value in the work. And we could build better infrastructure to support training and development for artists at all stages of their careers."

    So, let's get working together because together we can continue to make a real difference.

    For more information please take a look at the following reports that have been published:

    ArtWorks: A Call to Action

    ArtWorks: Reflections on developing practice in participatory settings

    ArtWorks: A View from funders


Burns Associates

Development Consultancy


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