I may be about to contradict myself. In so doing, I may also risk the wrath of an artist or two. I apologise now.
Last week, I touched upon the ongoing woes of the individual artist, and the risk of conversations going backwards in the absence of strategic leadership from a decimated Arts Council.
I’ve been thinking about role of independent freelancers in the contemporary visual art sector. The challenges we face are frequently those faced by individual artists; in a system in which concentrates finance within organisations, our agency is constrained.
Artists’ predicament is nothing new. What is new, is the growing resource of independent project leaders and managers, curators, producers, arts activists, advocates and consultants. It’s spurred, of course, by changes in the arts ecology; changes that have resulted in smaller, fewer organisations and less organisational employment. It’s a vibrant resource pool that contains huge potential for free and independent thought, challenge, innovation and critical leadership.
Thankfully for myself and 20 others, I’m taking part in a groundbreaking programme which recognises just this. The Visual Arts South West Leadership Programme (VASWLP) is pioneering because, alongside its desire to build strong leadership within and for the contemporary art sector in the South West, it sets out to promote the role of the ‘established freelancer’. Its insight should be applauded.
Many of the participants in the VASWLP are freelancers. Many are micro-enterprises. This is surely a sea change. Of those who, like me, are partially employed, all place at least equal emphasis on their independent freelance practice. What, if anything, should we infer from this?
Our programme leader has commented on the unusualness of having a room full of individuals and independents discussing vision and mission – for themselves and, more importantly, for the sector as a whole.
In the new world, what can an individual freelancer be?
What deep structural changes are needed in the sector to support and unlock the new, modern way of working?
It’s something to which I plan to return.