The group of organisations under the title of Artist Run Initiatives are generally gallery venues which host exhibitions of emerging and mid career artists. Originally most of these galleries were founded by groups of friends, who wanted to show each other’s art, venues opened and closed frequently. Now we have the situation where the remaining established Initiatives no longer have any original board members still serving. These galleries are critically regarded, run by a board or committee and are not-for–profit. Artists pay a subsidised fee to host their show at the ARI and generally are discouraged from having price lists or saleable work, work that is sold no commission is taken. But does this model still work for the Artist? How does this help with creation and production of work? How does this help their career? Are ARIs just glorified spaces for hire?
What I am interested in is re-thinking the business model of an ARI. The creativity of entrepreneurship is not that dissimilar to that of an artist, so surely us lot of creative people can turn our energies onto the business of the ARI and make dynamic and interesting opportunities that further the collective missions of each space.
Much has been written about the crippling bureaucracy of receiving and acquitting government grants, a particularly good article has been written by Marcus Westbury on this topic, http://www.marcuswestbury.net/2009/07/31/why-governments-should-do-more-non-funding-the-arts/ in which case I do not need to restate that argument here.
Artist Run Initiatives are mostly Not-for-profit incorporated associations which should not translate to not making a profit, the idea is that the organisation uses it profits to further its mission rather than paying dividends to shareholders. If we start thinking about Artist Run Initiatives more in these terms we can liberate ourselves from models of past thinking (normalising running at a loss) and assumptions (because everyone else does) of how we should run this type of organisation.
But first of all some cultural humps that I wish to challenge. In the course of working for and with artists and designers in Melbourne over the last 10 years I have come across a couple of mental obstacles to creative entrepreneurship.
First, making money does not mean selling out.
Considering the publicity given to the record sale prices and the dialog of the big business of art at the top end – this may seem ridiculous to mention. Surprisingly this phobia of ‘selling out’ or engaging in effective business is still an issue for many of us at the bottom of the art pile, who as far as I can see have every reason to be savvy (who by the way work extra jobs to pay galleries to not sell their work). Is this ignorance of business? Or part of a sub cultural cringe towards thieving corporates and annoying franchise entrepreneurs?
Second, we have to get over our sense of entitlement, it makes us lazy.
No one owes us anything. After spending time in New York hanging out with various artists and collectives, I have begun thinking this is maybe an Australian thing. (I think this has to do with the lucky country shit we have been fed since we were children, and the general dependence in an artist’s life from Ausstudy and HECS to the dole to getting grants. Now I’m all for social welfare but there is something to be said about the lack of one that sharpens your attention).
Third, being responsible with money does not make you a boring person. (I don’t think I need to explain this one).
It is up to us to make ourselves relevant, to find audience and to create opportunities. For this to happen we need to wean ourselves off Government funding, it is an invaluable support but comes with a cultural imposition of a particular type of bureaucracy, which raises the question as we meet more of their terms “are ARIs [becoming] low cost government institutions?” [Tim Webster, Director at Bus Projects].
Receiving government grants need to be part of the plan including, developing new opportunities with the philanthropic sector, commercial galleries and property developers. Artist Run Initiatives also have a role in lobbying the government for policy change in making private donations to and buying art in the emerging arts sector financially beneficial. But it is in creating profitable projects to support our organisations that I see the most potential. Small enterprise can be fluid and responsive to potential opportunities, with the support of an already established back office an ARI has the ability to experiment with a range of events that focus on production and sale of art, further benefiting the Artists, making profits which can subsidise further the core activities of the ARI.
Okay that’s my rant:
Got to write some business plans and stuff.
This site is good, it is all about enhancing productivity in creative environments: