The artists who stay outside in the cold
A Gerard Byrne installation in Lismore Castle Arts in 2011
The Arts Council has more influence than any other organisation on the sector, but what about the people that get by without its financial support, writes GEMMA TIPTON
Do you do your job because you want to, or because of what you get paid for it? This question is essentially about whether money is an end or a means. It’s a question that strikes me whenever I read some of the justifications given when inflated salaries and fees are paid, such as it’s the kind of money you need to pay to get the right person. To those of us in the arts sector, it sounds as if they are speaking a different language.
Once it might have been possible to suggest that bankers played a more important role in society than artists, but few make such an argument now.
How many of those trying to solve the financial crisis see it as something vocational – a job to do because it’s good to do, and crucially needs doing well – rather than a highly lucrative way of passing the working day? Most people in the arts, a largely self-exploiting bunch, see their work as something they want, or need, to do.
Money is the often-inadequate enabler. This operates differently across the various art forms, with the visual arts having the most peculiar relationship to market economics.
There, being seen as a commercial success is detrimental to your cultural status; while being uncommercial, and in receipt of Arts Council support, is an imprimatur, an emblem of merit.
It’s not a question of being unable to do anything else. Artists such as John Gerrard, who works with cutting-edge technologies, could easily opt for higher financial rewards in industry.
Artist and curator Sally Timmons set up Common Place Studios in Dublin ( commonplace.ie) in 2006, receiving seed funding from Dublin City Council, but opting not to apply to the Arts Council because of the scale of the studios and issues relating to the lease on the building.
The studios are self-supporting through rental income, while the eight studio artists apply for Arts Council project support for their work. Timmons says: “If I was working on a large-scale project I would consider seeking support in the form of a once-off award or grant. I haven’t felt the need to do this yet though because the projects have been small and manageable.” For her, the work and the projects are what matter, not who endorses them.
The reason this way of thinking is significant now is that, as funding cuts continue to change the shape and nature of artists’ and arts organisations’ relationships to funding bodies, the idea of money, vital as it is, seems to be altering the ways people think about why it is they do what they do.