Money: the Arts and Funding

The wake of the fallout from the Australia Council’s latest decisions with their Four-Year Funding (including the news that NAVA, Legs On The Wall, Force Majeure amongst many other prominent and iconic bodies did not receive funding) made me think about money in the arts in general.

Making a viable living as an artist has been a long-standing issue. Likewise with maintaining Arts organisations. My personal experience has been that people love art – as long as they don’t have to pay. There’s a general lack of appreciation for the effort of artists to create, with art being viewed as an indulgence rather than as an important and tangible part of culture.

My experience as an artist is that it’s a constant, uphill battle to prove your relevancy. There’s a constant pressure to prove that you are actually worthwhile of the moniker “artist” before people would give you the time of day, let alone *gasp* money. Herein lies the paradox – in order to maintain your relevancy as an artist, you need time and resources in order to create…but you can’t work on your practice as an artist if you don’t have the resources. In order to obtain resources, you need to sacrifice time. Which then eats into your time refining your art – and it becomes a vicious cycle of obtaining resources = lack of time = lack of art = reduction of relevancy.

It’s a similar conundrum for Arts organisations. In order to obtain resources to keeps the lights on and to attract and assist artists, you have to prove your relevancy to the industry. Yet you can’t do that without resources in the first place.

In my current tenure at Joondalup Art Gallery, this conundrum is something I face regularly. We are fortunate in that we are supported by the City of Joondalup. Honestly, without the CoJ, the gallery would not exist. We simply don’t have the capacity to raise sufficient funds to cover the entire cost and maintenance of running a gallery.

[note: running a gallery is EXPENSIVE.]

In order to stay alive, we have to balance two main considerations:

  1. We must be nice to the CoJ and accommodate them as much as possible;
  2. We also need to ensure that we are still serving the Joondalup community and giving local artists a platform to exhibit their works.

Finding that balance can be tricky at times. I find much of my job is a play on compromises – trying to balance the needs of everyone while also ensuring that we have enough funds to handle our day-to-day running costs.

In my own practice, I avoid tying my practice to money to avoid this need for compromise. I follow the Philip Glass model – have a source of income entirely separate from my work. In a way, there’s a freedom to this model, in that I can experiment and fail [as I’ve oftentimes have], while also being able to pay the bills.

Unfortunately, this model does not translate well into running an organisation. Is there an easy answer to combat the closing of galleries and helping organisations deal with the incongruities of funding decisions? No.

The crux of the problem is the devaluing of the arts in society in general. I still remember the furor raised when One Movement was held in Perth in 2009, rather than a boxing match. A common theme from detractors was whether there was any “worth” in holding a music festival. The arts often suffers because there’s a lack of acknowledgement about the important place of culture in society.

Perhaps we need to make this more prominent? Art is intrinsic to our world. It’s everywhere – from the design of your phone to your buildings, to the design of your websites. You hear it everyday on the radio in the form of music. It gives us joy, enriches the spirit and questions perceptions. It humanises abstract, intangible concepts.

We seem to take it for granted that it’ll always exist in some way. From the way things are going, there’s going to be less around.