Jobs and opps home section
Local Arts Officers: Felicity Hall
Kate Brundrett asks Felicity Hall about her role as Arts Officer for Epping Forest District Council, and the importance of delivering community-led practice.
Felicity Hall is the Arts Officer for Epping Forest District Council.
Epping Forest is a wealthy, mixed rural and suburban district. It is an expensive area to live, and with it’s lack of university contains a sparse population of artists. With no professional theatre spaces or public galleries, exhibitions are hosted in the district museum, libraries and found spaces.
The role of Epping Forest Arts is to deliver a resident-focused arts programme with a priority on community involvement. The department directly employs 3 practising artists who lead on dance, live art and visual art programme delivery.
What do you think are the key issues facing artists and the visual arts sector nowadays?
For individual artists it is very, very difficult. I have been giving support to an artist who is putting together an R&D project to Arts Council, and I’ve been told that he will have to demonstrate community involvement, audience engagement and have 20% – 25% match funding. For an R&D project that is really difficult. I think it is tougher for individual artists to address community based work, audience engagement and public focus, than say theatre companies.
There is a definite shift towards social agenda activities and a push for money to be sourced from these, for example, commissions by the PCT or youth service to deliver projects that happen to use arts. It is arts being used as a social tool, and whatever I think of that politically, that is the reality of it. It is much less now about art for arts sake.
Do you think therefore there is extra pressure on artists to justify and convince audiences about their work?
You have to ask yourself why local authorities spend money on cultural activities. If an artist is doing something to benefit the individual, then that’s fine and dandy for the individual, but they’re not spreading the benefit throughout the community. I know that some artists don’t get that.
What’s fascinating about the visual arts is that they are reliant on the market in a way that other art forms just aren’t. You can use art as investment – it is a different language to other art forms. I think artists have very specific competitive pressures going on, and they work as individuals generally.
How does working with artists relate to your organisation’s policy – is this likely to change in the future?
We’re different in that we have artists on staff, and they are a key part of putting together our programme. For example, one of our priority areas is looked-after children, and so one of our artists has developed an on-going relationship with a children’s home. She does mini residency projects every holiday period, so we hear what the problems are and she will come up with a creative solution. It’s an ongoing programme.
What are the challenges you face?
Although we do a lot of work in the social agenda area, there are people who don’t realise that you can be imaginative and creative, and deliver a solution that is cost effective using the arts. There is a thinking that you keep doing the same old thing. So that’s one issue.
The other is that the arts are not a statutory service, and that is one of the reasons we are looking to be outsourced from the council. Theoretically, if we had a three year service level agreement to deliver an arts programme, not only would we save money for the council in terms of on-costs, but we would be protected - hopefully - from any impending cuts.
I think what confuses people is that although we are technically out of a recession and the private sector might look like it’s getting back to normal, the way budgets in the public sector work means it is going to take longer to hit us.
Everyone is getting very antsy, irrespective of what service they are in. It’s going to be a very very hard two or three years.
What do you look for in the artists you work with?
We work with artists whose practices are collaborative and socially engaged. We’re immensely lucky with the artists we have on our staff as social engagement is part of their practice and the work they make with us is the kind of work they’d want to make anyway.
Is there a need for artists to prove more on community and audience engagement?
Canny artists are looking at this anyway, because it’s about survival. But the interesting people to engage in this debate are the ones that write about art.
What about practice that isn’t socially engaged or community-led?
On a personal level, there are artists that make work that I feel excluded from because it’s all about themselves, and I find that frustrating as a consumer of art – but then there’s an argument that you need to have people like that in the world.
In a local authority context there just isn’t a role.
How do you research artists? What part does peer recommendation play?
Peer recommendation plays a really strong part. We have a loose network of artists we work with who recommend people – that’s how artists work. We do try and use local artists – if not from Epping then Essex.
Thinking about a recent project you’ve been involved with, what were the factors that made it work well? What constraints or challenges are you facing?
We did a project called Make Do And Mend, a two-year project working with all sorts of community groups, culminating in an exhibition at the local museum. One of the most valuable things about it was the quality of the work. The artist leading the project - Sonja Zelic - is passionately committed to ensuring that artwork produced as community arts is as of a professional quality as it can be. It can hold it’s own artistically as much as anything other project. And that is a really important thing in the work that we make – that its very good quality and we have the highest possible production standards.
Because we have artists on staff, our intellectual framing might be different from other arts departments perhaps.
We all get quite frustrated by the fact that because we make work in the community, it gets pigeonholed as community arts. The way the artists here run their projects mean they have exactly the same intellectual conceptualisation as other art work, and there is a vast amount of research that goes in. However, they are not accorded the same respect within the professional arts community.
Not being able to get any coverage in any of the professional arts publications is a negative. We have done projects in the past (Homelife, Common or Garden) where we’ve employed a press agent to target the arts press. But they just don’t want to know because it’s a local authority, community arts project area. The term Community Arts has such a pejorative connotation that we describe ourselves as Arts.
Would you have any advice for artists applying for work?
To be able to demonstrate the value of their work.
Links and resources:
Kate Gilman Brundrett
Kate is an artist, business adviser and consultant to the creative industries sector.
First published: a-n.co.uk June 2010
Post your comment
No one has commented on this article yet, why not be the first?
To post a comment you need to login
© the artist(s), writer(s), photographer(s) and a-n The Artists Information Company
All rights reserved.
Artists who are current subscribers to a-n may download or print this text for the limited purpose of use in their business or professional practice as artists.
Parts of this text may be reproduced either in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 (updated) or with written permission of the publishers.