My involvement with AIR started at one of the initial open dialogues set up by a-n in 2006 to explore the main issues surrounding professional artistic practice. What struck a chord with me at the time was that a-n was coming directly to us, the artists. It was an inspirational day held at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham. We had posters up on the walls with title such as Government, the Public, Schools, Funding bodies etc… and our task was to imagine how the artist would be viewed by all of these ‘in a perfect world’. The positive approach really appealed to me – rather than the usual questions of tell us what’s not working, let’s have a moan. We were actually visualising the best case scenario and I left feeling that as artists we must take responsibility and ‘create the world we want to live in’. For me this ethos is very important and pivotal to all my activities.
Soon after I was asked if I would be interested in attending the first AIR advisory meeting that has four main meetings throughout the year as well as extra meetings with relevant people in a range of organisations. Our activities include developing the campaigns, research (such as into artists’ insurance) and partnerships with other artists’ bodies such as Scottish Artists Union and Visual Artists Ireland. In November, AIR is in Ireland speaking with members of the European Council of Artists, exploring a working relationship. AIR welcomes such partnerships as a way of strengthening artists’ status nationally and internationally.
Enabled by a-n as an integral development from the Artist subscription, AIR is not only a source of practical support, but by providing a range of channels of communication and dialogue amongst artists, it advocates for artists and aims to ensure their views and concerns are heard within all areas of cultural decision-making. One of key issues for me is about the wider understanding of the artist role within the wider culture, and across professional sectors. Speaking with artists they still feel that they are still very much at the bottom of the food chain – artists are rarely involved in the policies that affect them. I think a lot of this has to do with the artist themselves – we need to take a more active role – and AIR as a representative body can do this. Even Tory shadow minister Ed Vaizey sat up when I mentioned the size of AIR’s membership to him at a recent event by Hybrid in Birmingham, he said that ‘the arts world is needlessly defensive about what it does!’ – so a collective sense of validation is absolute key.
A curator recently said to me that artists need to be more arrogant – I disagree: I think it’s about being better equipped with the professional tools and skills that we need as artists – about being confident rather than arrogant and about working together to create the environment to thrive not just survive in. We can do this much more effectively as a collective, because then we have a wider range of voices, expertise, viewpoints… Artists are able to work across pillars of practice in unique situations, and bring about inspirational exchanges between organisations and people; this can make artists very effective advisors.
AIR has been actively promoting the importance of the role of artists on advisory boards – and we hope that Arts Council England will take us up on our offer to bring independent artists into the regional Turning Point strategy groups to ensure that artists’ needs and aspirations for the future are represented in the delivery of this major strategy.
We are now in the process of putting together an extensive survey using the very best online technologies to better understand artists’ needs and define the further practical and professional benefits and the routes for artists’ representation. It’s about getting the wheels in motion from our positive perspective.
Mitra Memarzia is an artist and producer based in West Midlands.
a-n.co.uk December 2008