As the UK’s largest representative body for professional visual and applied artists we have canvassed the views of our membership of over 11,000 practicing artists. In addition we have encouraged our members to respond directly through the Visual Art Blueprint’s online survey. We recognise the commitment of the report to supporting the skills development of the whole industry and regard the contribution of artists to this consultation as part of the vital role that artist-led skills development plays within the UK’s visual arts infrastructure. 

We have looked at the proposed actions from the perspective of the needs of practising artists, taking into account that contemporary visual arts practice is characterised by individuality and diversity, both in terms of context and approach. Special consideration has been given to artists’ working conditions that can encompass a mix of self-employment, employment, under employment, small business enterprise, punctuated by professional study as part of a continuous professional development. Where relevant we have drawn on examples of approaches that artists adopt for skills development.  By doing this we aim to contribute insights into what areas of skills development are most relevant and how the 63% of people within the sector who are self-employed may usefully access it.

Below we respond to the proposed actions when relevant:

8.1 Strategic

Proposed actions:

  • Establish an Advisory Group of senior representatives from key visual arts organisations to monitor implementation of the Visual Arts Blueprint

We feel that this group should consist of a cross sector mix of self-employed and employed colleagues as the implementation and access issues are varied.

The term “senior” tends to allude to job titles and organisational positions; we would encourage those tasked with (the not in-substantial) task of setting out the action plan resulting from this consultation to take into consideration specialist knowledge levels, as well as seniority.

In order to enable equality of opportunity for those who are self employed to attend, we recommend that an honorarium for attendance and an offer to reimburse travel expenses and childcare costs should be made to remove barriers for participation.

We also feel that it would be worthwhile to have sub-sector specific working groups with one relating specifically to artists.  This working group (and other sub-sector groups) could report back on the progress of more detailed implementation proposals to the strategic Advisory Group for ratification. Advisory Group members could “represent” and be part of wider specifically agreed working groups.

  • Work with existing networks to review need for an umbrella professional body or union to represent the needs across the visual arts sector

We agree that working with existing networks and agencies is an effective way of identifying needs in the sector and would hope that AIR will be involved within any envisaged review.

We do, however, question whether an overarching umbrella body would be workable? Many of the professional membership bodies within the visual arts sector have arisen as a result of demand and the number of members in relation to their specialist “market” is an indicator of the continued relevance of these bodies. For example, NALGAO has 415 members out of 466 local authorities in England and Wales. Although there are crossovers within the public realm, clearly artists’ needs are different from those arts officers working within local authorities.

AIR would be happy to contribute sectoral knowledge  to an agreed forum of membership bodies who could knowledge share in order to represent the needs of the sector – something which for example NCA and Visual Arts Alliance are doing and is one of the original purposes of Creative People.

An agreed forum – perhaps enabled by ACE and meeting quarterly/ six-monthly could provide a forum for RFO’s and key membership bodies and demand led networks to represent and “make visible” the diverse strands of the visual arts sector and articulate any common concerns and needs of curators, artists, academics, commercial galleries etc.. This “evidence” could be gathered and the agenda set by its members. Again for this to work effectively and in a truly representative way we recommend budget allocation for a roving secretariat (to be hosted on a rolling programme by members of the group) and for attendance by self-employed colleagues.

  • Align existing research activities for gathering statistical data and other evidence on economic impact and skill needs of the visual arts sector
  • Identify visual arts skill competencies to develop National Occupational Standards (NOS) that will inform job descriptions, staff development plans and employer understanding of skill requirements

AIR would wish to see an equal weight in any resulting action plan to reflect both the importance of establishing a brief for freelance contracts that acknowledges the personal and professional qualities needed and the skills needed to commission effectively. There is a raft of Good Practice tools available already that could be more widely adopted eg. Sample person specification and person skills for community projects as part of Good practice when paying artists on

We would also recommend that any resulting plans derived from this consultation attempt to identify how freelancers can access funding and/ or subsidised places on relevant training courses to enable artists to access professional development.

We feel there needs to be a greater understanding in the above proposals of the day to day working realities of individual artists.  There are some skills which might be universal for example CV presentation, website design, PR presentation and how to present an application for a grant or commission but this information is already available.  The real skills needed to create a quality piece of art which has impact on individuals, the community and society are unique to a project or individual at a certain time and that individual creative vision is what makes visual art authentic and have impact.  Artist to artist and artist to curator networking and mentoring enable and sustain this creative activity. Examples include schemes delivered by APD members such as Artsadmin, Artquest and Fabrica. The uniting approach within these schemes is that they recognise that the artist who wishes to benefit from mentoring is in the best position to determine and specify their needs, so the delivery is genuinely “artist/learner led”.

  • Work with professional bodies to encourage job advertisements to be more skills based to improve recruitment practices

There is a need with this proposed action to acknowledge the distinct differences between self employed, employed, project and permanent contracts

AIR welcomes the opportunity to contribute to making more visible the skills and services that artists have to offer and example of which may be for existing sectoral fees and payments guidance to be endorsed by the professional memberships of both employers and practitioners.

The skills competencies of an artist broadly equate to that of running a sole trader business combining social and/or commercial enterprise with developing their art work.  Some artists also have the skills set  that equates to that of a teacher/ project manager/ lecturer. However these skills are different from job descriptions as artists tend to work project by project and in a portfolio way.

In order for this action to be relevant to artists, there is a need to acknowledge that competencies are also based on experience and peer recognition relating to the quality and impact of the specific art work or project. For example, when commissioning an artist to work with an architect a job description requires both the setting out of particular skills as well as ensuring it attracts high quality artists. This requires awareness raising to both the commissioner and the artists involved to get the best outcome.

  • Ensure visual arts workforce development proposals are embedded within regional cultural and skills plans

This could work if there is recognition by those implementing the plan of the different “scale” of partners/ “Centres of Excellence” within local infrastructures ie. from small scale artist networks through  to academic communities. Any associated training or professional development opportunities need to be accessible in terms of relevance, price and location.

Regional cultural and skills plans should recognise the role of specialist production facilities in providing a mix of specialist equipment and training in their use for projects as well as informal skills development. Specialist print workshops such as Glasgow Print Studio or the work that Lux did in Hoxton in creating a place where artists can go either to borrow equipment or learn new production techniques are also important congregation points for artists to meet one another, test their creative ideas with peers and feel less professionally isolated.

8.2 Entry to the visual arts sector

Proposed actions:

  • Ensure online provision of the latest careers, training and courses information e.g. Creative Choices (Creative & Cultural Skills website)
  • Develop wider entry-level opportunities for training through creative apprenticeships and other pathways
  • Ensure traineeship and internship opportunities offer broad training and development and are as accessible as possible (e.g. Guggenheim and MoMA internships models)

As the above proposals currently stand there is no direct acknowledgement of artists’ entry routes to the sector.  A recent study by Susan Baines of Newcastle University identified that Visual Artists are three times more likely to have a MA degree than any other specialist group in wider arts sector. Visual artists are also (along with acting, creative writing and journalism courses) one of the few professions where after a degree the predominant working status is self-employed.

An example of a crucial entry route “training need” for most artists at the point of graduation is to gain skills and an understanding of how their work will sit within the wider market/ operating environment. The development of this understanding happens through a combination of meeting with other artists and joining artist networks as well as gaining an understanding of how to realise personal professional goals ie through identifying work/ commissioning opportunities that best reflect skills and interest . Artists’ networks provide a form of “mentoring” which enables both artistic development and an opportunity to learn from peers about positioning tactics.

Artist led galleries and some public gallery networks provide a good environment for this area of skills acquisition through for example, one to one sessions/ surgeries to meet with curators to gain feedback on potential exhibition markets for their work. This activity provides opportunities for artists to develop their practice and contributes to enabling considered, high quality work to emerge

Artists navigate skills acquisition through mixing and matching the generic with the bespoke (some examples below) and we propose that for artists to be supported in continued professional development that further consideration is placed on enabling artists to identify, develop and access relevant  training, examples of which are listed below.

Generic skills acquisition for artists inc: surviving as a self employed person in the business environment, understanding legislative requirements relating to tax and insurance, teaching and facilitation skills for workshops, negotiation skills

Bespoke skills acquisition for artists inc:. How you promote yourself as an artist is not about traditional marketing skills,  it  requires personal decisions about what recognition factors matter to you and your art work -  whether critical acclaim, peer recognition or customers; this is then  matched with a personalised  understanding of what choices are therefore available to you and how best to  navigate the sector. eg. initiatives such as Made in Cumbria might be relevant for an  object based artist to engage with but insight is needed by the artist to ensure that they are using the appropriate visibility channels for their work.

Other areas that require bespoke skills acquisition include: Support for understanding how pricing works in different areas of object based practice – eg. Contemporary art and contemporary applied art, Understanding levels of remuneration in different areas of commissioning eg. within built environment

For artists working on large-scale capital projects – there is a need to understand how large scale capital contracting works.

8.3 Children and young people

Proposed actions:

  • Work with Children’s Development Workforce Council to ensure that visual arts education in schools can be supported effectively
  • Using Regional Development Groups to identify and share good practice in delivery of visual arts education to children and young people e.g. from Find Your Talent pilots
  • Encourage take-up of school and community schemes among employers to improve visual arts attainment e.g. Arts Award and Arts Mark
  • Provide guidance on visual arts requirements for Building Schools for the Future Programme to support visual arts curriculum delivery appropriately
  • Work with HEI training providers to promote effective and up-to-date visual arts teacher training
  • Encourage visual arts organisations to support delivery of Creative and Media Diploma and other curriculum activities
  • Provide training for visual artists on teaching visual arts to children and young people
  • Increase provision of creative and other apprenticeships based in visual arts organisations significantly
  • Work with specialist schools and Academies Trust to ensure that visual arts practice is represented across network
  • Develop the National Skills Academy opportunities to include provision relevant to the visual arts sector

Many artists work in schools as part of their practice and we feel there should be acknowledgment of “bridging” agencies such as Creative Partnerships within the proposals above.

Another way in which artists work with young people is through offering opportunities for work experience for both older school students considering the visual and applied arts as a degree or for undergraduates. One AIR member consulted stated that whilst in full agreement with providing a safe working environment for people to undertake work experience in his studio, the cost in both time and money in providing employee liability insurance, Health and Safety certification and Child Protection registration is prohibitive and not proportionate to the scale of enterprise: “It is easier for me to accept a student from Denmark than a student from Manchester because of the legislative demands that need to be fulfilled

We would recommend a lighter administrative burden on sole traders and financial incentives to take on an apprentice that recognise the costs of delivering this valuable training opportunity to young people . Students are missing out on working with artists in their studios – as the pre-conditions cost money and are rarely reimbursed.

An example of good practice in the field of apprenticeships is Creative Alliance in Birmingham who run a really interesting programme.

 8.4 Further and Higher Education

Proposed actions:

  • Work with HE/FE training providers to ensure technical, business and freelance career training for visual arts students within existing degree programmes, and as continuing professional development (CPD) options
  • Ensure effective systems for ensuring course content reflects current thinking and practice e.g. new technology and latest critical discourse

AIR welcomes FE/HE’s engagement with this important strand of training and feels that in order for this proposal to be relevant to artists when they graduate, it would like to see greater links between artist networks in the location of the degree and have practicing artists meet and talk with students.

We also wish to acknowledge that HE/FE are not the only location for that CPD and that  artists networks,  APD members and other relevant agencies are also part of the jigsaw.

Places such as the Jam Factory in Adelaide work in partnership with the University of South Australia to provide a “half way house” between practice and teaching for new graduates and to “incubate” the social enterprise skills of artists.

  • Develop forums for visual arts employers, practising artists and HE providers to discuss training options within education, and map existing CPD provision against other sources to identify opportunities for additional FE/HE provision

We welcome the proposal that there needs to be more vsiisble ways of sharing good practice in HE/FE teaching. There are many websites that are attempting this and a sustained programme of linking would help eg platforms case studies from throughout the UK within its Advisers and Tutors site.

Rather than focus on who is providing the training is it not better to recognise what each agency within the visual arts training infrastructure is specialist in? eg One AIR member has taught on ceramic and print course at KKV (artist run specialist facilities) in Sweden – people on the course included artists who were receiving training subsidy from the Government. The accountability structures of this space were recognised as a suitable recipient of devolved training funds.

  • Develop HE partnerships with specialist agencies to promote curatorial and commissioning skills in distinct areas such as public art programming, live art and new media
  • Develop HEI consortia to offer above three actions and career-long professional development i.e. physically and intellectually well-equipped centres providing wide spectrum of support from accredited CPD units to intern support, careers advice etc.

AIR wishes it to acknowledged that investment in the infrastructure does not have to be entirely building based and those working as trainers should be specialists and could include artists. AA2A a good example where specialist production facilities within art colleges are available to artists to use.

  • Build on National Arts Learning Network (NALN) and CHEAD work to widen participation with regard to targeted HE/FE and curricula initiatives to attract students from more diverse backgrounds  Employers to lead on Graduate Apprenticeship programme to include work based learning within organisations linked to appropriate FE/HE institutions – linked to DCMS Creative Britain Apprenticeships

There is already a lot of good practice at Schools and FE and HE- such as Birmingham Universities Artists into Schools scheme and Artists access to equipment at the university. That there needs to be better for visible ways of sharing good practice in FE/ HE teaching – eg.  The a-n website section on Advisers and Tutors, platforms case studies.

Schools and career advisers need to know what artists’ skills are – how being an artist translates into the real world – at the moment being an artist is not seen as a career option- there are also very complex issues surrounding perceptions of artists- not a career move- “you won’t make any money”- and that diversity is very poor in Fine Art. (There are very sensitive cultural/class issues at play here- which need a lot of careful exploration)

There is no sign of consultation with the students as yet within the above proposals.

8.5 Diversity of workforce

Proposed actions:

  • Recognise that diversity includes a wide range of issues in terms of social class, disability and ethnicity

We feel that the blueprint needs advocate for the diversity of the workforce and  reflect  the complexities and unique qualities present in the contemporary art worlds – especially outlining artists and works that lie outside the perceived “normal” arenas of practice. Hybrid have been doing some interesting work in this area

Identify role models that can encourage students from diverse backgrounds to consider the visual arts as a profession for them.

  • Work with community groups and representatives to encourage more representative entry into apprenticeships, colleges, universities and visual arts organisations

If we genuinely want a more diverse background and that includes entry to the sector by socially disadvantaged people – our sector also needs to recognise student debt and earning power as a constraint – work in this area needs to practically address some visual arts employers’ lack of understanding as regards the true cost of self employment as well as new graduates recognising the implications for their profession as a whole of agreeing to no payment for their services. This complex issue also needs to be supported within funding agreements eg.  DCMS/ACE/ RFO funding agreements need to acknowledge the economics of this when identifying the number of exhibitions required per year of publicly funded galleries for example.

  • Interventions should be flexible to reflect the local context of different geographical areas

We agree wholeheartedly with the need for interventions to be flexible and feel that they need to enable, complement or enhance existing demand led infrastructure that has grown out of need.

  • More ‘progression’ agreements, signposting and links between colleges and universities for visual arts students

To make this proposal workable links with / awareness of wider sector is essential

  • Learn from positive action schemes such as Inspire, decibel and Art House programmes to develop diversity in the sector – recognising recent progress and developments

8.6  Continuing Professional Development

Proposed actions:

CPD for practitioners:

  • Enable access to short courses at Centres of Excellence so practitioners can learn new skills quickly and efficiently at key moments in their career.

Short courses are part of the portfolio needed to support skills development, others include (as mentioned earlier): Training needs analysis (using toolkits), mentoring, artists networking, generic and bespoke training relating to practice, project and employment status. The issue of how Centres of Excellence are categorised is also moot – who determines them? It would need to be subject to peer review in some form. Would they require re-validation as with other professional training providers?

  • Support flexible and ‘portfolio career’ development for artists and freelancers to enable professional self-determination throughout working life.

What would the optimum be? For everyone working in the visual arts to receive one CPD session a year? Would there be possibilities for the visual arts to access Train to Gain funds?  Made possible to the freelancer – through “sponsoring agencies” (APD model for example)? Could there be subsidised places for skills based learning for artists?

  • Support developmental toolkits such as those published by a-n The Artists Information Company to help visual artists plan their next phase of career development and associated skills development needs

AIR welcomes the support of these toolkits as a-n is an agency who partners with many other agencies across the visual arts and feel they could be more widely disseminated in HE/ FE sector and through networks such as Business Link and APD members (over 52 agencies throughout UK focussing on artists professional development).

A key issue here is, following  training needs analysis, how to support the ability of a freelancer to undertake a relevant training or mentoring session at the a time when needed at a price that is relatively affordable. This would involve training and education providers drawing in more professionally involved people from visual arts – who understand the complex market – with an experienced understanding of the way it works. The academic system has technical and research skills, equipment and hardware but they are not always best placed to advise on the reality of operating as an artist.

CPD for organisations:

  • Investigate visual arts organisations can develop joint training provision through Business Link, Train to Gain and other opportunities
  • Publish model internship programmes based on accredited units of industry qualifications and CPD framework (including higher level apprenticeships)
  • Support organisations in developing CPD plans to include training and informal professional development (skill sharing, shadowing, mentoring, shadowing, self-directed goal setting and peer-group learning)

8.6  Management and leadership

Proposed actions:

  • Examine current leadership programmes (e.g. The Clore Leadership Programme, Cultural Leadership Programme, HEI provision, Inspire etc) and how well they serve the needs of the visual arts sector, redressing gaps, promoting good practice and encouraging take-up
  • Promote skills exchange through networking and discussion opportunities – including both public and private sector organisations
  • Improve advocacy and sign-posting so practitioners and other arts workers can access management and leadership opportunities
  • Encourage high-level knowledge transfer from other relevant sectors e.g. business and broadcasting
  • Diversify participation in terms of ethnicity, class, gender and disability take-up of progression opportunities
  • Investigate international models of best practice e.g. Columbia University Center for Curatorial Leadership, Getty Leadership programme to develop curators into leaders with business skills

These proposed actions are predominantly modelled around a view that only those working within organisational structures can influence change. We would urge the recognition of alternative models of leadership for example the leadership demonstrated by artists working within social enterprise and producing socially engaged work that provides both a mirror and lens to understand our society.  

Case studies can be gathered that look at how socially engaged work and social enterprise can be sustained. This would involve working with academic research centres such as the Rescen network at Middlesex University and gathering case studies from artists.

As part of the implementation of McMaster Review’s recommendations, artists roles as leaders on Boards should be addressed through Cultural Leadership training and recruitment support.

8.8     Business and enterprise

Proposed actions:

  • Work with Arts & Business and Business Link to develop central expert advice on company structures and business planning processes for sole traders, social enterprises, not-for-profit organisations and commercial galleries
  • Raise awareness of existing Arts & Business and a-n The Artists Information Company for marketing and sponsorship guidance
  • Support initiatives that develop the role of UK artists both in industry and in the international marketplace with UKTI (UK Trade and Investment), Arts & Business and business partners
  • Work with Frieze to develop a trade association body for visual arts commercial galleries that could standardise and publish business codes of practice
  • Develop business training for commercial gallery directors

We look forward to working with CCS and other sectoral partners to realise artists’ ambitions in the implementation of the Visual Arts Blueprint.

Yours sincerely,

AIR Advisory Group

Chris Brown, David Cotterell, Elpida Hadzi Vasilera, Rob Kesseler, Mitra Memarzia, Stephen Palmer, Claudia Pilsl, Paul Scott, Sally Sheinman, Erika Tan, Helen Thomas, Caroline Wright

[email protected]

April 2009 April 2009