I’ll close this blog with a short reflection and shuffle off. Overall, the key themes for me were independence but also a willingness and ability to adapt to a changing landscape, and the importance of group activity in facilitating discussions and building a sense of community.
After a few weeks back preparing for Assembly, employment, and also most recently speaking at Creative Workspace Summit, Great Yarmouth, I do feel that the trip gave me some really valuable time to break away from the day to day and helped me create some head space to look more objectively at what we’re doing though Paradise Works. I do understand this to be a political act and am considering our social responsibility to support artist-list representation in the city, and how we might utilise this position to encourage more voices to step up, develop and demonstrate different ways that artists can be included in the city’s future. It is also a timely reminder that we need to build in financial sustainability into our model and to be transparent and generous with our knowledge and ideas.
Details and tickets for Assembly can be found here, and the full programme is here. Blurb below, I hope you can make it.
Assembly Salford will explore how artists can maintain their presence in a rapidly developing city region.
Manchester city centre has seen the relocation or loss of no fewer than eight artists’ studios since the start of 2017, and this has resulted in a growing artist-led presence in neighbouring city Salford and the surrounding areas. Relocation has resulted in new models of practice, collaboration and dialogue for artist-led activity, replacing the support structures which previously enabled artists to work in Manchester city centre.
Part symposium, part workshop, Assembly Salford will explore the different approaches, decisions and compromises which artists might need to take to petition their place in the city. The programme also includes an Artwork Exchanges dinner and, rounding off the day in style, a totally tropical party to celebrate Paradise Works first birthday.
A short and sweet post to wrap up some of the other bits and bobs which didn’t get a full fat write up. Mentioning them here in case it’s useful to anyone visiting Buda.
Chimera Projects, a commercial gallery supporting mid-career artists in the centre of Budapest. Equally self-sufficient, they reiterated the importance of open calls in developing your network but also discussed the importance of developing skills in undergraduate artists in administration, project and budget management (file under: things they don’t teach you at art school).
TOBE Gallery (above) and FSKE.
Jurányi Ház – a converted school with a number of small cultural organisations based there.
Trafo Gallery. Pictured: Ember Sári, in The Intention of Things.
Artist-led or independent spaces engaging directly through programming, protest or boycott of the state was a key element of the trip. Aurora and OFF-Biennale were the most progressive in this approach and other members of the delegation have written about our meetings with them here already, see their posts here: Olivia, Greg, Laura, John, and Anna. I’ll throw my notes here.
Aurora, a social enterprise which is home to a number of NGOs but also is an events space and bar underpinned the importance of place for sharing alternative viewpoints and welcoming marginalised voices. This stance was mirrored in their attitude to the gentrification of the local area and they embraced transience as part of the organisation’s urban identity: moving out would allow them to continue to serve their community.
Our meeting with Hajnalka saw her outline how OFF-Biennale boycotted and disrupted the state’s stake in the arts in order to enhance the culture of democracy through grassroots activity. Voicing her frustration at the impact of protest, boycott and criticism, she also explained how this had driven her to take action. Using the term ‘civic courage’, the discussion outlined the importance of risk-taking and assuming responsibility to demonstrate alternative ideas to a national and international audience. Touching on the financial sustainability, international funding and voluntary activity, I found myself doodling about the fine line between independence and compromise. Voluntary activity can ensure independence but how can this be sustainable in resources, both financial and human?
The best part of the trip was the intensity of traveling as part of a group and the discussions that happened around the planned delegation meetings and visits. Each of the delegation had a very particular project or interest that they were developing and there were some interesting commonalities between these included sustainability, community impact and representation, and international network. I felt really inspired by each of the group’s practice and over the course of 8 days we were able to explore these in much greater depth than you are normally able to. Weblinks and that, here.
The slow travel methods which took us via London to Brussels, then Frankfurt to Munich and finally by sleeper train to Budapest, giving us plenty of time to start and conclude these conversations. Formal activities like discussions, or readings, helped us draw out the common interests between us and enabled us to fast track an understanding of each other’s work which could be further explored during the trip. On the train journey back we were less enthusiastic, but Jane persisted with a discussion and mind-map on our main take aways from the trip. Work swallowed me whole the day after the trip so I doubt I would be have had the opportunity to distill these thoughts in quite the same way had I not been cajoled into writing them down (thanks Jane!)
First stop from the train was a trip out of town to Art Quarter Budapest (AQB). This trip was a direct follow on from the Transylvanian Hungarian Exchange: re-appraising folk and the contemporary talk held at Castlefield Gallery in 2017, which had in part inspired my interest in the Budapest delegation as an artist and fervent fan of the city’s Neprajzi Muzeum. In actuality, the delegation gives me much more to think about in terms of my role at Paradise Works and I’ve parked the folk art interest until later this year.
The huge complex inhabited by AQB was owned and partly funded by one man for the specific purpose of housing artists and art spaces. Philanthropy was cited but it was difficult to gauge the full details of how this came about and worked in practice. There didn’t appear to be any signs that the owner was waiting to cash in on a nest egg once the city caught up to the former brewery’s site on the edge of the city. Studio holders receive subsidised rent and income is bolstered by a number of small businesses – inc. a chocolatier, nail bar and gardening supplier – who pay full fat rent. AQB’s residency programme is self funded but was seen as an opportunity to bring international funds to cover the opportunity rather than a self-funded ‘art holiday’.
This idea of artists in residence bringing in their own funding was shared by Budapest Art Factory, an artist led space run by Márta Kucsora, Dóra Juhász and Sándor Szász, similarly on the edge of the city in a huge former factory building.Art Factory are completely independent and operate outside of any state or arts funding. They are supported by the building’s owner who has enabled them to be in their current premises for the last 15 years and whilst the current site is due for development, this relationship has ensured that the landlord is helping the group rehome in another building from their portfolio.
BAF highlighted the importance of building and maintaining relationships with stakeholders in the city, and were clear about their commitment to maintaining financial independence. The political landscape in Hungary means that most artist-led spaces we spoke to will not engage with, or accept any state funding. BAF talked of swapping paintings with collectors in return for residency accommodation, or selling work to generate income. Given the reliance on Arts Council funding within contemporary arts in the UK I couldn’t help but think that we are not developing important skills in negotiation, and that an un-funded approach necessitates engaging and developing an audience for our work in a different way. Of course, the idea of independence in either camp is compromised in some capacity – art collectors will be more interested in acquiring paintings than say, riskier, less commercial works such as film or performance – but I’m interested in what conversations need to be had and with whom to help develop more financial sustainability beyond short-term project grants. This interest is of course based on the assumption that the arts need to be subsidised in some way, but who to foot the bill?