I surprised myself with my participation in a somewhat heated debated following a question about funding dircted towards the young curator/representative of a recently formed artists’ collective in Budapest. During the preceding panel discussion the curator mentioned that she had just made an application for public funding, then in response to another question from the audience about tactics for engaging with a broad public she said that that was not something that the collective were particularly interested in. This seemingly infuriated another person in the audience who made her feelings quite clear in an agressive demand to know how could they ask for public money if they were not going to use it to open up their programme and educate people about contemporary art.
I found myself agreeing with and going even further than the audience member who wondered if it might be appropriate for a young initiative to focus on an already engaged public. Without really thinking about it I heard myself saying that I was tired of artists feeling that they have a duty to educate a dis-interested public and asking why artists rarely treat themselves as an audience. For me it was refreshing and inspiring to hear a young curator claim the right to seek public money for the good of artists.
It is as though we artists place ourselves outside, or beyond, the public. And in some way this attitude that we are always already an elite doing things that would benefit everyone if only we could make them understand us is both patronising and condescending. If we as artists believe that art has value then why do we find it so hard to value ourselves and each other as artists? Why don’t we feel that we have the right to ask for, and deserve, support for what we do on our own terms?
This is not an entirely new thought to me. An artist friend who also works in gallery education and I have, over the years, wondered why we spend so much time and energy trying to make art accessible. It is as though we cannot accept that different activities have different audiences. It must be more than twenty years ago that I first became aware of the phrase ‘new audiences’. In today’s climate it can seem as though the out-reach and accessibility agendas have eclipsed every other ambition – particularly in the artist-led and non-commercial arenas. How have we arrived at a position where is it infuriating to another artist to suggest an arts project should receive public funding for a arts programme for artists and an art-loving audience?